2013-11-11

Are you ready for some streaming? A cord cutting guide to NFL Game Pass.

As an NFL fan, I never thought I would be able to part with my (outrageously priced) cable TV package. After looking at my latest Roger's bill, I decided it was time to explore alternatives. Boy, was I happy that I did!

Even with my expensive cable package, I'd rarely get to watch the game I wanted as I would only get up to three 1pm games even though I had 600+ channels.  Although I don't enjoy watching the Bills lose, I like to watch the game nonetheless.  Purchasing Sunday Ticket was always an option, but I felt like I was paying too much for cable as it was.

Enter NFL Game Pass!

Read on to see how Game Pass allowed me to drop cable but have a better NFL experience than before.

Guest post by Nick

Overview

NFL Game Pass is a subscription based service provided by the NFL that lets you watch every NFL game LIVE!  In addition, you can watch previous games (without commercials in full or time-compressed mode) going back to the 2009 season.  You also get live streaming of NFL Network and access to NFL Redzone to watch scoring plays for the week.


Restrictions

If you read the fine print, you'll notice that Canadians won't get to see Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games live.  Also, Canadians won't be able to watch playoff games.  This would be a deal breaker if not for special DNS services like Unblock-US.  With Unblock-US in place, these restrictions are subverted - well worth the $5/month. Other Smart DNS services or a VPN service such as VPN Authority should work as well.

Signing up for Game Pass

There's no trickery required when signing up for NFL Game Pass like there is with some US-only services. NFL Game Pass is marketed to Canadians (and other non-Americans), so sign up for a free 7 day trial and test it yourself.

How it works

NFL Game Pass goes out of its way to prevent users from having a "TV" experience. Canadians can only officially watch the games using a web browser with Flash (See "Plex & Roku" below for a better way). If you have a computer connected to your HDTV with an HDMI cable, it's a very workable solution, but without a remote, it can be annoying to pause, FF, REW, etc. Full screen is supported, so it will appear just like your Cable feed.
Full Screen Games


You can even watch up to four games at once:
Up to four games at once

Plex & Roku

If you have a Plex server, you can add the NFL Network Channel, enter your NFL Game Pass credentials, and all of a sudden you have a better way to watch NFL on your HDTV. This Plex Channel supports live and archived games, NFL Network, and Redzone. The user-interface isn't particularly slick, but works just fine. I'm assuming the NFL Plex Channel works on any Plex client, but haven't tested them all.
Plex NFL Channel

Game menu

Best of all the Plex/Roku integration with NFL Game Pass gives you a remote that lets you pause, rewind, fast-forward or choose another game, without getting off the sofa or spilling your beer.

To configure the NFL Plex Channel, just launch your Plex Web Server and select "Add Channel". From there, you'll be able to find the NFL Channel. Add it, and enter your NFL Game Pass credentials in the settings.

Phones & Tablets

In Canada, NFL Game Pass does not support mobile OSs. I've read that Unblock-US won't help here as the location services built into your phone or tablet are used to restrict access to Canadians. However, using the Plex NFL Channel as described above and the Plex mobile app, I was able to watch all the NFL Game Pass content on my iPad and Android phone. Now I can watch the night games in bed!
iOS Plex Menu

iOS/Plex NFL Game Pass Menu

Quality

This was one of my main worries. I am very particular (especially with sports) about video quality. Overall, the quality is excellent but not perfect. You will rarely notice that you are streaming the game over the internet. I would score the quality at 9/10. At times you may notice that the quality isn't absolutely perfect, but when you compare the cost of a digital cable package against NFL Game Pass, you'll easily get over the minor quality issues. It's hard to capture just how good the quality is with a photo but if you have a good internet connection like me (35Mbps), you'll be very satisfied. 

In my experience, the quality when streaming though Plex/Roku is better than streaming through a browser on my 46" screen. Also, turning on the 120Hz to "low" on my Samsung HDTV seemed to help.

Audio was excellent also, providing 5.1 surround sound.

Price

NFL Game Pass price tends to get lower as the season progresses. If you join in before September, it will set you back around $200 for the season including playoff games. I joined around week 7 for $150.

Pricing as of November 10th.

Summary

NFL Game Pass is the perfect solution for people holding onto a cable subscription just for those lazy Sundays. At a fraction of the cost of cable, you get much more football.

Overall, I am very pleased with NFL Game Pass. A browser-only solution would have been acceptable, but Plex and Roku takes it the whole nine yards.

With Roku solutions for NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA, many sports lovers should have no need for cable any more.  

Happy cord cutting!
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