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NHL Gamecenter Live: new cost, new features

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The NHL's signature online platform got revamped over the season. What's new? And is it worth it?

Bruce Bennett

NHL Gamecenter Live has undergone some significant changes from last year to this year. If the goal is to provide a more comprehensive experience, then the NHL has succeeded. But if users are looking for major improvements to the reliability of the platform, then they are likely going to be disappointed. While the new features of NHL Gamecenter Live should please most hockey fans, many of the same issues that have plagued the system in years past are still the same.

Eyes in the Sky

The biggest change to NHL Gamecenter Live has been the addition of several new camera angles. Now viewers can watch the regular play-by-play as normal, or watch from alternative angles, including overhead angles above each goal, side cameras along the boards, and in some cases, cameras mounted on one of the referees in the game.

The new angles add a unique perspective on the course of a game. The ref cam puts the viewer right in the thick of the action and gives the viewer insight into what the referee sees while the puck is in play. That helps viewers make sense of missed calls or penalty infractions, because the camera catches what the referee catches (and of course, what the ref doesn't catch). The overhead angles, once confined only to video reviews on goals, are now available for the entire game. This is particularly useful if you want to see the differences in goalie play between guys like Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith.

There are limits to the usefulness of each new angle though. The ref cam is understandably shaky, and obviously can only see what is in the ref's field of vision. If the referee is trailing the play, it may be tough to see what's going on. LIkewise, the goal angles are really only useful for watching the goalies or watching goals enter the net. The play that leads up to said goal is completely out of frame unless it is a scrum around the crease.

NHL Gamecenter Live does allow the viewer to watch multiple camera angles simultaneously via split-screen features; for the Montreal-Toronto game I had the regular camera, both goalies, and the ref cam open simultaneously. The downside to this is obviously that it strains the internet connection to the breaking point. Even on my relatively fast Internet connection the goalie cams were on an almost 20-30 second delay. But an unexpected upside to that is that the delay functioned as a de facto instant replay, allowing me to watch the goal go in at real-time on the main screen, and then on the alternate angles shortly after.

In addition to the delay between camera angles, the entire broadcast in general is delayed about 30-40 seconds from the actual gameplay. For most viewers just watching the game, that's probably not an issue. If you are active on social media however, there's a very good chance that the highlights and lowlights of the game are going to be spoiled for you about a minute before they even happen.

Downsides

Unfortunately, many of the limitations of previous incarnations still exist. NHL Gamecenter Live is still prone to glitchy, oft-interrupted streams, especially on below average internet connections. And obviously, the more you try to do, the harder it is for the platform to keep up.

And of course, the NHL's blackout rules still apply. Games in your home market are usually not able to be broadcast, including games that are on NBC Sports or NHL Network. If you do not have either of those channels and your team does not have a local broadcaster for that game, you're not going to be able to watch. Although some professional sports leagues are now facing resistance to their blackout restrictions from the FCC, as of now the NHL's are still in place.

There is a minor tweak to the pricing system to encourage up-front payments. Last year purchasing NHL Gamecenter Live cost $169 USD, or $18.99 USD monthly payments over eight months. This year, the price is $159 USD up front, or $19.99 USD monthly payments over eight months.

So, if you are an out-of-market viewer, it's a good deal. If you live in the market of your favorite team, you really have to love hockey to make it a worthwhile buy.