NHL Center Ice has been free on just about every television in America -- considering you have satellite or a digital cable plan -- for the last two weeks, and on Sunday, that preview will expire. When that happens, millions of hockey fans will be looking to buy the service in order to get their hockey fix for the rest of the season.
But is NHL Center Ice really the best option for the out-of-market hockey fan? NHL GameCenter Live has offered online subscriptions to essentially the same product now for several years, and fans are quickly realizing what the Internet service has to offer over it's predecessor. Has the time finally come where GameCenter is a superior service to Center Ice?
We've compared both side-by-side, hoping to answer that very question.
TV vs. THE COMPUTER
There's a certain convenience about having every hockey game right there on your television. You pick up the remote, flip to channel 780 or whatever, and there you can flip between every NHL game. It's what NHL Center Ice offers fans across the country. It's definitely an advantage for Center Ice, because really, who wants to sit in front of their computer and watch hockey all the time?
GameCenter has tried to answer those convenience issues with some unique features of their own. There are no apps for NHL Center Ice, but with GameCenter Live you can watch on your Android, iPhone, iPad, PlayStation 3, and plenty of other devices. Several smart TV's, including those manufactured by LG and Samsung, also have the ability to pull up your GameCenter account, thus rendering the whole computer thing a non-issue.
Oh, and seriously... watching live hockey on your phone is probably the most convenient thing ever. Stuck in the car (and in the passenger seat, of course)? Pull out your phone and watch the game. The quality is only as good as your connection, but the app is free with your subscription, so really, who's complaining?
HD video is a serious issue with NHL Center Ice. Only select games are broadcast in high definition, and depending on your cable or satellite provider, you might not get any games in HD. I have Xfinity and have the pleasure of watching "40 out-of-market games a week!" in almost unbearable standard definition. I know these are definitely #FirstWorldProblems, but have you ever tried to watch hockey in standard definition on an HD television? It's almost impossible to see the puck.
On GameCenter Live, the video quality is typically as good as your Internet connection, but as long as you have a basic cable connection, you should be in perfectly good shape. With my subscription, the feed is usually choppy for about 20 to 30 seconds while it figures out what's going on, and then before I realize it things are perfectly in gorgeous high definition.
In addition, since I have a relatively new TV and a new-enough laptop computer, I spent $15 on a cord and can watch my computer display on my TV screen. It's not an HDMI cord since my computer doesn't have an HDMI port, so the quality does diminish a tiny bit on the way to the television. But it's certainly much better than standard definition and if you have an HDMI port on your computer, that's irrelevant anyway.
GameCenter Live absolutely destroys Center Ice in terms of features, and it's really not even close. With Center Ice, it's basically just like watching the game on television. You have DVR controls if you've paid for them through your television subscription, and other than that... features are pretty dull.
With GameCenter Live, you have full DVR controls, allowing you to rewind, fast forward, pause, etc. They've added a pretty fantastic slow motion feature this year as well. There's even a timeline that shows key events, including goals and penalties, so you can just click and head back to that goal you might have missed while giving the dog a bath or whatever.
In addition, you can listen to radio broadcasts, replay the game once it's completed, chat with other fans during the game, watch four games at once or simply use the fantastic picture-in-picture function to watch two games at once.
GameCenter Live offers a so-called Vault of classic games, and there are a ton of goodies in there.
Perhaps the best feature offered by GameCenter Live, however, is the inclusion of both home and away broadcasts. On Center Ice, you're usually subjected to whichever broadcast they favor -- usually that of the home team. But that can be infuriating if you're a New York Rangers fan that's forced to listen to Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh or if you're a Florida Panthers fan forced into the evil dungeon that is Joe Beninati's voice on CSN Washington.
With GameCenter Live, most games feature both home and away broadcasts, so you can always listen to your wonderful home announcers, who never make a mistake. And if you're watching a game in which you have no rooting interest, you have a choice of which crew you'd like to watch. Never a bad thing.
NHL Center Ice and NHL GameCenter abide by the same blackout restrictions. In-market games are unavailable, since you're supposed to be able to see those on your local television. Nationally televised games are blacked out as well. Each service is really catered just to the out-of-market fan, or the fan that's on the road quite a bit.
That's where GameCenter gets the edge here. You can't take your cable subscription with you to Cincinnati or Saratoga or San Diego, but you can most certainly take your computer with you. And since the blackout limitations are subject to your IP address, not your home location, you can easily watch your home team wherever you are when on the road, as long as you have an Internet connection.
GameCenter Live is cheaper, albeit only slightly. You can pay a fee of $159.00 USD up front for the service, or you can choose eight installments of $19.95, totaling $159.60. Center Ice will put you out $171.80 via four payments of $42.95.
It's really pretty simple. At a cheaper price tag, but with a wealth of features as opposed to it's counterpart, NHL GameCenter Live is a far superior product to NHL Center Ice. The quality of games is generally better, and CI's only advantage, the convenience of being able to sit on your couch, is easily countered by the ability to either plug your computer into your television or watch on your TV via the PS3 or a TV app.
If you don't have that ability, maybe Center Ice is right for you, but I hope you enjoy those visiting announcers.
Note: SB Nation hockey writers receive free copies of NHL GameCenter Live, if you think that sways our opinion at all. It doesn't, but you know, full disclosure and everything.
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