Being a cord cutter and sports fan, I tested NBC's online coverage of the Olympics during the first few days and found the video quality to be unacceptable on my Dell laptop with 4 GB of RAM an Intel Core 2 CPU with a 3.06 Ghz clock speed and an Nvidia Quadro FX 770M display chip, but OK on an iPad or iPhone.
To get smooth video during the first day or two, I had to drop the horizontal resolution down to 240p, which, as you see below, is totally blurry on my 1,920 by 1,200 laptop screen. (Click the images for actual size and clarity).
It is now day nine of the Olympics, and I am happy to say that I am back on my couch watching NBC's streaming coverage on my laptop. They have improved the video significantly. It now runs smoothly at 480p resolution, which looks good, as you see here:
If I up the horizontal resolution to 720p, the video is noticeably sharper, but becomes a little jerky, but watchable:
I got greedy and tested 1080p, but that was too slow and jumpy to watch.
I do not know what NBC changed -- more bandwidth, more servers, different compression algorithms or all of the above -- but the performance went from bad to good.
It is noteworthy that Google is NBC's streaming partner. Maybe NBC has learned something of the "Internet way" from them -- deploy early and improve fast. The folks at NBC might also have talked with their colleagues who streamed the Tour de France in July -- that video was great from start to finish.
Lest you conclude that I'm no longer a curmudgeon and have become a soft-hearted fanboy, let me be clear -- the commercials still suck.