OnLive is a relatively new contender to the game distribution hub. Other vendors like Steam will likely pop into your head far more readily than OnLive. OnLive isn’t just trying to repeat what other digital distributors are doing; it’s changing the game by including the hardware needed to connect to its service. Actually, it’s removing the hardware needed to game. At the end of 2010, OnLive was awarded the cloud gaming patent (US Patent #7,849,491) that is the foundation to the service they provide.
OnLive is available as a Mac or PC service as well as with a microconsole and controller so you can play on your TV. Instead of needing to replace your console every 4 to 5 years until you get to the PlayStation 9, you just use the OnLive microconsole and the cloud to connect to their service. They take care of the hardware so you can play more games. Also announced at CES 2011, the OnLive service is going to be integrated into new Visio HDTVs. An iPad version has been released with an Android version currently in beta.
Sounding pretty nifty, I decided to check out the microconsole myself. It’s currently available for $99 with 1 free game through the OnLive Store.
Opening up the well-engineered box reveals the controller & console.
Below the micro console and the controller, the box contains the cables, batteries, and documentation needed. The package comes with:
AC Adapter, ethernet cable, HDMI cable, USB to microUSB cable, controller, microconsole, rechargeable battery, AA batteries, battery cover, and instructions.
The controller follows the pattern typical of consoles these days. It can use 2 AA batteries or a rechargeable battery pack.
The console front has two USB ports which can be used to sync/charge the controller.
The back of the console has an HDMI port, microUSB jack, stereo headphone jack, optical audio jack, an ethernet jack, and a spot for the AC adapter.
Here’s a picture of the console sitting on a PS3, just to show how “micro” the console is and how it looks all wired up.
The controller is wireless but needs to be connected via a USB cable to be sync-ed or charged.
The OnLive service exists solely in the cloud. As long as you have a 3Mbps Internet connection, you can stream your games without having to install. To access your account, you just sign in. This makes it a pretty portable solution as well.
To connect to the Internet, you have a few options:
“3 Mbps or higher wired broadband Internet connection or optional Powerline, coax or Wi-Fi bridge.”
I’m using the powerline adapter I wrote about previously and it was working great.
Finally, to the dashboard. Here you can play games, shop, find demos, watch other people play, or make recordings of your gameplay.
I have played a few games so far and watched others play, just to test it out. The service is slick and the dashboard has a futuristic feel to it that allows you to move from one thing to another without having to wait for a game to load or install.
The gameplay was smooth and I didn’t experience any lag. This, I imagine, would vary game to game so I can’t really review it. The bigger criteria for a good game would depend more on those games that translate nicely to a controller versus keyboard & mouse.
The library of games is still small at this point but growing. You can purchase a subscription for $10/month to have unlimited access to the games. If they can build their collection of games, they might give video game rentals and even GameFly a run for their money. Unfortunately, the recent blizzard attacking the midwest has knocked out my Internet connection, painfully reminding me of the foundation needed in order to rely on The Cloud.