Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 25 June 2008

Watching on the Web

It's Wednesday evening, Euro 2008 is 'back, back, back' at the semi-final stage and it's time to put my feet up in front of the TV for a relaxing hour-and-a-half of potentially wonderful football action.

Well that's what I thought. What I hadn't taken into account was the fact that our Sky+ box was simultaneously recording 'The Bill' on one channel and 'Location Location Location' on another for my wife. My Sky+ box was therefore too busy to show me the Germany v Turkey match on account of my wife testing its technological capabilities to the very limits of its purpose. Thanks, 'oh love of my life'. Remind me to do the same for you one day...

Anyway, before I had the chance to consider divorce proceedings, an alternative option sprang to mind. Maybe I should head for the BBC website where there'd almost certainly be showing the game on their live web stream. They were, and my solicitors were advised to suspend any pending activity accordingly.

For me, this was a new experience. Oh sure, I've watched video on the web before - who hasn't? - but watching a football match live and online is something I've not really bothered with in the past.

I realise this might make me sound like an internet Neanderthal by modern standards, but I'm a man of some common sense. For one thing, if there's a match on TV that I want to see, I'll watch it on TV whenever possible. There's no substitute for seeing a match on the big screen (apart from watching it in the stadium, of course) so if I can, I will.

Secondly, I'm aware that if you visit the right website on any Saturday afternoon in the UK during the domestic season, you can watch pirated live broadcasts of practically any Premier League game you like. Great, if you don't mind watching a small video window the size of a matchbox, but it's not my thing, personally.

Thus far, then, watching football via the web has not been a priority for me, but tonight was different. This was the European Championship semi-finals, an occasion that resonates with memories of Michel Platini sticking a third past Portugal in 1984, John Motson soiling his underwear with excitement and France staking a claim to be the best team in the world. Oh, and England losing to Germany in 1996, but we haven't got time to discuss that now.

I needed to see this game, and the BBC were offering me the opportunity. Dear old Auntie Beeb - always there in a crisis.

Off to the site I went and to my pleasant surprise there was a link that opened up a video window the size of, ooh, ten matchboxes at least. A nice big screen by comparison to those pirate sites, but when I clicked the 'full screen' button, my entire PC monitor became engorged with the slightly fuzzy image of the game going on in Basel.

And fuzzy it was, to some extreme, but I was hardly likely to complain about that given the quality of the image I'd be viewing if this was Euro 2000 or earlier. Advances in the internet world now mean I no longer have to settle for a blurred image that updates once every minute - this was as 'cutting edge' as it was ever going to be.

I won't even mention the fact that the sound coming through my PC's speakers was a little crackly. That was fine. I was just amazed to be using my computer to watch a game in 2008 to the point where any comparisons with TV-quality output were negligible.

And then there was a loss of picture and sound. Little did I realise it at the time, but the whole world had lost its link to Basel at that time, probably due to a heavy storm rendering the Euro 2008 Media Centre paralysed. At the time, I was swearing and cursing at the internet feed I'd invested so much of my interest in, thinking that it had let me down when I needed it most.

Of course I was wrong, as soon became apparent, and frankly who can complain when one is unexpectedly treated to a brief excerpt of sound-only radio commentary from Alan Green and Chris Waddle on BBC Radio 5 Live? Yes, this was a bit of a one-off as breaks in transmission were concerned, and the quality of the video streaming technology were not at fault on this occasion.

Having sat through the remainder of the rather exciting match which Germany won 3-2, taking all the interruptions to one side, I can honestly say I'd recommend the BBC live football on-demand video service for anyone that hasn't tried it yet. The picture quality's good, the sound quality's good - in fact everything's good. It even cuts out the boring, self-conscious wafflings of BBCs panel of experts back in the studio before and after the game. Surely this is the future of watching football for all of us, isn't it?

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