During one of Canes Country's live game threads about a week ago, I started asking if anyone had NHL GameCenter Live and what they thought of it. Overall, the reviews were pretty good. Then fate intervened — Canes Country was offered the opportunity at a free trial of GameCenter in return for an honest review of the product.
And here we are. After spending a couple nights poking around the NHL's answer to Internet broadcasting, I'm ready to weigh in.
When you launch GameCenter, the interface is easy to navigate. All of the day's game are listed along the top of the window — along with future and recently completed games — so you can easily find the game or games you wish to watch. Yep, GameCenter not only gives you picture-in-picture capability, but also the ability to watch four games at once. I will say that the four games is a little much to watch, even on a large laptop monitor. But if your game of choice is in commercial or intermission, it's a great way to keep tabs on other games around NHL.
One issue that applies to GameCenter — and Center Ice, its television cousin — is the inability to watch nationally or regionally broadcasted games. So on night's like Monday, when my wife has "The Bachelor: On The Wings Of Love" penciled in from 8 to 10 p.m., the option to watch the Hurricanes play in Edmonton starting at 9:30 p.m. isn't available to me in Raleigh. Again, this is more an indictment of broadcast blackout rules than GameCenter itself, but I was kind of hoping the Wild West that is the Web would bend the rules some.
As for actually hunkering down and watching a game full screen, there isn't much to gripe about. The quality is about as good as you're going to get for live streaming video. I'd love the option to watch either team's broadcast, but given the audio and video quality it's tough to complain.
GameCenter has stat windows that are readily accessible on the bottom left of the window, plus Ice Tracker, Chat and Play By Play windows that add to the package. While the stats were useful and mostly unobtrusive, the other three, for my purposes, were mostly window dressing.
GameCenter also allows for quick flipping between games — maybe not as fast as if you had Center Ice and were using your remote control, but fast enough that you never feel hindered by the downtime during the switch.
I did have some problems at the start with GameCenter's DVR capabilities, with the page calling for a plug-in that was nowhere to be found — on the page, in the help menu, via Google ... anywhere. But it's there — just in a window that was efficiently denied by my pop-up blocker. A simple prompt asking to turn off your pop-up blocker would've saved me a lot of time trying to get GameCenter up and running to its full capabilities. One I installed the plug-in, things ran smoothly.
On top of having the DVR options, GameCenter also has an archive of games going all the way back to 2007-08. Want to watch the last time Carolina and Edmonton played prior to Monday's matchup? You can use the drop-downs to choose the year and teams, then look and see if the there's a match. Sure enough, the Oilers’ 3-1 win from Nov. 11, 2008, is there, ready to view. Sometimes the loading for archived games can be slow, but it's a great resource for watching old games. Recent games are also available, but not until 48 hours after the game aired.
Overall, GameCenter is a great alternative to Center Ice. The video and audio quality are hard to beat, further establishing the NHL as the frontrunner among all sports on the Internet. If your top priority is watching your local team, GameCenter may not be worth the cost since local broadcasts are blacked out. But in markets where not every game is televised, GameCenter is a quality, reliable option for watching your favorite team and teams from around the league.