4 Games, 1 Screen

Do you holler, “Hell, yes!” whenever the TV announcer howls: “Are you ready for some football?!” Then ESPN’s updated Apple TV app with MultiCast is for you.

Call it picture-in-picture on steroids. ESPN rolled out MultiCast just in time for football season. I made sure the feature wasn’t available through the ESPN app on my Roku TV. The prerequisite to streaming through an ESPN app is having a cable TV or satellite subscription to ESPN.

After downloading the free ESPN app to my Gen 4 Apple TV, I was prompted to select Verizon FiOS as my provider. Once I entered a code via my iPad browser, I was able to start watching ESPN’s surfeit of programs through my Internet-connected Apple TV. Prompts on the TV screen appeared on how to split the screen and load up to four ESPN channels at once from a sliding ribbon of channels that appeared at the bottom of the screen.

I soon found myself surveying four different games simultaneously. During the U.S. Open, I could view a quartet of courts in action. On a 55-inch TV, each quadrant becomes a 27-inch display. Depending on the day, ESPN claims that users can choose from 30 or more live events. One Sunday night, for instance, I could choose from 17 events that included women’s basketball, college football, college soccer, curling, sports news, a sports documentary, and Major League Baseball. Out of this cornucopia, just five of these ESPN channels were also viewable through my cable box.

Sports-minded viewers certainly get their money’s worth from the app. What they don’t get are non-ESPN games. So, if CBS or NBC is showing football, the ESPN app won’t have it. It did carry the West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech game from ABC, but it and ESPN are both owned by Disney.

I soon found myself surveying four different games simultaneously.

Though the video from multiple programs plays at once, only one can be heard. It’s too easy for your finger to stray over the touch-surface remote, which changes the highlighted box and thus the audio source. The highlighted box briefly pops out a bit as four vertical bars stay animated in a corner, indicating the channel the audio is coming from. You turn a highlighted box full screen by pressing the remote’s touch-surface.

If you’re both a sports zealot and an AV geek, there are things to know. First, by selecting any of the ESPN channels through Apple TV versus the same ones on cable, you’ll receive stereo instead of 5.1 sound. Also, there’s no opportunity to do your own replays via the app. If that’s a consideration, you’ll want to deploy your DVR to record available games for potential playback later even if you’re streaming live.

As of this writing, ESPN had not yet announced 4K streams to support a forthcoming Gen 5 Apple TV that reportedly will be Ultra HD compatible. It would be prudent for the sports network to upgrade its picture quality sooner rather than later considering how its pixel count lags well behind the Full HD standard supported by most other broadcasters, notably CBS and NBC, both sizeable sports providers. Yet, ESPN sticks stubbornly to 720p, a subpar resolution that’s obsolete on all but the smallest TV screens. Then again, ESPN was badly burned by taking a chance on 3D TV, so it may take a wait-and-see attitude on 4K.

All told, if you’re passionate about live sports and switch channels relentlessly to keep up on two, three, even four games going on at the same time, the ESPN app for Apple TV won’t let you take your eye off the ball — any of them.