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NHL Gamecenter Live (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

Now I can actually watch this Tavares guy play!
Now I can actually watch this Tavares guy play!

One of the biggest worries I had about moving out to Minnesota was how was I going to be able to watch the Islanders on a regular basis? If you think MSG+ 56 is hard to find on Cablevision, guess how hard it is waaaay out of market. Many bars out here do have the NHL Center Ice packages, but as a graduate student I don't have the money to go out to bars 4-5 times a week to catch the games, on top of that not every place is ready, willing and able to switch to, lets face it, a team with a losing record over the past couple of seasons and no superstars (Although I wouldn't exactly call Miko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck household names, but I digress...).

So last week I broke down and purchased the NHL's Gamecenter Live package. For $19.95 a month, I can stream HD broadcasts of the Islanders right into my Lauderdale, Minnesota apartment. Since I know I'm not the only out of marketer to frequent this site, I thought I would give a review of Gamecenter so if anyone who is interested can see if its worth the money.

The first thing that attracted me to Gamecenter, and something I was willing to dish out money to get, was the ability to choose between the home and away broadcasts. For internet packages, this is something that is unique to the NHL. The NFL, obviously, only has the Fox or CBS feeds on their Manhattan-only internet package. MLB's service only allows you to watch the home team's broadcast, which is beyond lame if your team is the away team and you're stuck listening to, I don't know Michael Kay and YES' group of buffoons instead of a quality broadcast team like Gary, Kieth and Ron (Sorry Yankees fans, your broadcast team is one of the worst in baseball. Admit it and lets move on.).

The problem with this feature is the second game I watched (Isles vs. Avs), the feature failed and I was stuck with the Avs broadcast all game, Brian Engblom's hair included. But when it works, it's fantastic. There really is nothing to cure homesickness for New York than listening to Howie's Queens accent.

The quality of the feed is outstanding. While its not HD quality you can get over cable, it's pretty damn good. I have my desktop hooked up to a Panasonic Visio HDTV via an HDMI cable. The only time the picture is bad is when the connection lags a bit. My current connection (through the school and free) isn't the best but it works. Depending on your screen and the quality of the resolution, it makes the viewing experience infinitely better than a majority of the less than legal video feeds. For those who quality of picture is a must, the price here is more than justified. You can also choose to have not just a fixed bandwidth length but a variable one based on your computer's connection to avoid unnecessary buffering. Because of this, the audio feed might vary in quality throughout the game but the video tends to remain high quality.

Now not everything about this is good. I mentioned the problem during the Avs game that was thoroughly annoying. Another feature that might drive the real hockey fan nuts is they do not broadcast any of the pre-game or post-game. They put the game on as soon as it begins (Or after it begins, with the Avs game) and pull the feed once the clock strikes 0:00.00. I want my analysis! I don't like staring at a black screen with a rotating NHL logo telling me the game has ended, I want analysis of the win or loss. The final major issue I have with the service is local blackouts. I know there are rules in place, but as a full time student that cannot afford cable let alone HD cable, not being able to watch my local team in the best quality (Or the one time a year the Isles play the Wild) is frustrating.

So the final verdict, if you are a picture quality nut who lives out of Islanders range, Gamecenter Live is a good option for you. While they're still working some kinks out (the service only began last year), it does have some distinct advantages over the other major sports internet services. I don't regret the purchase, as not I don't have to worry about missing the Isles play or relying on less than quality, less than legal streaming feeds of the games.