The Rugby World Cup will challenge the tech savviness of both Kiwi sports fans and broadband provider Spark. Tech columnist Peter Griffin explains your options.
It is make or break for Spark Sport, the service that the country’s largest broadband provider will use to live-stream all 48 games of the tournament after it outbid Sky TV for the rights. If the All Blacks make it to the final, it might become the most-streamed event in New Zealand’s history.
Can our broadband network handle it? Definitely, if you are on ultrafast broadband; probably, if you are on a good copper-line connection. In rural areas with patchy service, it will be hit-and-miss. I wouldn’t want to rely on a mobile connection to stream the games, either.
So, it was a smart move by Spark to do a deal with Sky TV to allow commercial venues to screen all the games live on a Spark Sport pop-up channel on their Sky decoder. Bars and clubs will pay commercial rates to do so, although some will take the cheaper and riskier option of just streaming the Spark Sport app over their internet connection.
At least then you’ll be able to head out and find somewhere showing the games. In rural areas, Spark Sport is also offering schools a free Rugby World Cup tournament pass, which is a smart move. If anywhere in town is going to have good broadband, it will be the local school, and it’s a great opportunity to put on a barbecue and get the community together.
But there are a number of potential failure points between the stadiums of Japan and the screen you’ll watch the games on. Australia’s Optus suffered an embarrassing failure last year when its video streaming of the Fifa World Cup failed. It had to ask broadcaster SBS to show some of the games on free-to-air TV.
Spark has that card to play as a last resort. Its broadcast partner, TVNZ, will screen 12 games – seven of them live, including the tournament opener, semi-finals and final. The New Zealand pool matches and quarter-final will be delayed by one hour. TVNZ also has the ability to broadcast the remaining games if Spark Sport falls over.
But, even if everything goes to plan, there could still be anguish in your lounge if you don’t plan ahead and check your technology to see you have everything you need to stream the games. Here are the options for watching the World Cup at home:
The easiest way to view involves downloading the Spark Sport app onto your smart TV and opening it with a click of your remote. But only 2017 onwards Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and TCL and 2019 LG smart TVs will have the Spark Sport app in time for the tournament.
Plug and play
For older and incompatible TVs that have an HDMI connection, you can plug in your laptop with an HDMI cable to stream Spark Sport from your web browser and mirror it on your TV screen. You may need an HDMI adapter to allow this, and make sure your browser is up to date.
Freeview and Apple TV
Two Freeview devices support the Spark Sport app. The puck-shaped Dish TV SmartVu X gadget will give your old TV with HDMI a smart-TV interface, as will the Dish TV Freeview A2 recorder ($439). Apple TV 4K box (from $179) and older HD versions will support the Spark Sport app.
The tiny dongle from Google ($60-$110) plugs into your TV and lets you wirelessly send Spark Sport from your phone or computer to your TV screen.
Smartphones and tablets
If big-screen viewing isn’t important, the Spark Sport app is on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, too. You’ll need a Spark Sport tournament pass ($80 until September 10, then $90) to stream all games. Make sure to test out your set-up well before kick-off on September 20.
This article was first published in the September 14, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.