March Madness brings out a flurry of streaming TV and VR deals

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

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.

It’s hardly a coincidence that “cord cutting” streaming TV providers Sony PlayStation Vue and Sling TV recently introduced new twists to their pay-TV alternatives.

Or that FOX Sports VR staged an eye-opening demonstration of its virtual-reality capability last weekend,  streaming all the games in the Big East men’s basketball tournament in visually immersive fashion from Madison Square Garden to the virtual club box in your goggles-wearing head. A run capped by Villanova’s latest win at the buzzer.  

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, b-ball skews youngest of America’s major spectator sports with an average age of 37,  say NBA researchers. That’s unchanged from a decade ago, while 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. That goes for players, too. “Young basketball stars today are ingrained in culture and fashions and life in a way that the stars from other sports are not,” noted ESPN business of sports reporter Darren Rovell.

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. (Bleeding-edge VR adopters can take in a full NBA game weekly this season in the immersive format, $6 per. Details at NextVR.com.)

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 MM games are played simultaneously on different 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 including Philadelphia.

Vue service also bundles the essential ESPN and ESPN U, as well as  Turner-owned,  MM-lovin’ 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 up to 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, which is common among streamers and a gimmick you can exploit to watch the tourney's final week. 

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 – important as 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.

Can’t always be home for game time? Cloud DVR recording is newly available on Sling TV as a $5-a-month option. This storage works on Roku boxes and TVs, Amazon Fire TV box/stick/tablet, Android mobile devices and TVs. And, as with other streamers, a subscription enables you to watch some (but not all) content on a mobile device, too.

Phones/tablets/computer madness.  For on-the-job viewing, the best options are at http://www.ncaa.com/marchmadness or the NCAA March Madness Live app. All the games are there, including 24 (of the 67 total) carried by CBS. Some are free, some come with a three-hour grace period before asking for a cable or satellite account address and password (any friend's combination will do).

The site even offers a sneaky way to hide your obsession at work. When games are playing on a desktop and laptop, note the “boss button” in the upper right corner. Tap on it and the game disappears, replaced by a quasi-PowerPoint or page of notes.

Down to the wire. 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!