Thursday, February 06, 2014

CBC Olympics iOS App for Sochi 2014

CBC and CTV have been taking turns covering the Olympics, and with each switch, we ask: will CTV meet CBC's coverage, will CBC reach CTV's video streaming standards? The latter was no small question. CBC is known for its pitiful video streaming quality. You go to watch your favourite drama, and the pixelation is so bad, you never try again.

They took a long time to make their app available. I downloaded it as soon as I could. But I hesitated in launching it. I went to my TV first. Nice TV set, grownup hosts for Olympic Morning. I'm very happy to see Diana Swain back. I enjoyed her Olympics hosting duty last time the CBC broadcast the games. Finally, I could no longer procrastinate. The moment of truth. I launched the app.

Navigation: The one big problem with CTV's web presence was that its navigation was obtuse, opaque, aggravating. It took me ages to figure out how to navigate it in the first few days of the last Olympics, never mind trying to find the streaming video I wanted in only a few seconds.

No such problem with CBC's Olympics iOS app for iPad and iPhone. Within a second of launching the app (yes, a second), I saw within the clean, minimalist design the image for Olympic Morning. I pressed it. I barely waited with bated breath to see what CBC had wrought.

Video Quality: A streaming video player immediately filled the screen, and an ad appeared. It took a few seconds for the ad to play, and I did begin to wonder if we were going to have freezing issues if the ad was taking so long because ads never have problems playing, do they? But once it began, all good. After two ads -- which I can see I'm going to get heartily sick of as they're the same ones -- the video stream immediately began playing in HD. Whoa.

On the iPhone, there's a little TV-like icon that when pressed pops up image links to other videos. And on both, there's a search bar at the bottom that you can use to go back in time through the video. The only problem is that when I pressed the Go to Live button that appeared after I began searching, the video player froze. No going back to live. Argh! I went back to the main app screen, relaunched Olympic Morning, waited for the ads to finish, and I was back watching the live feed. At least it happened quickly. Thank goodness for improved technology.

Only when I launched the CBC Olympics app on my iPhone while still streaming video on my iPad over my low-speed broadband Internet connection, did I have initial pixelation problems. Well, I guess I was being a bit WiFi and Olympics hoggish. But by the time Mark McMorris hit his first rail in Slopestyle snowboarding, the video was in full HD.

Design: For people with problems perceiving or reading, the app design is particularly pleasing to the eye and easy to discern. The images are clear and large enough to see but not so large that they hog screen space, necessitating a lot of scrolling. The font is very easy to read even in a small size on the iPhone screen. There are no extra style filips that clutter the display. They have sharing icons, and a standard iOS 7 menu button to open up a menu for videos, photos, Olympic Feed, schedule by day and by sport, countries, athletes, TV schedule, and so on.

The most important part of any Olympics app is at the top: the live feed. And although the medal counts are in a band above the live feed, the size of the window is such that you don't have to scroll down to see the live feed image. Beside it are all the upcoming videos for the day with their start times in a clear font, and underneath are the graphic links to the sports coming up that day. Next comes the videos of previous plays that Canadians are probably the most interested in seeing. And underneath that are Olympics news stories.

There is practically no learning scale to using this app. Launch it and use it. Excellent!

*I'm using the app on an iPad 3 and iPhone 5S.

Update: Over 3G, the video is not as clear and can freeze briefly. The rest of the app works the same as under WiFi.

No comments: