UPDATE: this post is outdated, see our 2015 BYU Football guide, for the most current information.
Whether you’re a life-long Cougar football fan or someone who just joined the ranks of basketball BYU faithful during the Jimmermania of last year, we know you’re probably asking one question: “how can I watch BYU Football and Basketball without cable or satellite TV?”
Disclaimer: We know that not all Mormons are Cougar fans. But a lot of Cougar fans are LDS. So in that spirit, we consider this a “Mormon” life hack, though it may not interest some of you. If there are any Ute fans (or other schools with a solid LDS fanbase) you’d like to see a similar article on, contact us with the info, and we’d be happy to post it here.
A lot of people are quitting cable (or satellite TV) these days. They do it in protest of all the garbage, to cut costs in a tough economy, or simply to send a message that we don’t want a package with 870 channels when they only ever watch 5 of them. For some time now, my wife and I have been among those who simply feel cable isn’t worth it at almost any cost. We watch a few shows on Hulu a few days after they air, but mostly we just watch Netflix on-demand movies, the occasional TV show, and a DVD from time to time in the mail or from Redbox. YouTube’s new rental service is also a great on-demand option.
Internet Channels: ESPN3 & BYU TV
First of you need to understand two free, internet channels: ESPN3 and BYU TV. The first is free, as long as you have the correct internet service provider (ISP). If your ISP has a deal with ESPN, then it’s completely free, and you can stream almost any game of any sport that any of the ESPN network channels (including ABC if I understand correctly) live, over the internet. If you don’t have the right ISP, you’re simply out of luck. Comcast (now Xfinity) has this deal, while Qwest (now Centurylink) does not. You can even use your ISP’s login info to use ESPN3 to watch games, when you’re away from home and on another ISP (eg. WiFi in a hotel or while visiting family for the holidays). ESPN doesn’t offer any subscription alternatives (which we think is stupid). With ESPN3, you can also watch most games on-demand after they’re over. For the 2011 season, ESPN is airing 10 out of 12 BYU Football games, and 8+ BYU Men’s Basketball games.
BYU TV is free to everyone everywhere, as long as you have internet. They recently upgraded their broadcasting with a new studio, HD broadcasts, and a whole lot more, that puts BYU TV up there with the best networks in the world as far as HD quality video and production capability. This year, because ESPN is airing so many Football games, BYU TV will only broadcast 1 Football game live. However, they will have a live pre-game and post-game show, re-run each game after it is over, and have it available for on-demand viewing. BYU TV will also broadcast at least 16 Men’s basketball games, as well as most games from all their other most popular sports.
This is all perfect, if you’re using a computer and have the right ISP. If you don’t have an ISP on ESPN3’s list, you might consider switching ISP’s to one with ESPN3 as part of dropping your cable. But what about watching on your TV? You’ve got the right ISP so you can get both ESPN3 and BYU TV, but you’d prefer to sit on your couch, and watch it on your giant flat-screen. Well from here, things are not quite as easy as we’d hoped, but we’ve got info for you to sort it out.
After tons of research, I’m unhappy to report that the only good option to watch both ESPN3 and BYU TV on your TV is to hook up a regular computer, laptop, or mini-computer to it. Because it’s a computer, you can watch ESPN3 & BYU TV right from the browser, using your TV as the display. Most laptops and the new class of media-box mini computers all have HDMI. That means with a single cable running from the computer to your TV, you can use the computer with your TV as the monitor, to watch a whole lot of sports between the two channels (plus Netflix streaming, Hulu, YouTube rentals & more) and other BYU TV programming.
The downside is that you’ll probably need to use a wireless mouse (and possibly a keyboard) to navigate from across the room, the browsers aren’t optimized for use from a distance, and you have to click the “full screen” button to make it fill the screen. But currently this is the most sure option to watch the most games.
Here are some popular mini-media-box computers that work great:
- Mac Mini: the ever popular Mac in a tiny box works great and you can use your Apple remote. Downside is there’s no “10-foot interface” making it easy to see stuff from across the room. You can install both Plex & Boxee, which we’ll cover below, for those features. Plus you should be able to pickup a 2009 or 2010 model for relatively cheap, that will do everything you need.
- Windows Computers: there’s the Acer Revo AR (best price/value), the Acer Revo RL (if you want a Blu-Ray drive), Dell Zino HD, and the eMachine’s Mini-e’s. All run Windows 7, which means you get Windows Media Center. WMC has a great 10-foot interface, and works with most remotes. Plus it works with Netflix and lots of other content. And you can install this software to launch the Hulu Desktop directly.
You can, of course, make these more of a “10-foot” experience by installing some alternative software. Boxee is very popular right now and includes lots of add-on options. Plus there is an ESPN3 plugin available for it (thought I wasn’t able to confirm if it’s still working). Plex is another great option. We highly recommend either, if you go with the Mac Mini, as it adds a good “10-foot” interface. If you’re more of a hardcore DIY/techie XBMC is quite possibly the best complete media center software, and there is both a browser (for BYU TV) and ESPN3 plugin for it.[box]After further investigation, it appears that ESPN3 (now called Watch ESPN) most likely blocks the Google TV web browser. Also, though ESPN released an Android app, it appears that you must have cable TV through 1 of 3 providers in order to use the Android, iPhone or iPad app, despite what I originally thought. The point of this article was about watching without Cable, so my comments below are invalidated. There is no good solution, if you don’t want cable, for both ESPN3 and BYU TV, other than a full-computer as mentioned above.[/box]
There’s a lot of set-top box options out there, but the only one I could confirm will work with both ESPN3 and BYU TV, is the Google TV options. Because Google TV has a full browser and Flash, like a regular computer, it can (according to my sources) stream both channels just fine through it’s browser. ESPN3 recently blocked a plugin to Windows Media Center that allowed it to be navigated and watched via WMC, so it’s possible that they have or will also block the Google TV in some way.
The next option that’s best if your priority is Football, is the Xbox 360. Through Xbox Live, you can stream all ESPN3 content (assuming you’re on the right ISP). There’s no simple way to watch BYU TV through your 360, but there is a workaround where you install the MCE browser, then if you have a Windows computer on the same network, can pull regular internet through the connected computer. Assuming Flash is supported, you should be able to watch BYU TV on your TV, via your 360.
None of the other options (Apple TV, Roku, etc) have any kind of support for ESPN3, though the Roku does have a BYU TV channel if Football is less important to you.