So for starters, special thanks to Suzanne Grassel and Michael DiLorenzo at NHL.com for setting me up with a trial account to check out Gamecenter Live. Due to some internet problems in my old location, I didn’t have much chance to test it out (although what I did see.. wow). I finally got a chance today to get online and check it out though, and what can I say. This might be the greatest thing ever to happen to the hockey world.
So let’s start out with the negatives here, and get that over with. Local games… whether it’s PPV or otherwise, it looks like you can’t watch these games until 48 hours after the game is televised. 48 hours! Really? So if you live in an NHL city and have hopes of getting something like this to watch games, don’t bother. But chances are if you live in an NHL city, you’re going to watch the game on the TV live anyways, so it’s not a big deal. But it would be nice if that 48 hour limit was a bit lower, because sometimes you just want to go back and review a highlight. One thing I found even more weird is I couldn’t even watch one of the Calgary games that wasn’t even televised here. I’m not sure why I would have wanted to watch Calgary, but sometimes a guy gets bored. So at any rate, that is a consideration for Alberta hockey fans that have hopes of watching the Oilers in this way. I’d do some investigation first before buying it and finding out you can’t watch the Oilers or Flames in your area.
Wow, where to start. Let’s start with the huge database set up for watching games. I logged in, and first off I’m presented with a nice list of classic hockey games (137 in total). This list is even filterable by team or by conference, as well as by era, or player. As I speak, I’m watching the final game of the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers vs. Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup final.
As far as current games, the archive stores games back to the 2007-2008 season, and I can only presume will grow lengthier as this service continues on. This might not be the case though, as the ads say that there is a 3-year game archive. Guess we’ll see. The quality of video of live games is quite superb. The bitrate is selectable between 800kbps, and 1600kbps. At 1600kbps, it is apparent that the feed is a high-definition feed, although don’t expect it to look as good as a TV HD stream. That said, it is still quite nice, however. Here is a shot of what the video quality is like.
The toolbar has a nice slider which allows you to jump to different points of the game with ease (although some buffer time is required to load the newly selected point up, obviously). In addition, there is a Play By Play button which lists off the particular highlights. With a simple click on a button by one of the highlights, the player will load up a video showing the highlight. When I first sampled Gamecenter Live back in February, the games themselves were actually earmarked, allowing you to jump from highlight to highlight within the main game video, allowing you to continue watching the game after the highlight was over. Not sure why that feature was removed, or if I just can’t find it now.
Along the same theme as the Play By Play button is the Ice Tracker button, which shows a map of the ice with key highlights plotted out on it, as well as every shot/goal. It provides another way to access individual highlight videos.
Gamecenter Live also has a chat feature built in, that allows you to talk to other fans who are watching games. I wasn’t interested in this feature, however, so I won’t talk much about it. It’s a chat feature.. I think you guys get the idea here anyways. It’s a nice feature, as you don’t have to leave the game video window to chat with other people, or neatly arrange windows to be able to see everything. It just overlays wherever you want, so long as you don’t go full screen mode.
Another feature provided is the ability to quickly access individual player stats for the game. Just simply click on “OILERS STATS”, for example, and you can see stats such as goals, assists, points, +/-, penalty minutes and time on ice.
What can I say? This is an incredible service. If you’re considering buying NHL Center Ice, I’d suggest considering Gamecenter Live instead. There are two obvious caveats to this though: one, you’ll need to watch on your computer (unless you plug it into your TV or figure a way to stream it to your TV) and two, you will need a reliable internet connection to watch these games without frustration.
So who is this service good for? I’d say it is more geared towards the hockey enthusiast. The casual fan might find it’s price tag to be a bit high (I am having a tough time locating the price right now, but I think it is around $200 for a full year). But for someone who has interest in watching dozens of games a year, this is good value. Lastly, and most importantly, be sure that you aren’t intending to watch local games on this, as you’ll have to wait 48 hours before being able to watch any.
You can check out a demo of the product and gather more information here: http://www.nhl.com/gamecenter/