My girlfriend Danielle recently emigrated from the US to live with me in Wales. Her move meant leaving behind family and friends, but most importantly she abandoned decent live coverage of her beloved Michigan Wolverines. Here in the UK, our only broadcast option for college football is ESPN America with a paltry 75 non-Bowl games per year. In the first five weeks of the season, only two Wolverines game were broadcast, and one of those was two days after the game was played. Even if you're prepared to go illegal and use bittorrent to download the broadcast, sports fans abroad still need to tiptoe around spoilers for anything up to a few days after the game.
Yesterday, just a few hours before the grudge match with Michigan State, she discovered ESPN Player; the Flash-based streaming service offers excellent coverage of college football games for £13 (around $20) per month, and unlike many streaming options it isn't locked down to be US-only (commenter SimDan notes it doesn't work in the US at all, a complete list of countries it's available in is in the ESPN Player FAQ). Sadly, I couldn't find a DVI-HDMI cable to show the game on my television, so she was facing the prospect of having to watch the big game on a small screen -- a 13" Macbook Pro, to be exact, complete with tinny speakers and optional lap-cooking technology. Hardly ideal. Fortunately though, if there's one thing I know how to do, it's how to solve problems with too much technology. So I jury-rigged the system you see in the picture above.
I cabled the Macbook Pro via Apple's DVI adapter to the 26" monitor in my den, running the Flash-powered ESPN streaming app fullscreen. An optical connection from the laptop carried sound to a Logitech 5.1 surround sound system (although sadly the stream only carries stereo sound). The Flash player does that annoying thing where if you move focus to any other window it drops out of full screen, so in order to chat with a few friends watching the game live Stateside, I loaded BeejiveIM on my iPad with a USB keyboard (via the Camera Connector Dongle). Finally, she also has her iPhone 4 to hand for live-tweeting. Obnoxious cable mess is all my own handiwork.
I did say it was a ridiculous amount of technology, right?
A serious point though: for any American ex-pats abroad who are missing their American sports, ESPN Player seems to offer a pretty decent selection. The streams themselves were good quality on my fairly meaty ADSL connection, and the streaming service even spares you the obnoxious advert breaks -- it just cuts to a black screen during intermissions. Perhaps thanks to the new 10.1 release, even the notorious Flash player behaved itself quite well.
If anyone else has examples of quirky or specialised Mac-based setups to share, drop us a line via our tipline.