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March Madness brings a flurry of streaming TV and VR deals

Multi-taskers can go bonkers with March Madness basketball action this month, watching three games at once.
Multi-taskers can go bonkers with March Madness basketball action this month, watching three games at once. TNS

March Madness. Millennials. New Tech.

Combine them and they make a perfect storm, helping college basketball fans feed their passions no matter how they’re taking in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Sports and tech have long been mutually supportive. Spectator sports have driven the evolution of radio, black-and-white and color TV, videotape recording, high-definition video, and, recently, 3D TV (proving you can’t always be successful).

Basketball is probably the best sport to showcase breakthroughs.

For one thing, basketball skews youngest of America’s major spectator sports with an average spectator age of 37, NBA researchers say. That’s unchanged from a decade ago. Meanwhile, the mean age of football and baseball fans has risen in the same period, to 47 and 53, respectively.

There’s also evidence that basketball fans are the most tech-savvy, far more likely to share game clips and conversation on YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram.

And to experience the newest virtual-reality feats, there’s no beating the tighter, 94-by-50-feet confines of a basketball court. It’s far easier to engage VR goggle wearers with a whole-court view from the free-throw line or behind the hoop than from a 360-degree camera anywhere in a baseball or football stadium.

Room with a Vue/slinging hash. Besides being a great video game system, the PlayStation 3 helped drive conversions to Netflix and to the Blu-ray video disc format. Now Sony is hoping to drive adoption of its streaming PlayStation Vue subscription TV service through more powerful PS4 consoles with a strong come-on to March Madness.

Fans find it frustrating that multiple March Madness games are played simultaneously on several channels. But Vue is the only streaming TV service that offers one-stop access to all of them — including those on CBS — a network not playing ball with streamers Sling TV and DirecTV Now, but available in Vue markets.

Vue service also bundles the essential ESPN and ESPN U, and the Turner-owned cable channels TBS, TNT, and truTV that are MIA on the soon-coming YouTube TV service.

And if you opt to bring home the Vue on a $250 to $400 PS4 rather than on a small “set top” device (Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Chromecast), you can enjoy the unique pleasure of watching as many as three games on the same TV screen — one game larger with sound, the one or two others smaller and silent. On a 65-inch TV, the big screen game claimed 34 inches (on the diagonal), the smaller games took up 20 inches each. And collectively, the game trio needed about 20 mbps of streaming bandwidth to achieve near-HD visuals.

Vue also includes a DVR option to catch up on missed games (just have to watch ’em within 28 days). The $39.99-a-month basic package comes with a free seven-day trial.

Sling TV offers the cheapest of March Madness-friendly “skinny bundle” TV services, charging $25 for the Sling TV Blue package, which includes must-haves TNT, TBS, truTV and the ESPNs. Sling also has a faster, easier-surfed channel menu — which is important because there’s no tune-by-number option in streaming TV land.

But where’s CBS, Waldo? For that, Sling recommends its special March Madness deal for a flat RCA indoor antenna (discounted to $37.50) to connect to your TV’s internal tuner.

Interested in watching just key games on CBS? Its All Access app delivers all CBS games to a streaming device, phone or computer for $6 a month. And here, too, cheapskates can enjoy a free-week trial to catch the Final Four games April 1 and the championship April 3. Score!

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