I spent the past weekend in a delightful, restful Sierra foothills bed and breakfast where none of the guest rooms have televisions. I’ve been to Harmony Ridge Lodge many times before and applaud the owners’ decision to exclude TVs. You have to step away from the screen sometime, right?
But my stay coincided with the 2012 London Olympics’ opening weekend, and I was missing out on the party.
Fortunately, the lodge has Wi-Fi for guests, and I brought my iPad. So I downloaded NBC Olympics Live Extra, a free app that promises full replay of all the sporting events and other goodies. The app is optimized for use on both iPhone and iPad screens and for Android smartphones and tablets.
I’ll start this review by detracting some points. A number of users have complained about the fact that to access the videos in the app, you must subscribe to a pay-TV package with CNBC and MSNBC. This also requires you to have a user name and password from your pay-TV provider, which you must then enter to gain full, ongoing video access in the app.
Admittedly, NBC paid big bucks for the exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics and can’t afford to give away this content for free. On the other hand, you’re exposed to plenty of ads in this app—at the beginning of each clip, during live broadcasts and full replays, and at the top and bottom of the screen at all times. Also, and maybe this is just me, the app actually makes me want to watch more Olympic events on my TV. So why not make the app’s videos accessible to everyone?
A few other complaints: The app must be in portrait mode as you browse the content, though you can switch to landscape mode for video playback. Videos don’t have a fast-forward button, and the rewind button isn’t precise. For whatever reason, the commentary track was missing in the videos of past events, though not in the live events I watched. The app is only available to those in the U.S. and certain U.S. territories. And a search function would have been a nice addition.
OK, now the good stuff. Having every Olympic moment so easily available to watch at home or on the go keeps you up to date on your favorite sporting events. You can browse by schedule or by sport, designate favorites, and get push notifications about upcoming events. I was able to play back videos on my high-def TV by using my iPad’s mirroring feature on my Apple TV box, too. And the HD videos looked great on the Retina display of my current-generation iPad.
NBC Olympics Live Extra won’t take home the gold, silver, or even the bronze. Still, the app is essential for anyone with a passion for the Olympics—and a pay-TV package, of course.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.