is a cloud gaming service, which essentially means that you can play any video game you’d like on your PC, Mac, or tablet.
It doesn’t matter how powerful your computer is, because all the tough processing gets done on OnLive servers–all you get is the video.
Of course, you still provide input via a keyboard or controller, but it’s beamed at lightspeed to OnLive servers to interact with the game you’re playing.
On the computer, OnLive is just a software client, but if you want to use it on your TV, you’ll need a $100 MicroConsole, which is still a whole lot less than a PS3 or Xbox 360.
Also, you’ll never have to worry about losing a game disc again, because it’s all stored in the cloud.
Is it time to move to the cloud once again, but this time with gaming? I’ll give you the full run-down on the service, and let you know if it’s time to jump off the console bandwagon.
The hardware is truly “next generation”
You know OnLive is the future of gaming as soon as you open the box. Of course, if you’re using OnLive on a computer, you don’t need any new hardware.
The OnLive MicroConsole is packaged incredibly efficiently and tastefully into a sleek black box the size of a shoebox.
It’s like the first time you opened the box to an iPhone. It’s that big of a change, versus the current packaging for PS3 and Xbox 360. Obviously, OnLive is a smaller console, but that’s part of it.
There’s no cardboard here, and every cord and accessory it comes with is meticulously bundled together.
The shiny surfaces of the controller, battery pack, and MicroConsole are all adorned with sticky clear tape to make sure nothing gets scratched. Even the head of the AC adaptor has protective tape on it.
An instruction manual is notably absent; the only literature you find is a 4 x 6 inch card that displays the correct way to plug everything in. Even this card was attended to with care.The system comes with one controller and the option to either use a rechargeable battery pack or two AA batteries. Amazingly, OnLive comes with both batteries and a rechargeable battery.
The OnLive game controller is an interesting amalgam of the Xbox 360 controller and PS3 controller. It’s shaped just like an Xbox controller, but the analogue sticks are both located on the bottom half of the controller (like on a PS3 controller).
It’s not an amazing controller, but it’s perfectly decent and comfortable. OnLive has built in support for a bunch more controllers like the awesome Xbox 360 controller for Windows, so there’s flexibility.
The only thing we wish is that the MicroConsole would have Wi-Fi. Ethernet is faster, but Wi-Fi should be an option.
If you have a decent internet connection, OnLive rocks
After opening the box, I was up and running in under 10 minutes. The aforementioned note card makes setup a snap. The most crucial requirement here is a fast internet connection.
OnLive recommends a 3 Mbps or better internet connection, and this is an absolute necessity. If your internet is slow, the entire OnLive streaming game experience is ruined.
One other thing to note is that if your TV screen is bigger than 32 inches, you might need an even faster connection because more processing is required to display a bigger image.
Unsure about your internet speed at home? Click here to learn how to find out in less than two minutes.
Is streaming games from the cloud laggy? Is it fun?
When you boot up your OnLive system or client (on a computer), it can take a minute to connect to its servers. Once you’re connected, the experience is seamless.
You land on a simple home screen composed of a grid of navigational buttons. I selected “Marketplace” to find a game to play. OnLive hooked me up with an unlimited package, but more on pricing later. As you select games, you’ll see a game’s MetaScore on MetaCritic, my favourite reviews website, and you’ll see videos of people actually playing the game live that you can jump right into.
The first game I played was Assassin’s Creed 2. I loved the first game on my Xbox 360, and I was eager to see how the sequel would perform through a streaming service like OnLive.
Photo: Ellis Hamburger
Assassin’s Creed is all about fine motor movements and timing your counter-attacks at just the right moment. If you press X too late, you’re getting sliced with a sword.
The game had minimal loading times, and while the graphics weren’t as crystal clear as on a video game console (because of OnLive’s compression technology), the level of detail was pretty amazing. It looks just as good as watching Netflix streaming.
Controls originally felt a little delayed, but after a few minutes I felt right at home. I wanted to notice latency and laggy controls (due to my input getting beamed to the over the web, then a response getting beamed back), but I didn’t find any in this game.
There were a few glitches where my character got stuck running in a circle, but I fixed it by touching the OnLive button and pausing the game.
NBA 2K11, however, wasn’t as smooth of an experience. I’ve played the game on a friend’s PS3 very recently, so I tried to make direct comparisons performance-wise. First, the graphics are nowhere near as good when playing NBA 2K11 on OnLive. Second, the frame rate was straight up poor.
Perhaps it’s the “just ok” internet connection I’m using, but Assassin’s Creed 2 played just fine. I wouldn’t want to play NBA 2K11 for an extended period of time though OnLive. Despite the lower frame rate and overall lagginess, I still had no trouble knocking down jump shots. It was kind of a miracle.
OnLive Arena is a game-changer
Far and away one of the coolest features of OnLive is the Arena mode, which you enter from your home screen.
You’re immediately launched into a virtual room full of TV screens, where every TV screen is the game another OnLive user is playing in. Choose a screen, and you’re warped into that person’s shoes, as if you’re looking at their TV.
Photo: Ellis Hamburger
My jaw dropped the first time I tried it. You can “cheer,” “jeer,” and even talk to the person playing if they have that option enabled. This is the future of video game spectatorship: anyone can hop in on a game and watch as if the other gamer were sitting right next to them.
Video game tournaments are huge in countries like Korea, and this is my first taste of live video game spectatorship in the States. I had an absolute blast watching others play games and giving them the thumbs up or thumbs down.
If you have a Bluetooth headset, you can even talk to the person while they’re playing and psyche them out. Of course, you can turn off Arena if you don’t want people watching you play.
As you might expect, OnLive includes a friends list which integrates Arena. I played using Xbox Live for years, but the idea of being able to log in, view my friends list, and jump in and watch a friend play is truly remarkable.
Is OnLive a good deal?
As far as pricing goes, you’ll first need a way to connect to OnLive to play games. Speedy internet, or broadband internet in general, is pretty expensive, but it’s something you most likely already have (so we shouldn’t factor this into OnLive’s pricing model).
Once ISPs start throttling or capping data speeds, however, OnLive could run into trouble (as could Netflix and other streaming services). Anyway, if you have a PC or Mac, all you need to do is download the OnLive client.
If you want to play on your TV, you’ll need the $99.99 MicroConsole which comes with a controller.Games generally cost $5 to $10 less than if you bought a hard copy of the title, but OnLive also has a unique Netflix-esque deal: play 50 of OnLive’s 100-game library for $9.99 per month.
There are several game rental options as well.
You might not get the absolute newest titles, but I’m a little behind in my video gaming and many games I’ve been wanting to play were included.
Hypothetically, you can take your OnLive system with you instead of having to lug around a heavy Xbox 360 or PS3 and a bunch of games, so that’s worth something too. Remember, the system is the size of a portable hard drive.
The future looks bright for OnLive
OnLive is partnering with Facebook to bring your favourite “brag reels” to the social network.
Tons of TVs coming out soon will have OnLive capability built-in so all you need is a controller.
The game library can only grow bigger, and I wouldn’t be surprised if OnLive started scooping up old games the same way Xbox Live Arcade has.
OnLive is coming soon to iPad and Android tablets. There’s already a cool OnLive Viewer app for iPad so you can watch other people play, however.
The control scheme will obviously be different, but it will be a blast to play console games like Assassin’s Creed on iPad. We tried out OnLive for iPad at the gdgt conference, and it was a bit laggy, but it’s still in developmental stages.
Should you buy it?
So you have two options: play OnLive on your computer, or buy the $99.99 MicroConsole and play it on your TV.
I wouldn’t recommend buying the OnLive MicroConsole for one simple reason: the experience isn’t as good as on a video game console in the same room as you–YET. Even if you have a great internet connection, the game isn’t going to be nearly as responsive. It’s kind of intangible, but you can feel it.
An Xbox 360 console can be had for $199.99 and a PS3 can be had for $299.99. If you’re a serious gamer, the guarantee that controls are precise and graphics are pristine is worth a lot. There’s also the fact that the OnLive game library isn’t too big quite yet, as far as new releases are concerned.
This doesn’t mean OnLive won’t become my primary gaming service sometime in the future. Internet service at my home is dodgy at best, and it’s bound to get faster. OnLive will get more games, and will improve its network infrastructure.
To many, being able to play any game (and keep your game saves) on any computer could be an incredible deal. I’ve never been much of a PC gamer so it’s hard for me to judge.
If you want to play computer games every so often and not have to worry about hardware, OnLive could be perfect for you.
Want to try it out before you buy it? You don’t even need a credit card to see how well it works on your computer.
So–OnLive isn’t perfect just yet, but it’s an amazing product that represents the next generation of video gaming.
You don't need a powerful computer to play any game. All the processing is done on OnLive servers. All you get is the video.
You'll need the MicroConsole if you want to play using your TV at home. It costs $99.99, and is no bigger than a small portable hard drive. It has connections for HDMI, optical surround sound, Ethernet, and more.
OnLive doesn't require any new hardware to be purchased if you use it on a Mac, PC, Android tablet, or iPad (coming soon). All you pay for is the games.
Here's OnLive Arena where you can watch others play. You can even see how many other spectators there are, and whether they're cheering or jeering.
Jumping into a game is seamless. It's fun to watch others play and mess up. This image is from OnLive Arena.
OnLive doesn't have every game in its library, but it had almost all the games we were looking for, plus online multiplayer. This screenshot is from OnLive's website.
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