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Product Review: NHL's GameCenter Live

Since starting up this blog three seasons ago, I've been offered free items in exchange for reviews.  I've easily turned down more than I've accepted for a variety of reasons, and more often than not whatever I have accepted I've offered up as a contest or giveaway on this site.  

First off, when someone says they will send me something for free in exchange for a good (and "we mean good") review, I immediately shut off.  What good is a review if it can't be honest from the perspective of someone reviewing it?  Plus, some items will really not make the grade when it comes to forced positive reviews and come off as more transparent than the tears of Philly fans. 

Even when offered over a dozen or so items to give away to you guys, some of the weirder offers and requests for positive reviews that I've turned down over the years listed after the jump.

  • Key chains: What can I possibly say that's good OR bad about a key chain?  It holds my keys and doubles as a paper weight.  And when I'm at the gym and make the mistake of keeping my keys in my pocket it stabs me in the leg and/or hip.  Come to think of it, that seems more negative than positive.  I have a Denver Nuggets keychain on my keys and even that was a small gift from a friend of mine.  I've cut myself on the jagged edges more times than I can remember.
  • Golf balls: Again, isn't a golf ball just ball?  Unless it has cork embedded under the shell (does anyone even do that?), thus making it fly illegally further than any other ball, I can't see how one differentiates from the other.  Plus, outside of a driving range or mini golf, I don't play.  So really it's no good to me either way.
  • T-shirts: I'm all for free shirts.  I used to work at a few classic rock and alternative rock radio stations.  I have drawers full of liquor, beer and radio station t-shirts to make any gym rat jealous.  When I run out of clean hand towels in the kitchen I grab a few old, crappy t-shirts from that drawer and throw them away by the end of the run.  But again, how can I review a t-shirt in a forced positive way?  "It looks like a shirt, feels like a shirt - but it's so much better than any shirt you've ever worn.  I swear!"  No thanks.  A shirt's a shirt.

So when the NHL approached me earlier this week and offered the remainder of the season of NHL GameCenter for free in exchange for a review, I figured it would be just another one of those free products or items I have to turn down based on my own set of standards for this site.  However, without even having to ask, I was told to give an honest review, full of the good and the bad.  Or all the good and no bad.  Or all the bad and no good.  Basically, in exchange for a free half season subscription to GameCenter Live, I could be as critical as I wanted to be and still have it for the remainder of the season.  That's a win-win in my book.

For those of you who already use it, I'd love to hear what you have to say.  For others who may have been on the fence, I hope my review is honest enough to steer you in either direction. 



Here's what I like about GameCenter Live:

  • The video quality is outstanding.  As long as you have a sufficient Internet connection (does anyone even use dial-up anymore?), you should have no problem using the service.  I tried this out at two locations - one with Fios (Last night for the Pens/Sens game), the other with just a basic cable connection (Wednesday night for the Lightning/Habs game).  Both connections got the job done and got it done well.
  • Other than an option to download a DVR plug-in, the entire GameCenter service is online.  By that I mean, you don't have to download any sort of player to your computer.  You basically just log in, load up whatever game you want, sit back and enjoy the show.  Again, if you want to DVR the game and click back to previous events during the game, then you'll need the plug in.
  • You can watch games going back as far as the 07/08 season.  The best part about this feature is you can find it not only by season, but also by team AND opponent.  So if I wanted to go back and watch every Pens/Flyers game from the 07/08 season I can, like the one on December 11 when Gary Roberts beat the hell out of Ben Eager.
  • Also, if you're watching a past game or have the DVR feature, you can click ahead to significant plays including shots/saves or goals by eyeing up the timeline at the bottom of the feed.  Goals are marked with little red dots.  Saves are marked with a small 'x.'  You can see exactly what I'm talking about in the screenshot above.
  • The pop-out feature basically gives you a re-sizable window of the game your watching.  This is clutch for me especially if I want to watch the game and see what you guys are talking about in the thread.

Here's what I don't like about GameCenter:

  • I don't like the multi-game option of watching four games at once.  It's way too much to follow and unless you have a big enough monitor you won't be able to full enjoy this view.  Plus, with so much going on, it tends to lag the feeds for all of the games.  Sure, you can lower the quality (options include 1600, 800 and 400 kbps) of all of the games to try and speed up the feed, but now you're not only stuck with a small window to watch the game in but the video is also sub-par quality on top of that.
  • If I want to watch two games, which is far more reasonable and easier to track than four, I can't re-size the windows horizontally to kinda fit into a wide screen format.  You're stuck with the same four-game spread, only now half your screen is empty because it doesn't have another two games loaded up.  You can load up individual windows with the aforementioned pop-out option, but I found that even re-sizing them in this view still keeps the viewing area the same size.  All you're doing is expanding the area around the video.  Plus, I noticed while trying to do this, that it became a bit burdensome with so many windows open and ultimately lagged so much that a window closed about three minutes after I initially clicked it.  I tried it again only to discover that it works much faster if you pause then close.
  • The picture-in-picture option is pretty unobtrusive but I still wish I could re-size the window to my liking.  I might just be nitpicking now though.

There are also some features I could really care less about:

  • Chat widget: Obviously my interest in this differentiates from that of other potential GameCenter users, but I like the freedom of keeping up with you guys in the thread.  Thankfully this is a widget option, therefore not matted to the game and something I don't have to worry about.  I did keep the window open for a bit though just to see what the conversations were like, wondering if they were all "Sid dives!" and "Malkin sucks!" comments.  They weren't.  At least not for the period of play in which I kept the widget open.
  • Play by play widget: Kinda seemed pointless to me, but I guess some people like this sort of thing.  I would likely never have the window open during a game.

Heading into the program my main concern was being able to watch the live game without any sort of blip in the feed.  Much to my satisfaction, GameCenter Live takes care of that without any significant lag.  Sure, there were a few instances where it buffers the feed, but when it does kick back in again you pick up where it left off.  So really you don't miss a second of the game, even if you have to wait a second or two for it to play catch up. 

Some of the added widgets and features just aren't for me.  I'm not a bells and whistles kinda guy, despite being a tech nerd of sorts.  I was intent on keeping it simple.  Again, two games is my max.  Even if I only have one game loaded on the computer and another on my TV, two is about as far as I'd go for multi-game view. 

I tried out GCL last season during a trial run but didn't think I'd want to invest in it based on the notion that it wouldn't stream fast enough or that I'd get annoyed by the buffering of the feed.  Having watched two games live and a few clips from archived games, I have to say it didn't happen nearly as much as I thought it would (or as I remember it happening last season), nor did it even have significant periods in which the feed slowed down. 

For someone who likes the idea of keeping everything mobile and on the go so as to coincide with my ADD, I like knowing that I can load up the game on my computer wherever there is an Internet connection available without having to be locked to my couch to take it all in.

Now that I've thrown out my two cents (more like a $1.50 at this point), do you guys have any feedback, whether good or bad, on GameCenter Live?  And for those who haven't tried it but would like to give the demo a run, you can do so over at the GameCenter Live page.