If you’re an avid follower of my column here at UberReview you know that I’m a huge HTPC fan. After all, what’s better to hook up to a recent television set, than an actual computer?
Consider all the options you have, video games, Netflix, XBMC, YouTube, heck you can even stream live sports with a subscription.
This season, NHL has been crippled by the players being locked out by the NHL teams in a hilarious labor dispute. Say what you will but the arguments lose lots of their value when the base salary is close to half a million dollars per year.
First I want to point out that the subscription service is supposed to be an “anywhere and on anything” type of stream. Just by looking at their advert, which you’re forced to see each time you log in however, it’s slightly misleading.
On the advert (below) you’ll notice that the photo shows a PS3 (to the right, next to the Boxee Box) which in itself is promising.
Sadly though, the PS3 app hasn’t been published yet, so if you’re lucky and your PS3 browser is up to date (I’ve not tested it so don’t ask) you might be able to use the built in browser like you would any PC but there is no app. In other words, it’s there, but it’s not plugged in yet.
There are other issues as well, for example on this season’s opening night, paying subscribers were bounced by the NHL’s servers as being “unable to login at this time” with the prompt below:
Consider that at that time, on my phone (Samsung S3) the speedtest app detected an Internet speed of over 8Mbits/s on a solid LTE connection and that Netflix and Crackle both worked flawlessly. More frustrating is the fact that the advertisements they show at the bottom before you log in to your account, came through swiftly, which is odd considering that nothing from the NHL actually came through, not even the calendar’s contents or archives.
Eventually (on Sunday) I was able to sample the Android app and it works rather well, providing a smooth and high definition playback of a hockey game, albeit a recorded one. This worked on all my devices including the HTPC and K1 Ideapad.
Connection issues aside, the service itself provides a surprisingly good image and sound quality, for example last night I watched the San Jose Sharks in HD on my television by using the HTPC I have setup in my living room. It’s not perfect far from it, the interface provides full PVR functions which are great…
…when they work properly. I was occasionally forced to reload the page after pausing the broadcast, as well using the multiple viewing options was hit and miss at best.
Below a screen capture from an archived game, as you can see the image quality is rather nice (click on the image to zoom) and all the games from the previous season as well as some historically important games are available to watch on demand. When watching a live game, depending on the broadcast you either get normal commercial interruptions or, a black screen that says waiting for commercial break to end. These breaks are gone when watching an archived game or using the PVR function.
So we’ve established that the picture quality is actually pretty good although there was “some” occasional choppiness but not enough to complain about it. When used full screen the main issue is that the overlay control bar at the bottom cannot be removed or hidden. Why?
Why make it static? Wouldn’t it make sense to have it disappear after a few seconds of not moving the mouse cursor like everyone else (and their moms) do? Netflix, Crackle, even YouTube does it…
Still, considering this is going to be a full season condensed into half a season and at nearly half-price, this is a good time to try out NHL Gamecenter Live. Consider that at 50$ for the remainder of the season including the playoffs, you’ll have premium access to live out of market hockey games on most of your devices.
In most cases though, being unable to watch your local team’s matches because they’re also broadcast on your local premium TV channel might be a deal-breaker, I’m not going to say that there are ways around that, but there might be ways around that. Keep in mind that’s part of the NHL’s commissioner’s job so if you want to write an angry letter of protest to Mr.Bettman you have my heartfelt blessing.
Access to watch all out of market games on several platforms across many different devices
Access to a bunch of archived games, recaps, classics and loads of statistics
Better than decent picture quality
Accessible from anywhere with a good Internet access speed
Unfortunate connection issues on opening day
Picture can be choppy at times
Out of market usually means you can watch all the teams except your home team
Unmovable control panel on full screen view (why?)
Paying users are forced to log in every time (no remember me option) on any platform
marking favorite team seems to have no purpose, not even a skin
broadcast quality will vary greatly depending on feed and/or Internet connection speed
I just want to point out that other than on opening night, there were no connection issues at any other time during which I’ve used the service. However, I’m willing to bet that 90% of the subscribers pay that kind of money to watch hockey games, the rest is gravy and sometimes…