PS3/Xbox360-quality graphics, from a £69 ($99) console? Here’s how and why this is possible…
To the unfamiliar ‘cloud’ in relation to computers is a term used to describe a service offered locally which is actually being run remotely. The term ‘Cloud gaming’ applies to OnLive, because while you appear to be playing a game on your TV or PC the game is actually being run on a remote computer – Press a button on the controller and the command is sent to the remote computer via the internet, processed by the game, and the graphics and sound are sent back to your TV.
OnLive allows lower-powered devices to provide a high-end gaming experience because the game is being run ‘in the cloud’, the service can be used on a PC/Mac, or Android tablet or phone as well as on the dedicated OnLive console, but the console offers the best experience by far. For HD gaming, you just can’t beat a TV.
So, why OnLive, when we already have great systems like PS3 and Xbox 360 for playing HD games on our TVs? Here’s why:
- Power/Cost – The OnLive console itself only needs to be powerful enough to display a HD video stream, it doesn’t need powerful graphics hardware as the games are being run on OnLive’s super-computers in the cloud, this keeps the cost of the OnLive console to a minimum (£69 / $99).
- Convenience – OnLive doesn’t require discs or downloads, all of the games are run remotely and progress through your games is saved to the cloud, so no internal storage is needed. Purchase a game and you can begin playing immediately, no tedious download/install process.
- Upgradability – Perhaps most exciting, is that as OnLive upgrade their systems over time, your games will look better – five years from now there’s no reason the same OnLive console couldn’t be delivering PS4 or Xbox 720 quality graphics to your TV.
This might sound great in theory, but wouldn’t all this internet streaming result in a laggy gameplay experience? Sometimes yes, but for the most part no. I found that some games showed very slight delays between a button press and its action on-screen, but in most games the delay was unnoticeable. First-person shooters, third-person action games, and strategy games work great. Beat-em-ups such a Street Fighter IV are very much playable, but they show lag more than other game genres. OnLive only requires a 2mb broadband connection, as long as you’re not playing whilst also downloading or using other streaming services you’re unlikely to suffer any problems.
I was pleasantly surprised with the OnLive hardware. In a package roughly the size of a shoe box, is:
- The OnLive Game System
- A wireless controller
- Rechargeable battery pack for the controller AND a set of 2xAA batteries
- A generously lengthy 2 meter USB->MicroUSB cable (for charging the controller)
- Ethernet cable (OnLive has no WiFi)
- HDMI cable and power supply
All of the above, and even the packaging, have a top-quality feel – this doesn’t look or feel like a budget alternative to a traditional console, it feels much more expensive than it actually is.
The console itself is tiny, but reassuringly heavy. Squeezed on to the back of the console are connections for power, ethernet, HDMI, 3.5mm audio, optical audio, and a tiny port below the HDMI where an optional video adapter can be added for composite or component output. On the front of the console is a power button and 2 USB ports – the ports can be used for controllers, or a keyboard/mouse. Most games are optimized for a controller, but some require a keyboard & mouse.
OnLive’s controller is clearly inspired by the Xbox 360 controller; this of course makes sense, as so many games have been built with that layout in mind. The only significant difference from the Xbox 360 controller layout is that the left analog stick and d-pad have switched positions, similar to the PlayStation Dualshock layout. For those who absolutely love their Xbox 360 controllers and won’t use anything else, the good news is that OnLive supports them too – either connect a wired 360 controller to one of OnLive’s USB ports, or you can even use a wireless 360 controller provided you have a USB receiver (Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver for Windows).
On hooking the console up to the TV and powering on you’re asked to connect the OnLive controller with the USB cable to pair it with the console, then presented with the login screen.
After signing in (a free OnLive account is required) you’re presented with the main menu, where you can access your games, purchase new games, try demos, or watch others play. OnLive includes most of the common features you’d expect from a games console; friends list, text and voice messaging, achievements. But OnLive doesn’t offer the kind of non-gaming features that the other consoles offer, such as movie rental, iPlayer, Netflix, etc – OnLive is a dedicated gaming system.
I was lucky enough to get a copy of Batman Arkham City with my console due to a promotion that OnLive were running when I purchased. It’s a game I haven’t played much of, but it’s a good showcase of high-end gaming through OnLive, the graphics look stunning, and the game runs fluidly even at 1080p.
Demos are available for most of the games on the OnLive Marketplace, all of these demos are time-limited trials of the full game. This is great in that you know exactly what you are buying, plus if you choose to purchase you can pick up right where you stopped playing the demo. In fact, picking up where you left off is one of the great features on OnLive, as I mentioned earlier it’s also possible to play OnLive on other devices, well as it saves to the cloud, you could play a few levels of a game on your console, then pick up exactly where you were on your PC, or Android tablet – I’ve done this myself, playing through Sonic Adventure DX both on my TV and on my Xperia Play Android phone.
One fantastic offer that I would recommend all OnLive users check out, is the PlayPack bundle; it’s a collection of games available for a monthly fee. Players currently have access to more than 230 games, for £6.99/month. It’s easy to cancel your subscription at any time, and OnLive frequently add to the number of games included. Without PlayPack I think I would have been quite disappointed with OnLive, due to a lack of new release games, but there really are some amazing games in the bundle – even if many are a few years old.
The lack of new releases available really is such a shame, it’s the biggest drawback on this otherwise brilliant new platform. The other flaw I will mention, is more of a hypothetical flaw – As a game purchased through OnLive remains in the cloud, if for some reason the OnLive service were to permanently shut down then you would loose that game. There is no way to backup your purchases, there’s no physical discs, if OnLive went out of business, then the games you have invested in would then be worthless – but I hope that doesn’t happen.
Although it’s hard for any new system to rival the offerings of the three big players in console gaming, I hope there is room for a product like OnLive to exist alongside the traditional consoles, but getting quality new releases onto the platform will be key to OnLive’s survival.
Link: OnLive Website