For someone living outside of the city of Ottawa (or wherever your favourite team happens to be located), NHL Gamecenter Live seems like a dream come true. Living in BC has prevented me from getting all of the Ottawa Senators television coverage I wanted (thanks, Rogers Sportsnet), so being able to live stream games over the internet should solve my woes, right?
Well, yes, and no. I've spent the past couple of months getting the most out of my Gamecentre Live account, and I've come away fairly impressed, yet not totally convinced by it. Read past the jump for my take on the NHL's game-streaming program.
- Unlike Centre Ice, it's portable. You can use it whether you're at home or at the office (just don't let the boss catch you). You don't even need some sort of separate application -- it just runs from your browser.
- 2200 and 1600 kbps are very nice looking feeds. Very good quality.
- The Game Archive lets you watch full games that you either missed or have some sort of burning desire to watch again. It's not a feature I really care about, but I could see how some people would really appreciate seeing some of their favourite games, or games they saw live.
- Condensed Games are an interesting option for the casual fan who misses a game but knows the result -- 10-20 minute highlight reels that let you get a lot more action than the highlights you'll see on TV.
- DVR features allow you to rewind and view replays that the hired goons at Sportsnet don't bother to show you again.
- An absolutely ridiculous amount of live and archived hockey at your disposal. It's almost too much. Almost.
- Some nice special features like stats, play-by-play, and the Ice Tracker to keep tabs on what's going on out there. There's also an option to view up to four games at once, which seems entirely unnecessary but I'm sure that some idiots out there will love that feature.
- Blackouts. If a game is on TSN, TSN2, or CBC and you live in Canada, you don't get to watch it on Gamecentre Live. If it's a game on Sportsnet Pacific and you live in BC, you don't get to watch it on Gamecentre Live. This is problematic because a lot of people would be buying this because they don't have cable/satellite, and therefore don't get those channels despite living in this region. It also makes it somewhat pointless for a Sens fan living in Ottawa to buy Gamecentre Live, as pretty much all Sens games will be blacked out.
- Spelling it Gamecenter instead of Gamecentre. I type it wrong into my address bar at least 50% of the times I am typing it.
- Not enough options for stream quality -- due to a poor wireless network connection, my internet is not the fastest out there. I can watch 800kbps streams no problem, but 1600 lags every now and then. Therefore, it'd be really nice if there were options in between, like 1200kbps. The jump in quality from 800 to 1600 is huge, and it seems bizarre to not have a middle ground.
- There are the occassional slip-ups. I've had it where the feed is really choppy and jumpy to start the game, although this usually corrects after a while. Sometimes there is a bit of lag, but I'm usually fine on 800kbps. There has also been one instance where the top 5% of the video feed was cut off and displayed below the rest of the video feed, cutting off part of the score.
- I still think the price is too expensive, but that's probably because I'm extremely cheap.
Online streaming of sporting events is the way the planet is heading, and the NHL is running a great system at the moment. The technology isn't perfect yet, but it's certainly commendable. The biggest problem, and one that is going to be a dealbreaker for a lot of people, is the sheer volume of games that are unavailable to watch because of regional blackouts. Gamecenter Live is not a great substitute for those living without cable or satellite TV, but more of a supplement to their television package. At its current price point, it may be hard to justify that for a lot of people.
For more information, check out the Gamecenter Live website.
Disclosure: I received a free NHL Gamecenter LIVE account in exchange for providing this review of the product. Sweet deal, right?