Saturday, June 14, 2008

Clicky Mouse in "Stream Both, Will He?"

Ah, been a while. Anyway, I’m back to wrap up my experience with the NHL Centre Ice Online package, let this serve as research for any other Canadians out there who may consider this deal in the future, I’m giving you exclusive content here, circa the 2008 NHL season.

In April 2008, the Maple Leafs began their annual Spring attempt to sneak into the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. Didn’t make it, as is quickly becoming tradition, but it was an exciting ride nonetheless, depending how die-hard you are.

However, in order to see the weekday games of said playoff drive, I decided to finally pony up for Centre Ice Online. It was $50 for the last few weeks of the season, I’m not sure when that price point started, but I figured if I watch the remaining Leaf games, plus any Vancouver (who was also making an ill-fated playoff drive), it’d be worth it.

So, you log in/create an account, pay the money, and they let you onto the streams.

Remember all those warnings about ‘blackouts may apply’? Well, I’d change it to “warning, most games will be blacked out, most of the time’...

First of have to use Firefox. Safari resulted in bizarre behaviour at best, strange buffering issues, and if you try and use the 'mosaic' mode to watch up to 4 games at once, you get all the AUDIO FEEDS AT ONCE. In all fairness, they do warn you not to use Safari. I suppose I’m happy it works on Mac at all.

As you can see, I couldn’t watch ANY of the games on Wed April 9 2008 through NHL Centre Ice Online. Now, to explain but not excuse, Sens @ Pens and Flames @ Sharks was a rare Wednesday Night doubleheader on CBC. Rangers @ Devils and Avs @ Wild were a double-header on TSN. Thus, nationally broadcast, and therefore ”blacked out“ on Centre Ice in my ”region“. If the Flames @ Sharks (or any Oiler game) was on Sportsnet West...then that’s my ”region“ too, so no streaming allowed there either.

However, online hope was not lost. As part of CBC’s new deal with the NHL, they can stream all their games online. This was a new innovation for them this year, and a welcome one, as it allows fans to pick the game they want to watch, instead of suffering as the Leafs get raked up every Saturday, or conversely, allowing Leaf fans to see games even if you live out West.

Now, I guess the argument from the NHL’s side of things is ‘why do you even need to see a game online in Centre Ice that is shown on a ‘local’ channel in your ‘region’? Well, what if I don’t have cable, Mr. Smartass League-Rep? What if I want to move away from cable/satellite TV altogether, since all the good content is online except apparently for LIVE NHL Games? Otherwise, I’m PAYING TWICE! Once to the cable company to get the channel (although you can get low quality CBC over the air) so I can watch the game ‘locally’, and once again to ‘not’ be able to watch it online. THREE TIMES if I signed up for the cable/satellite NHL Centre ICE. The local broadcast has ad breaks, although on Centre Ice Online, the ads are mercifully blocked with a ”back in a minute“ screen. Here’s a couple pics of the lack of ads online...may it live forever:

Not a single Subway, Tim Hortons or Home Depot ad to offend the eye.

Obviously, TSN and other NHL broadcast partners pay big bucks to get the broadcast rights. Well, next year, Centre Ice Online will become an even bigger rip off, as TSN (to be confirmed) will stream all it’s National broadcast games online. This will come about since TSN recently re-upped their broadcast deal with the NHL to include these new media and streaming rights. They did a few games this year, including the immensely popular World Junior Hockey Championship in December. We’ll see if the NHL lowers the Centre Ice Online price, I doubt it, but they’ll make no bones about ”blacking out“ the games that TSN/CBC are streaming. At least the dollar is par now. Also new to the deal for TSN is that every game will feature at least 1 Canadian Team. They know what their sponsors want.

So, to sum up, all four games were available online...NOT NHL Centre Ice Online, but online at the CBC and TSN. This screenshot shows some dual-online-streaming action, as CBC and TSN both featured games:

Also, props (do people say ‘props’ anymore? ...mad respect?...) to TSN for revamping their online video pages...way overdue, and much appreciated. Now they just need to redo their comment system, but that's another rant. TSN uses Microsoft’s (yes, THAT Microsoft) Quicksilver, which is trying to replace Flash and the antiquated Windows Media on the web. So yeah, good luck Linux’ll need it. Barely works on Mac. Also, that’s a Quicktime window on the right side with the CBC feed. In the ”Flip4Mac“ preferences, you can set it to open videos in Quicktime Player, instead of the browser...this allows you access to the transport control (aka Play/Pause/Bathroom Break) buttons, and allows you to line them up side by side like shown.

So. What did I get for my $50? 4 Leaf Games. And I think I watched 2 or 3 Vancouver games. You do the math, but I think it would have been worth it if the Leafs had been at all entertaining...unfortunately, that’s not up the NHL. They held up their end of the bargain...they provided SOME games, and ”blacked out“ a lot MORE games.

The playoffs featured several blacked out games, since most nights in the first round the CBC and TSN had you covered. I quit logging in after the first round.

Thus ends the great Centre Ice Online experiment. The quality is just par, good enough to have on in the background while you surf the web, but it’s fairly below full screen-able quality. The log in process is bizarre and can be confusing (you get used to it). The price is debatable, based on your love of the game/team, region, other entertainment options, etc.

I’m expecting big things from CBC and TSN next season, and look forward to keeping my cable canceled for good. Yeah, I won’t get access to every game, but with CBC having Saturday nights sewn up (and over the air if I really want to watch on my TV), and TSN doing their weekday games (and if they stream like I hope they do), the Internet options for LIVE NHL games are growing better every year.

P.S. If you’re really a hardcore streaming hockey fan, why not go the extra mile? I hooked up my Mac to the TV, and watched the 2007 Summit Series this past September before I had subscribed to can see my mouse pointer on the right gray bar. Geek or Genius?’s title comes from the classic animated Mickey Mouse adventure, ”Steamboat Willie“. Congrats to those who caught that, cause it was a reach and a half...anyway I’m shocked Disney has that online, but I suppose it’s made all the money it’s gonna make...until the Blu-Ray release of course...then back in the 'vault' for another generation.

No comments: