Heading to CES but have an important NFL football game to keep tabs on?

No problem. The game is being streamed free, right?

Well, sort of. As I found out, getting a hold of that free stream can be easier said than done. It turns out that NBC and CBS offered their playoff games for free with no strings attached, while Fox required users to authenticate, which is a process that can create hassles even for those with a pay-TV subscription.

The challenges started in the cab ride to the airport trying to get the San Francisco 49ers-Green Bay Packers game via the Web or NFL mobile. An error message suggested the needed app was Fox Sports Go and, in any case, that the game was only available free to those with a laptop, which was tucked away.

At the airport, even with a laptop and a needed cable subscription to authenticate, getting the game proved no easier. Even though I had a decent Wi-Fi connection, all I managed to get was one error message after another. One suggested a video playback error and suggested trying again, while another indicated I needed to subscribe to a different TV package.

Frustrated, and with only a few minutes left before boarding, there were a lot of people congregated around the bar, so I shut down the laptop and headed over to catch a couple 49er first downs on the big screen.

The biggest technological success came courtesy of Virgin America, which offers satellite TV. The game was on Fox, one of the channels offered through Virgin’s partnership with Dish. That said, I did miss the 49ers second touchdown due to Virgin’s federally mandated (and admittedly funny) safety video. I also missed most of the last two minutes before halftime during takeoff as the TV service was unavailable. But, it was still way better than my on-the-ground streaming experiences.

The real problem is CES and its inconvenient timing for football fans. The annual electronics show almost always conflicts with the college football championship bowl game. Two years ago, I teamed up with colleague Lauren Goode and we smushed Steve Ballmer’s final CES keynote and the BCS championship into one “Footballmer” liveblog. This year’s championship game is Monday night, though I’ll probably have to settle for a few sneaky peeks at the WatchESPN app in between reporting.

There is one more method to stream content, and one I will try out once we land. I recently got a Tivo Roamio which, among other things, lets its owners stream any live program or content recorded on their DVR. Planning ahead, I set the game to record and downloaded the Tivo app onto a phone and tablet.

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