Editor's Note: Gamecenter Live is a subjective experience, so take note of the following: I ran the program during the month of February on a 15" 13" Macbook (2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2GB RAM) running OS X Version 10.5.8. Note that no application is installed, therefore no minimum capabilities exist for using the program. I used a variety of DSL connections (none of which I clocked) in the states of Nevada and California. Also, and this is important, Anaheim Calling received a free preview for the remainder of the season, so I did not have the monthly or season long fee (or even the 30% off fee) to balance against my delight or disappointment.
If you're watching hockey on your computer, the actual watching experience is still the killer app. Gamecenter LIVE has chat rooms and even stat-trackers (which seem to update a bit slower than an ESPN Gamecast), but the program's ultimate competition is still the television screen.
For a live game, Gamecenter LIVE holds its own against the traditional tube + DVR. On a fast connection, the resolution can be sharp, or on par with the source broadcast, and on slower connections, the bitrate settings allow for a smooth stream. The DVR capabilities allow you to scrub through the broadcast with play, pause, rewind, fast forward and return to Live, but you may also pull up the timeline for the game at any point and scrub to a timecode of your choosing. If you're a real hockey junkie, you can even watch five games at once, live or otherwise, by using the program's four-panel screen and its picture-in-picture screen. Simultaneous viewing and navigating a game by timeline (which will include event markers once the stat-tracker updates them, but more on that later) instead of rewind/fast-forward are really the main advantages of watching a live game on Gamecenter LIVE as opposed to television or, say, a Slingplayer. Though, if you factor in blackouts, the TV and the Slingplayer may actually let you watch the game.
If you live in the same market as your favorite team, Gamecenter LIVE probably isn't for you. The blackouts are identical to what you would find on Center Ice, and they last 48 hours. After that two day waiting period, Gamecenter LIVE adds all blackout games to its archive, where you may watch them at your leisure. However, as an archive game, the picture quality and resolution can vary slightly, and it should be noted that ALL archive games can only be watched in 800kbps or 1600kbps, not the 2200kbps or 400kbps offered for games you watch live or less than 48 hours after they conclude. Thankfully, the archive is where Gamecenter LIVE does its best work.
Assuming you want to watch old games, nothing really competes with Gamecenter LIVE. Granted, the resolution/screen size gets progressively smaller from this season to last season to the 2007-08 season, but there are no simple methods for storing three seasons worth of games on a DVR. You can relive a playoff run, or catch up on an entire season (with all of the commercials edited out). With the stat-tracker widgets, you can even skim games by choosing highlights from a geographical chart of shots, goals, hits and penalties or a text-based play by play. Watching the games sequentially can be tough, because the archive can only be searched by team and opponent or by date, but if you have an old season schedule handy, you can find everything easily enough.
Ultimately, for live games, Gamecenter LIVE cannot improve upon the television or Slingplayer experience, especially if you factor in blackouts, but it's a reasonable alternative depending on your circumstances. And if you're interested in having a handy, manageable and navigable archive of NHL games, Gamecenter LIVE has no equal.