Revisiting The UFC on Roku

Dave Zatz —  February 28, 2011

It’s been nearly a year since live UFC bouts landed on Roku ($60). And, I have to say, it’s a much better experience in 2011 than it was earlier in 2010. From my original coverage (of UFC 113):

Quality was good. But probably not good enough.

Roku is a company I regularly chat with and, at some point last year, they suggested I take another look at UFC as a number of presentation improvements have been made since launch. Our schedules, and coupon codes, finally lined up this weekend… and I took in UFC 127 live.

Whereas I found UFC 113’s stream inconsistant and not high enough resolution, UFC 127 was another story. Indeed, a much better story. When initially firing up the live stream, I found myself watching unpleasant smudgy SD video. But after maybe two minutes, I was automatically elevated to what looked like a HD tier. Which is where I remained for nearly the entirety of the matches. At one point, I seemed to drop back down for a minute and at another point it looked like I was hit with some dropped frames. But these minor glitches are acceptable given the 2+ hours of smooth streaming and nice looking video.

Of course, your mileage may vary. Unlike cable company pay-per-view, there are many more variables that may impact your experience by taking video over the top (OTT) – including one’s broadband package, ISP connectivity, and home network. Without a doubt, the cableco provides a safer bet. But for those who don’t have cable or want to travel with PPV events, Roku is a very solid option for UFC. (Or NHL and MLB.)

As to UFC 127 itself, I can’t say it was the most compelling event they’ve put on. The highlight for me was probably the win by Ebersole, a last minute stand-in from the minor circuits. Yeah, his style was goofy at times, but he showed a lot of heart. Not only did he hold his own against a seasoned veteran, he pulled off a nice upset.

The other notable moments, for all the wrong reasons, came from Bisping’s unsportsmanlike conduct. He’s a great fighter, but should have been disqualified for the illegal knee (above). The sport is brutal enough without teeing off like that. Hope these guys have long term health insurance…

Click to enlarge:

9 responses to Revisiting The UFC on Roku

  1. I don’t know which ABR codec UFC/Roku uses in this case. Presumably either Adobe Zeri or Microsoft Smooth HD (e.g. Silverlight). Generally the provider encodes the content at a bunch of different bit rates, with corresponding variations in frame size etc. And can switch between them every two seconds. They use low bit rates at the start to make sure the stream starts up quickly. Then ramp up if they see no errors, and down if they do. Or something like that. I assume you need at least 3Mbps or so for what looks like an HD stream. Sounds like most of the time you qualify. Not sure this particular sport is the most demanding–I’d think something with a big field like football would be a harder test (all the side scrolling, where the whole background is moving). Encouraging though.

  2. It’s a shame that you actually pay money to watch people fight each other, tooth and nail, for a pay check. These guys are repeatedly injured during matches and based on what is happening to professional football players (repeated concussions lead to long term cognitive decline/depression/dementia) – its safe to assume that these guys are at risk for brain damage as well. Given your profession, you probably realize the value of a functioning brain. Furthermore, I’ll bet that UFC doesn’t supply health care to retired fighters to cover these long term injuries, or provide long term income when fight related injuries prevent them from working when they can no longer fight. Dave, as a fan and regular reader of this site, I’m disappointed that you entertain yourself with this kind of brutality.

  3. Nope, not a regular viewer at all. I agree professional boxing and sports like UFC are dangerous with the potential for unfortunate, negative long term health consequences. On the cognitive side, my mom spent a large part of her career working with the brain injured and I dropped out of an Educational Psychology PhD program… so I have some awareness of the possible consequences. Even if the athletes don’t and the leagues are exploitive.

    On the other hand, for many years, I was a competitive wrestler and judoka. I’ve enjoyed participating in and watching both sports, and neither are ‘striking’ oriented. Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of adult/professional outlets for those sports and even less television viewing opportunities… the Olympics are few and far between. Not to mention, there’s alternate styles that never make it into the Olympics. What I’ve been doing since getting FiOS TV is TiVo-ing some of Big Ten channel’s wrestling dual meets.

    Here’s a more accurate representation of how I mostly entertain myself.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Dave. I agree that the contestants are largely ignorant of the long-term risks involved, and that the UFC is likely exploiting a group with few other career options. I have trouble even acknowledging it as a sport. I believe that as a society, we have to draw the line between sport and spectacle somewhere, and given the abuse that is dished out, for me this crosses into “Running Man” territory. Here’s hoping that your desire to see wrestling and/or safer martial arts is met. Roku, are you listening? There’s a market here.

  5. Hey Glenn, Just heard back from Roku on your query. My contact isn’t up on the particulars of the codecs, but I now have a better understanding of why the stream starts in low quality. In order the start video playback quickly, they pull in the low end feed first. Then, once they establish a suitable buffer, they’ll move you to whatever the highest tier is that your connection will support.

  6. Martin, you are way off base. Please do a little research before pontificating about a sport you obviously know nothing about.

    The fighters know exactly what they are doing. They have brain tests and blood tests done before they are licensed by state athletic commissions (like Nevada). Also, mixed martial arts as a whole is considerably safer than a sport like boxing. There are many more ways to end a fight and fights generally end much quicker that a boxing match. In a boxing match, you get knocked down, get up and keep fighting. This doesn’t really happen the same way in MMA.

    MMA fighters are some of the best athletes in the world. Don’t believe me ? Look at all the NFL, NBA, and MLB players who train MMA in the off season.

  7. Dave, yeah the XBox 360 does the same thing, in their case using Smooth HD (ne Silverlight). I think all of these ABR codecs do roughly the same things here.

  8. Martin,

    You should really do a bit of research before blasting an entire sport and peoples intelligence (fighters). They are trained mixed martial artists who dedicate their lives to this sport. This sport is only starting is the fastest growing sport in the world. It’s also FAR safer than football and boxing. They take far less hits than boxing so it isn’t as repeated as one may think. This is a max 5 round fight with the ref stopping one someone taps out or isn’t intellegently defending themselves. MMA fighters are the most atheletic and well PROFESSIONAL atheletes in the world.

    As a social aspect, what is wrong with seeing some of the worlds toughest people compete in an organized and professional sport? We ARE human and this is natural human instinct unless you drink (unless you drink soy). People have become so fluffy and testosterone empty these days.

    To the writer, Roku’s audio quality is what upset me. It was completely unacceptable.

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