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NFL Sunday Ticket on PS3: Second take

We try watching NFL games on the PlayStation 3 with Sunday Ticket, after the first weekend's not-so-great debut. Is it an NFL fan's dream come true?

NFL on PS3: this week it worked.
NFL on PS3: this week it worked. Scott Stein/CNET

On opening weekend of the NFL season, I gave NFL Sunday Ticket To Go, DirecTV's NFL game-streaming service, a spin on the PlayStation 3. Or, at least, I tried to: service outages for Sunday Ticket To Go plagued everyone and killed the excitement of NFL game-watching on a console.

Two weeks later (I was tailgating at the Jets-Jaguars game last week), I returned to my first-gen PS3 to give the service a second go. Thankfully, this time it worked as well as advertised.

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Sunday Ticket on the PS3 acts and works nearly identically to how it functions on devices like the iPad. After entering login information and waiting several seconds, a dashboard of all the available Sunday games appears for browsing, optimized for use with the PS3 controller (stats and standings can be browsed with the left/right shoulder buttons, but if you use a PS3 Bluetooth remote you'll need to fumble for the equivalent "L2/R2" button). Sunday Ticket starts you off on the Red Zone Channel, which cuts to the most interesting action among all games. From there, clicking on the others will load the appropriate game, after a delay of 10 seconds or so.

Channel-surfing, NFL-style (aka, my wife's nightmare).
Channel-surfing, NFL-style (aka, my wife's nightmare). Scott Stein/CNET

The cleverly designed scorebar on the side uses a color-coded arrow to show possession and progress down the field: It's blue normally, but when the arrow's red (as in, red zone), it's a good time to check on that game for some possible scoring. Green indicates a score.

Streaming looked very sharp on my 720p HDTV, nearly as good as an HDTV broadcast. Framerate did occasionally falter, but the action didn't slow down. Audio sounded a bit more hollow than a standard TV broadcast, but after a while it was hardly noticeable. The novelty of watching live games is a tremendous treat if you're a cable-cutter like myself: In fact, in my opinion, one of the biggest advantages of Sunday Ticket is its live pausing of the game stream, something my DVR-free household can't do via an over-the-air antenna. Of course, you also get all the ads of a live broadcast: what you get is essentially the out-of-market broadcast in its completeness, along with the pre-game show.

Stats are useful, but not very interactive.
Stats are useful, but not very interactive. Scott Stein/CNET

Video highlights of a good handful of the game's best plays can be pulled up for playback at any time, another nice plus for the interactive service. However, the stat and info menus left a little to be desired: they're better than what you can get on standard television, but pale next to the info-rich apps and Web sites I'm used to pulling up on my laptop or iPad.

Activating Sunday Ticket costs $50 for a current DirecTV subscriber or $340 for a newcomer, but we were able to use our login for the DirecTV iPad app, too, adding a lot of upside. After being kicked off my TV so my son could watch one of his shows, I kept watching tablet-side for the rest of the Pats-Bills showdown.

As users of sports-streaming services likely already know--but newcomers might not--local-market games are blacked out on NFL Sunday Ticket. The logic follows that those people will watch those games on regular TV, where the licensing deals have been signed. Unfortunately, it makes for a channel-flipping challenge if you're watching your local Jets or Packers game and have to switch video modes back to your PS3 for the other games. The Red Zone Channel does include footage of local-market games in its around-the-league coverage, but you're held captive by the whims of the channel's jump-cut editing.

I still think $340 is a lot to pay for 17 regular-season Sundays (of which only 14 remain), and the slightly misleading PS3 in-console advertising suggests the service only costs $84.99 (that's for the first of four monthly payments). You can't get Monday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, or Thursday-night games, either. However, for the NFL die-hards, this is fantastic progress for a sport that's often lagged behind the MLB and NHL in terms of tech savvy. It's still a service for those with money to burn, but we're a lot more bullish about Sunday Ticket on the PS3 when it works. Of course, with the often-mercurial state of home broadband and streaming video, that's still a bit of an if.