So many ways to get your Games on - online, on TV and more

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 15: The Olympic Stadium with the Orbit Circus Tower (left) at the Olympic Park on July 15, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 15: The Olympic Stadium with the Orbit Circus Tower (left) at the Olympic Park on July 15, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
Posted: July 26, 2012

WANT TO KEEP up to the minute (literally) with Michael Phelps' going-for-the-most-medals swims? How about the ups and downs of our all-star (though lately a little shaky) B-ball Team USA? Or world's fastest man Usain Bolt's plan to beat his own record at the 2012 London Olympics?

Are you ever in luck.

The Olympic Games have long been a showcase for new communications technology, hearkening back to the first TV broadcasts from the London Olympics in 1948. With this summer's XXX Olympics, though, the multimedia means to follow favorite sports and competitors — via cable and satellite TV, websites, mobile apps and social-networking tools — are absolutely staggering.

The stakes are equally huge. NBCUniversal paid $1.18 billion for the U.S. rights to the 2012 games. Gotta sell a gazillion Coke and car ads and really pump up the sagging ratings to earn back that investment (plus the multi- multimillion-dollar production costs).

Adding insult to (potential) injury, NBC execs face an Internet-centric world where news travels instantly, secrets are impossible to keep and today's younger audience consumes media on nontraditional platforms.

So what to do? Most radically, kiss off the old cardinal rule "we will serve no high-profile Olympic competitions before prime time" — at least for subscription TV customers. And make game coverage available on every new media short of a receiver hardwired to your teeth.

"There are traditionalists who say ‘This will cannibalize us,'" said NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke. "But I think we're in a world that is so fragmented, you want to do everything you can."

As the Olympics officially starts Friday and continues through Aug. 12, pay TV customers can enjoy live streaming access on computers and smart devices to all 32 Olympic sports and 302 medal events — 3,500 hours in all — as the action's unraveling throughout the London day, five hours ahead of us. For select sports such as gymnastics, track and field, and tennis, you'll even find multiple streams flowing .

Computer viewers can grab it all at NBCOlympics.com .

On the go? Apple iOS and Android-based mobile phone and tablet users can click into the live events through the free-to-download NBC Live Extra App found in your device's app store.

In any and all cases, users will need to sign in once, verifying pay TV subscription credentials with either a service email address and password or maybe your birth date or Social Security number. (Some "dual play" Internet/TV customers will be recognized automatically on sign-in.) The verification system can handle tens of thousands of simultaneous requests. But to avoid pileups on Friday and Saturday, a four-hour free viewing "temporary pass" is just a click away.

Watching already-posted Olympic warm-up material last weekend with a mere 500 other early adopters, this Gizmo Guy found some of the "high definition" streams looked more like a blurry old VHS videotape on my Retina display iPad, with occasional mosaic breakup of the image, to boot. Could have been start-up jitters. Yesterday, the videos on the site were sharper and ran smoothly, even with the tablet oriented in the (mostly) full screen "landscape" mode.

But results will vary with the robustness of your Wi-Fi or 3G/4G signal.

And be forewarned: The latter will be superexpensive to use with a capped data plan. If you're out and about, look for an Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spot, free-for-all to use during the Olympics.

For big-screen (and true HD) pleasures, cable, telecom and satellite TV-fed Olympic options are almost as plentiful .

As 51 percent owner of NBC-Universal, Comcast has every good reason to take coverage to the max — with its Xfinity service lineup of nine Olympics channels plus a regularly updated selection of video-on-demand content that will build to more than 1,000 hours — "all from a front-row seat that you can't even get in London," said senior VP for digital and emerging platforms Matt Strauss.

But other pay TV services might come close.

The full Olympics TV channel count starts with the mainstay NBC channel, natch, plus NBC Sports Network (delivering an extra-weighty 292 hours of coverage), MSNBC, CNBC (heavy on boxing), Bravo (tennis central) and Telemundo. The last is serving up the games in Spanish and with a decidedly more international focus. All men's soccer games and Team USA women's games will likewise be available in Spanish by clicking the "SAP" button on a remote.

Also in the NBC Olympics bundle are two specialty channels devoted to basketball and soccer.

And sure to grab Gizmo Guy's heart and eyeballs is the first-ever 3D Olympics channel, delivering 12 hours a day (almost 242 hours total) of in-your-face excitement. Produced by the Olympic Broadcasting Services with technical support and sponsorship from Panasonic, the stereoscopic coverage starts and ends with opening and closing ceremonies, plus men's and women's gymnastics, bicycle racing, track and field and extensive coverage from the Aquatic Center. A Panasonic spokesman told me that its waterproof 3D cameras will "literally plunge into the pool after the divers."

FYI: Probably for quality-control purposes, the 3D programming will be shown on a next-day delay (as was early HD Olympics content) and also is being carried by the likes of AT&T, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Cox Communications, DIRECTV, RCN, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, among others.

Don't have a pay TV subscription? An event schedule, some delayed performance replays, participant profiles, slide shows and news stories are yours for the grabbing at the free NBC Olympics app, as well as at NBCOlympics.com and the Xfinity.com/ NBCOlympics.com "micro-site." Among the more important news reports we found there: London weather has been so chilly and rainy, Women's Beach Volleyball teams may be forced to compete in clingy body suits, rather than their traditionally teeny bikini uniforms. There go the ratings!

Olympics apps and sites also are jumping on the "second screen" tech trend to a degree. Some coordinated news/bios on standout athletes will pop up on your tablet screen exactly when the talents are competing (in, um, tape-delayed basis) on the main NBC TV channel.

XfinityTV app and micro-site users also will have be able to search for Olympics VOD content on a tablet/phone or computer and then "throw" the selection to their cable box and TV, we learned in a recent demo at Comcast HQ. "Filtered" guides can search upcoming live content by participant or theme — archery to wrestling — then fast set the DVR.

But wait, there's more. Xfinity app linked Xbox 360 users with an Xbox Live subscription and Kinect peripheral should theoretically be able to bark "find Michael Phelps" and the genie will deliver appropriate VOD content to the game console and connected TV. Or maybe not. The voice-activation techmology (sic) played dumb in our test drive.

Blown away by the trampolinists and BMX daredevils? Got a crush on Natalie Coughlin or Corben Sharrah? NBC Olympics sites and apps let you click on Facebook and Twitter icons to share the passion — and direct buds to the Web for vid clips and stories.

Facebook has a dedicated NBC Olympics page, facebook.com/nbcolympics, stocked with "exclusive content" — from "33 Athletes to Watch" to a song request list for Paul McCartney's opening ceremony appearance.

But be forewarned: Facebook and NBC plan to eavesdrop (abstractly) and make something of your input — aiming to turn the "social conversation" surrounding the Olympics into fodder for the TV broadcasts. A "Facebook Talk Meter" will pop up from time to time on the TV screen, even in the prime evening hours. And the online chat will drive the creation of some production segments.

"NBC is going to turn that data into stories," said Facebook's business-to-business exec Andy Mitchell.

Contact Jonathan Takiff at 215-854-5960 or takiffj@phillynews.com. Read his blog at philly.com/gizmoguy.

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