An honest review of NHL Gamecenter Live

Gamecenter is a little bit like Josh Gorges: doesn't always look great, but gets the job done. - Claus Andersen

Every year the NHL gives SBN's site managers a Gamecenter Live account in exchange for a review, and this year is no different, so let's get into it.

I use Gamecenter Live two ways, either in a web browser, or on my Apple TV. Both have advantages and disadvantages, which I'll go over. We'll start with the browser version.

Using Gamecenter Live in a browser

In a browser is where you get the full function of Gamecenter Live (GCL from now on). You can fast forward, pause, and rewind, you can watch two games at once in a picture in picture style, or you can even switch to mosaic view to watch four games at once.

You're also able to customize the quality of stream that you're using, which can help if you have a slow internet connection, or if you have a download limit that you need to watch for. If you do have a small download limit (under 100GB per month), and GCL is your main tool to watch hockey, beware of watching in the best available quality, because it's the biggest data muncher I've come across, worse than Netflix's HD programs.

If you're watching a game that's already taken place, highlights of the game are marked with icons across the progress bar, and you can skip ahead to see them at your leisure.

The main problem with GCL on a browser though, is that the quality of video and audio never really gets that great, no matter what your internet connection is. There's always a bit of artifacting and jumping when the camera moves quickly, and the audio always sounds a little bit tinny to my ear.

GCL has another problem on the browser too, and that's continually logging out for no reason. Every time I reload the site I need to log back in, which is a small annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. To add to that, other users have reported getting logged out randomly during games, which can be extremely annoying.

The negatives on the browser is why I mostly use GCL on my Apple TV.

Using GCL on an Apple TV

If you're not familiar with it, an Apple TV is a small device that connects to your TV via an HDMI cord and connects to your wifi in order to stream video and audio. GCL is preloaded on Apple TVs, all you have to do is enter your login information once, and it's saved.

Last year the software was extremely bare bones on the Apple TV, but this year you also have access to the NHL Vault, which has classic games from all televised eras of hockey history. You could waste weeks watching classic hockey if you want to.

The main advantage of the Apple TV though, is the streaming quality. I'm not entirely sure why, but the streaming quality of both video and audio is way, way better on the Apple TV than it is on the browser. Last year there was still a lot of jumping when the camera moved quickly, but this year that's been smoothed out well and I hardly ever notice it.

You never get true 1080p or 1080i resolution, but it's close enough that it's not obvious that you're watching a stream, depending on your internet connection of course. I have a 20mb/s download speed and I never have a problem with buffering, though I'm sure some people do.

You do lose some functionality on Apple TV though, as you can't do picture in picture or mosaic view, and the controls for skipping through the game aren't as good. It's also more annoying to skip through dates to find past games you want, but overall I find it extremely useful.

If you have fast internet and don't have a huge download limit though, be careful of streaming this way, because you can't control stream quality, and you will burn through data like crazy. I have a 185GB download limit, and never come close to it in the offseason, but towards the end of every month during hockey season I have to watch how much I use GCL.

The main problem with GCL

There is a problem with GCL that transcends all platforms, and that's hometown blackouts. If you want something to replace your cable TV, that you use just for hockey anyway, GCL doesn't work for you if you live in your favourite team's broadcast region.

It's understandable why this happens, these companies pay major royalties to the NHL for the right to broadcast these games, but it's a brutal problem to deal with if you don't want to pay for cable.

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