If you've followed the life cycle of Microsoft's Xbox 360 video-game console, you would know that it has evolved from a machine whose primary purpose was video games into an entertainment center that also plays video games. App after app has been developed for the 360, connecting you to your computer, your music collection, your movies, and more, making them available on what is likely a larger television than your monitor. Baseball fans who own Microsoft's console can now rejoice, as it's MLB.tv's turn for an app.
For the past two years, it's been Sony's Playstation 3 that's featured an MLB.tv app that allowed you to watch full-HD games on your television instead of your computer. The interface was a bit clunky, and it was prone to being slow and non-intuitive at times, but it was MLB.tv on your television. Microsoft has had that time to see what fans liked and didn't like about the competition's offering, and has tailored their own product towards the needs of those users. The result? The same HD-quality baseball on your television, but better.
The same team that developed the ESPN app for the 360 built the one for MLB.tv, and they've incorporated some of the the former's ideas into this new product. Without interrupting the action while watching a game, you can pull up the "Mini-Guide" (first developed for the ESPN app) with a press of the Y button. It will bring up the option to switch to one of the other live games, switch to the full guide, or, if you're watching an archived game, show you the last week of archived contests. All of these options are selected with single button presses after bringing up the Mini-Guide, too, so it's fast, easy, and intuitive.
You can also select the 360-exclusive "Split Screen" option here. This allows you to watch two games simultaneously -- maybe you want to watch what the Red Sox are doing, while also keeping an eye on the Yankees game. You can select the primary game to watch with one press of the left analog stick, and sound will only come through for that contest. If you want to pause one game and wait to watch it until there's a commercial in the other, you can.
These options are all accessed simply enough with button presses, but if you've got Kinect, you can control MLB.tv with voice or gesture commands. Pause, play, rewind, or switch games without the use of a remote or controller. It all controls easily enough without that added level of options, so fear not if you lack Kinect. (Full disclosure: the MLB.tv app was not tested with Kinect by this reviewer.)
Most of the MLB.tv apps -- even MLB's own -- have only allowed you to select one favorite team. The changes to the app were mostly cosmetic, too, as it would put your team of choice at the top of listings for easy access. On the 360, though, you can select multiple favorite teams, queueing up more for you to see when you log in or want to navigate between games. This is great for people like me, who have more than one team they follow on a daily basis, works well for households where their love for baseball is divided among multiple clubs, and also useful if you just want to neurotically track the progress of your team's rivals.
You need both an MLB.tv premium subscription ($124.99 for a year) and also an Xbox Live Gold subscription in order to access the full features of MLB.tv on the Xbox 360. But if you've just got the Xbox Live sub, you can still get plenty of use from this application. There will be a "Game Of The Day" you can watch regardless of whether you have an MLB.tv subscription or not, and there will also be condensed, three-to-five minute versions of games so that you can check out the highlights for your favorite team, rather than watching 45 minutes of Sportscenter only to see your Pirates get 15 seconds of coverage on a good day.
Microsoft plans to continue iterating the app, so don't expect it to look exactly the same in September as it did when it was unveiled March 27. The ESPN application looks different nearly every time I've logged in to it, as the team adds features that enhance the product as well as address the needs of users. For one, they're hoping to make the MLB.tv app more interactive and personal, allowing you to track not only teams, but players as well, whether for fantasy purposes or because you just like watching Giancarlo Stanton go deep.
In a time when I can't count the number of devices that make MLB.tv viewing available to me on one hand, Microsoft's foray into an app has quickly become my preference. If you've got the necessary components, or don't mind shelling out for them, you'll find yourself feeling the same way once you try it.