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OnLive Revisited: Hands-On the Micro-Console

When OnLive threw us all into the clouds earlier last year with its release, it was met with both skepticism and excitement. Would OnLive bring an end to the need of high-powered computer hardware and modern gaming consoles? Many critics praised the system's simplicity and performance while others criticized its lack of titles and its latency issues. So how does the OnLive micro-console fare a little more than half a year after its release?

Let's start off with the basics. The OnLive micro-console packaging is both simple and minimal, just how we like it: no bloated packaging materials, lengthy manuals, disks or product catalogs. Included in the package is nothing but the necessary wired connections, the controller, console, quick start sheet and mini product manual. After all, the entire system is incredibly easy to operate, and takes up much less space than a traditional gaming console. Users simply have to plug in the included HDMI cable, AC adapter, Ethernet and they are good to go. Users without an HD compatible TV will be able to purchase an additional component cable for $30.

The two USB slots included in the front of the console allow easy use of other gaming peripheral such as a mouse and keyboard, PS3 or Xbox 360 controller. However, it pleased us to find that the OnLive controller was more than sufficient, blending aspects of both the Xbox and PS3 controllers. Shaped like the Xbox controller with the PS3's analog setup, the OnLive controller is high on quality and performance. Oh and it packs quite a rumble too!

Some PC gamers looking into buying the console may feel a bit wasteful paying $99 for a service they downloaded for free. But for the luxury and convenience of having the micro console independently play on a big screen HDTV, we feel it is a fair and reasonable price. One of the first games we decided to try out with the device was Metro 2033, whose higher graphics are known to be fairly taxing on modern PCs. To our pleasant surprise the game ran perfectly, and as you can see the graphic quality is also impressive. It may not be as great as ultra settings on a decked out gaming PC, but it was more than acceptable.

One issue many console and PC gamers alike may be concerned with is OnLive's dependency on a wired internet connection. Since pretty much everything is done in the cloud, network connections are of the utmost importance for OnLive gamers. The OnLive micro-console doesn't come wireless-compatible out of the box but it can also connect using a third party wireless bridge. OnLive suggests that gaming should be done using a wired connection for the highest quality, but hooking the console up to a bridge and another TV about 70 feet away from our router came up with surprisingly similar picture quality. There was however, the occasional "network error" resulting in a short lag spike, something that may be troublesome when playing a multiplayer game.

With an increased distance from the router and a shoddier internet connection, OnLive gamers will be much more likely to experience a loss in picture quality. If possible, we'd suggest keeping the system on a wired connection to fully enjoy the OnLive experience. All of our OnLive testing was done on a standard 16 Mbps down cable connection so results may vary drastically depending on the connection. This is probably the only issue with OnLive at the moment. Users without a decent reliable internet connection may not be able to enjoy OnLive as much as we did.

Assassin's Creed, Arkham Asylum,  Borderlands, and Duke Nukem Forever all showed equally impressive performance and video quality. With a 720p output TV and a reliable network connection, most games on the OnLive system look and perform just like their console counterparts. One game-changing difference that the OnLive micro-console offers compared to traditional modern consoles is access to the OnLive Arena and Brag Clips. Utilizing the Arena, users are able to watch other gamers play in real time, allowing them to get an idea of how a game performs before purchasing or renting it for themselves. With OnLive Brag Clips and the included Brag Clip controls on the console controller, gamers are able to capture their moments of glory to share with their fellow OnLive gamers. A much quicker method than recording a video and posting it on YouTube!

In the short time since its release OnLive has been doing remarkably well, but the truth is cloud based gaming isn't for everyone. At least not yet anyway. OnLive has shown us that the platform is very promising but it may still be too early to decide whether or not it will have a huge presence in the market. Most people might be uncomfortable with the thought of "purchasing" a game in the cloud. Without any kind of client-side download or tangible disk, do you really own the game you are buying? Undoubtedly keeping this in mind, OnLive has been smart enough to offer different models of cloud based gaming. Perhaps users are more comfortable utilizing the monthly subscription model or the game rental model. The only downside to the subscription is that it doesn't include all of the games on the system. But with consoles becoming increasingly outdated (at least until the next-gen arrives) the OnLive micro-console may be the best way to experience brand new titles to come.

The bottom line is that OnLive has grown from a mere 35 titles to over 100 titles in just one year, with even bigger titles to come. Already attracting some big name publishers like THQ and Konami, OnLive has proven itself to be a very promising system. We'll definitely be looking forward to what the company has in store for us. Do you own an OnLive console? How about the PC or mobile versions? Let us know about your OnLive experience in the comments!

  • slingshotz06
    I tried Onlive on my Laptop at work with 100mbps up and down connection and while it ran fine, the input lag was still very noticable. There's noway I can play competively online in any FPS, but I can see single player games working just fine and will give the new Dues Ex game a try on there.
  • slingshotz06, you can have a 2mb connection with no lag or a 10000mb connection with terrible lag. You internet speed doesn't determine your latency. You have to check your ping speed and your line quality for jitter. You seem to be having one of those issues.
  • jimslaid2
    On Live is nice, but it does not compare to a gaming PC. OnLive really needs a exclusive game like Gears, Halo, or MGS to make the masses flock to the service.
  • bobusboy
    I will never use the cloud for anything other than non-essential communication.
  • Thunderfox
    It would be nice if the review made some effort to evaluate the latency, as that is the make or break issue with this sort of thing.

    I don't know how useful anything like this can be anyway, in the age of bandwidth caps. Streaming games is like streaming movies - who cares if you have 16mbps down if all it means is that you will hit your quota in less than a day if you actually use all of that bandwidth?
  • army_ant7
    If this really takes off, it would be really great. Better for consumers and developers (less system architectures to consider when developing.

    It still would be kind of sad to see making your own system build become obsolete. Hehehe....
  • DSpider
    I think I would rather use my own USB controller and their software on my PC for something like $10-15 a month, and to be able to install my own games (within a 50 GB limit), which I already own on DVD.

    But I doubt they would sell this service so cheap. I mean, come on, $30 for a component cable ?? What the hell... And fuck yeah, paying retail prices for owning "virtual" games is something I'm not really comfortable at all.

    They may not be cheap NOW, but wait till they have some competition. And wait till someone thinks of a way to get console games to play online, using the games you already own.

    Here's a thought:

    At $10 per month they could basically rent you the functionality of the console over the internet for a small fee, which in 6 months or so it will pay for the console itself. Think about it. That console will stay on for 24 hours a day but you don't rent it for 24 hours. At first you'll have a max 6 hour limit, per day. Which means about 4 people will rent it per 24 hours, $40/month, $240/6 months.

    Let's say each console breaks down in a year (hey, it could happen, chances are pretty high given the 24 hour usage everyday). That console generates ~$500 a year. Not bad. Obviously for a flat $10/month fee, but if they charge $15, that means each console would generate ~$750/year ! Not bat at all... They could also rent relatively cheap consoles like the PS2, Wii (which can also play GameCube games), PSP, etc. and DIVERSIFY, which will bring in more costumers and more income.
  • DSpider
    "Costumers"... lol. How do I edit my post ? They're not going to a costume party...
  • DSpider
    Hey, I think it's an interesting idea and I honestly think it CAN be done, even without opening the actual consoles (except maybe for the PSP, the rest will just need an Arduino-like device that acts like a controller). But there may be some legal issues with renting them like this. I'm not sure if the EULA prevents this or if you actually own the console once you pay for it and you can do whatever the hell you want with it.

    And customers may also attempt to install pirated content so there would have to be some form of authentication process, again, for legal reasons.
  • exfileme
    ThunderfoxIt would be nice if the review made some effort to evaluate the latency, as that is the make or break issue with this sort of thing. I don't know how useful anything like this can be anyway, in the age of bandwidth caps. Streaming games is like streaming movies - who cares if you have 16mbps down if all it means is that you will hit your quota in less than a day if you actually use all of that bandwidth?
    Yeah we needed to address that plus compare the console to the PC version: which should a gamer use? I was more concerned about addressing the issue of playing on Wi-Fi and how it affects the overall quality the further you move away from the router. Then again, an Ethernet connection with limited bandwidth also shares the same low-quality issue, producing pixilated graphics similar to a low-resolution video clip.

    For latency, I've been playing Duke Nukem Forever, FEAR 3, Red Faction Armageddon and a few others and I don't really see a real noticeable latency... if there is one, it's easily adaptable from my hands-on experience. What I HAVE noticed is that even though you may be connected via Ethernet, there are still network issues from time to time which isn't uncommon with online multiplayer games. The lag becomes a definite problem until the issue resolves itself (could be their end, somewhere in-between, or on my end) and the stream resumes its full flow.

    When Duke Nukem Forever first hit the service, it was relatively unplayable because (I presume) that a good chunk of OnLive members were playing it or watching others play it. Latency is also an issue when others on your local network stream video, play an MMORPG or do anything network intensive. Typically when network congestion occurs, it starts with the controls and then seeps into the overall visuals.

    I personally really like OnLive but it certainly has its limitations: you can't play custom mods and maps, and you can't play other gamers outside the OnLive borders. The selection seems to be growing at a slow rate, but there's a good heaping with the current crop. I asked American McGee if OnLive gamers would ever see the new Alice title and he said this:

    "Not up to us. Up to EA. Please pressure them if this is something you're interested in. Tiny developer can't help you in battle against massive publisher." LOL.

    The benefits of OnLive are obvious even though cloud gaming just arrived on the scene: PC gamers can enjoy games they can't run on their machines... in HD at that. Using the Nintendo DS-sized console, they can connect it directly to an HDTV's HDMI jack, plug in a mouse and keyboard, plug in an Internet connection, and play like any other PC gamer without having to drag their rig or laptop from somewhere else in the house. Plus, given it's all cloud, there's no loss of game saves and there's no need to reinstall 10 GB+ worth of software if your rig goes down. Hell, you can even rent the games or outright purchase a full-time "pass." And while OnLive offers an all-you-can-eat buffet for $9.99 per month, membership is free. And yes, I know I sound like an OnLive rep. ;)

    As for bandwidth caps, that's a really good point. I believe I'll hit them up with a Q&A to see how they plan on addressing that (if possible), and what the company does to address latency. I would think the bandwidth cap issue would be a real kick in the groin for OnLive, but I may be wrong. We'll see.

    Got any OnLive questions? Send them to kparrish at bestofmedia dot com and we'll (hopefully) get them answered.

    -Kevin P.