Onlive is the revolutionary streaming gaming service. A couple of years ago at E3 Onlive was announced, giving anyone with access to a PC the ability to play high end pc games, only without the need for expensive graphics cards. Onlive works by streaming a video of the game you are playing to your PC or via the Onlive console. Using huge data centres around the world you can play the likes of Batman Arkam City with the best graphics on something as low powered as a notebook.
When it was first announced the first thought that came to everyones mind is how they will handle the lag. Watch a video on youtube and you have to wait for it to stream, let alone send your input commands. But it works and it works extremely well. We don’t know how they do it but we can only assume they are some kind of magicians. But lets go back to the start.
Onlive is a client based service that allows you to stream PC games through your PC, laptop, Onlive console and iPad. You can download the client for free which will allow you to buy and rent games. Try 30 minute demos for free, view games others are playing as they play them and upload bragging clips.
Games cost from a few pounds or dollars up to around £35/$40 for the latest titles which at the time of writing include Duke Nukem Forever, Dirt 3, Batman Arkam City and Saints Row 3. You can buy the games outright, rent games for a few days at a time or subscribe to the service which allows instant access to hundreds of games for free as well as discount for premium newer titles. But you don’t have to subscribe, the service is free unless you buy a game. You can try demos of every game for 30 minutes each and once the 30 minutes is up you can demo it again. Sure you can only play from the beginning each time but 30 minutes is pretty generous for a demo.
Games start instantly after being selected with the only loading being from the actual games themselves and all save files are saved to your onlive account so no matter where you access the service from you can carry on from where you left off. The image quality is totally dependant on your internet connection but the graphical settings of the games are generally high. During peak times we noticed artifacting on our stream, comparable with a youtube video but off peak we were hard pushed to tell the difference between Onlive and the game being played directly off our PC.
The arena allows you to watch others playing games in real time. You don’t need to be friends with these people, have downloaded or installed the games, you can instantly see thousands of people playing games with the ability to cheer or jeer as they play. Depending on their setup you can even talk to them as they play. Whilst demos give you a great feel for the games, the arena allows you to see skilled and unskilled players playing. Showing off tricks as they mess about or dying trying to defeat the final boss. Finally you can upload bragging clips, these are 30 seconds of recorded gameplay showing off what ever you just did. It could be an awesome killstreak or it could be a glitch in the game, its your choice.
So we’ve talked about the PC client which can run on pretty much any PC, laptop or even an iPad and is free to download and use. But what about the Onlive micro console. Not so much a console as a video decoding box. Its not much bigger than a Nintendo DS and is extreamly simple to set up and use. We’ll start by talking about the packaging, its gorgeous. It has a real Apple feel of love and attention to detail. We were also extremely impressed with what’s in the box. You get a micro console, power plug for the console, a controller, HDMI lead, Ethernet Cable, USB cable for the controller, two AA batteries for the controller and even a rechargeable battery pack.
Now there is no other console on the market that gives you a HDMI lead let alone an Ethernet cable and rechargeable battery pack as well. They’ve included everything and more to get you set up. The controller is a cross between an Xbox 360 controller and PLayStation 3 controller. The sticks are positioned like the PS3 controller but are stiffer and nicer to use and the analogue sticks feel as lovely as they do on a 360 pad. The bottom of the controller has video controls for recording and playing bragging clips. It’s possibly one of the best 3rd party controllers we’ve ever used.
The micro console comes with the bare basics of inputs, two usb ports for the controller or a keyboard and mouse. HDMI port, normal AV out, ethernet port, optical out and a power input. As it is pretty much a video decoder box there is not much to the console, it has a login screen and a few options but once you are logged into Onlive all the menus are handled online.
We were sceptical when the Onlive service was first announced, but somehow they have pulled it off. The micro console and pc client works extreamly well and are simple to use. The games on offer whilst a tad expensive currently all play extremely well. Your internet connection is extremely dependant on the quality of the image and lag you’ll experience but on a 10 meg connection we have seen no lag and at off peak times had an image quality to rival an Xbox 360 in our living room. This is the future of gaming and it works today, try it, its free and we’re sure you’ll become just as big fans as we are.