News

MLB delivers solid hit with new Mosaic

Eric Benderoff
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

There were moments last week, as I watched nearly a dozen baseball games at once, that I thought I was in my own little Las Vegas.

All I needed was a sportsbook and a cocktail waitress, two things I'm certain my wife wouldn't allow in the house.

With Major League Baseball's new Mosaic application downloaded onto your computer, you can create a virtual Vegas for $20 a month - a lot cheaper than what happens in the real Vegas.

Mosaic allows you to watch up to six games at once, or 12 if you're using two computers, through a high-speed Internet connection. The one drawback is that local Cubs and White Sox games are blacked out.

This is a significant improvement from what was already a good Web-based broadcast from MLB.TV, which allowed users to watch any game from any part of the country. If you grew up in Cleveland and moved to Chicago, you didn't need to miss an Indians game. If you lived in Chicago, but traveled to Cleveland, you could take a laptop to watch your preferred Windy City squad.

But that was one game at a time, even if it was easy to switch between broadcasts. The six-game Mosaic approach will appeal to fantasy players, serious fans and probably bookies.

I've been using Mosaic since the baseball season opened, and, despite problems with my office computer, I highly recommend it for the baseball geek.

Even my wife was impressed by the display, and she can barely tolerate baseball. "Why don't they have this for football?" she asked.

Good question. Let's hope the National Football League is paying attention.

Here's how it works:

After you sign up for the service at www.mlb.tv (select premium), you download the Mosaic application to either a PC or a Mac (it works well on both). After a few minutes, and a few more for my 3-year-old iBook to download a second application, you're up and running. On each laptop - the other was a Hewlett-Packard running Windows Vista - I could hear Vin Scully call a Dodgers game, watch Barry Bonds chase Hank Aaron, or see if fireballing Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya could top 102 mph on the radar gun.

For fantasy geeks, Mosaic has a "player tracker" to monitor the pitchers and position players of interest to you. The tracker alerts you when your players come to bat or if a particular relief pitcher enters a game.

One recent night, while watching West Coast baseball, an alert notified me the controversial Bonds was on deck for the Giants. Moments later, another alert told me that Cincinnati's Josh Hamilton, baseball's feel-good drug story, was pinch hitting. (He's a former first-round draft pick making a comeback after years of substance abuse sidetracked his career.)

I was not sure who to root for as Bonds struck out and Hamilton walked. The scene was numbing, actually.

Baseball's little dramas aside, the best Mosaic feature is the ability to drag and drop games into any of the six viewing screens. If there are more than six games going on, and one breaks for a commercial, just drag another game from the scoreboard above into that screen.

Or, if one of the six games reaches a dramatic moment - say the closer is in a ninth-inning jam - double-click on that screen to make it the only viewing option. The Mosaic player quickly reloads the game for a better-quality video feed more appropriate for a big screen.

This feature worked in a matter of seconds on the more powerful HP laptop. On the iBook, the reload could take 20 seconds.

If watching six games at once is too much, or there are fewer games playing, you can select a four-game setup or single-game view.

In my tests, Mosaic was largely trouble-free during home viewing of night games. I could watch for hours without any major disturbances.

But at work, on a far more robust network, I had nothing but trouble. The video streams would start and stop repeatedly, making the games unwatchable. So I switched to the radio broadcasts (less conspicuous anyway) and had no problems. With radio, you can also hear local games.

The video streams were not being blocked by my employer, but it was clear after checking with an MLB executive that some network firewall caused the problems. I would expect similar troubles at big companies across the country.

To address these concerns and others that have been reported, MLB Advanced Media, which developed Mosaic with Portland-based Ensequence, set up a blog to post software updates and ideas on how to fix vexing problems. Go to http://mosaic.mlblogs.com for a taste of other concerns.

The blog was set up "to engage in active discussion with and amongst our fan and subscriber base," said Justin Shaffer, a senior vice president for MLB Advanced Media. "Whether it would be talking about new features or helping fans struggling with PC hardware and software issues, they've been an invaluable resource to reach out to all of our users and deliver instant feedback."

As much as I like the Mosaic product, this direct approach to customer service is even better. It's a model for any retailer, gadget-maker or software firm in the digital age.

The Mosaic application is the most expensive of three offerings from MLB.TV. It costs $120 a season for this premium package, or you can pay $20 each month.

The regular Web TV option, last year's top product, costs $90 a year or $15 each month. For audio only, the cost is $15 a season.

The premium package includes the Web-based video broadcast and radio.

If you're a fan, it's worth a look.

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