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OnLive, Industry Disruptor!

So why are we talking about OnLive here? Well that’s simple, it has to do with gaming. I know it doesn’t have anything to do with the PS3 or heck the Xbox 360 or Wii. At least those are the top contenders in the console wars right? Well it seems things are about to change, and change for the better. When OnLive first released it was only available on the PC and Mac, it gave you the ability to run on a medium type machine without needing all the fancy schmany. Well it seems that the OnLive crew are ready to explore the far recesses of the console Universe. Let’s take a look…

[tab: What is OnLive?]

Some of you might be asking yourself what OnLive is or why I am reviewing it on the PS3 website. The answer is simple, I believe it’s a gaming system that is revolutionary. I think that it’s so major that people need to be aware of it, or at least the possibilities that it brings to the table. What started out as crazy talk in the Spring of 2009, become a reality in early 2010. With a lot of headaches, testing, hard work, and 8 years of dedication the team was able to get the technology down to a science. I remember when I first heard about this, I remember laughing because as I said earlier this was all just crazy talk. We as gamers know all about lag and how much we hate it, as soon as your speed drops or someone connects with a dial-up like connect we all suffer and raise our fists at the sky and yell “WHY ME, WHY ME”? This technology sounded so out of this world that we knew that it just couldn’t work as promised. Even when MTV Multiplayer interviewed Steve Pearlman the Founder & CEO of OnLive he admitted himself people laughed.

When they showed this to several CTO’s of some of the major game publishers some would unplug the Ethernet cable as the demo was running to show the others this was nothing more than a video they were watching, some wouldn’t believe it until they tested it out on their very own personal machines at home through a DSL or cable connection. One person even went as far as giving it to his teenage son to test, and was astonished that his kid couldn’t tell the difference whether he was playing something on a console or a computer. The technology was just that damn good, people were quickly finding out that they either needed to jump on board and support this or get crushed by their competition that were going to be apart of the future. Now isn’t just a playground for big publishers, one of the Indie Developers has already jumped on board with their smash hit “World of Goo”, so as you can see this is anyone’s game. Factor all of that in, get rid of the used games, something that the Gaming Industry has been in an uproar as of late and you’ve got yourself a whole lot more profits.

So what did it take to get OnLive working the way it is? Well besides being tested in hundreds of homes using DSL, cable modem and fiber connections. It was also tested through different firewalls, routers, and switches. They needed to test through such a wide variety of equipment because there are just so many things that can go wrong when all that information is traveling from the OnLive power house called a PC Farm. This is where all the top of the line PC’s are stored to do all the heavy lifting, so you don’t have to worry about buying video cards, ram, processors or whatever else you may need to keep up with the Joneses. Not to mention the new algorythim that had to be created to compress the video so that you can see it without complaining that it’s jumpy.

They also had to setup deals with different Internet Service Providers to cut down on all the traffic redirecting so that when you press a button in game, it can respond to your command within the blink of an eye. It took a lot of courage and a team that was willing to get something working that most thought wasn’t possible. The team first had to get a fundamental understanding in psychophysical science; custom chip, hardware and wireless engineering; complex real-time software — from the lowest- to highest-level, and real-time network engineering down to the sub-packet level. If that wasn’t enough they also had to get a deep understanding of business structure in the video game, Internet, hosting, server and consumer electronic industries. So it looks like it took a hell of a lot of resources and commitment to get this thing working the way it should, and after playing around with this I am still totally blown away. If you are interested in finding more information on the technology piece and how precious they had to get in order to pull this off watch the The Process of Invention: OnLive Video Game Service with Steve Pearlman on YouTube.

[tab: Hardware]

So when I first opened up the box that the OnLive Game System package was inside of I was one pretty stoked and second just impressed with the way they designed the box itself. I feel it’s very important to capture the presentation and I think they did they beautiful. The lines across the box have a different feel to them, as if they are a second layer on top of everything. The Orange, White, Gray and Black play extremely well together. I might be getting all excited about nothing but it just gives you a feeling that the company really put a lot of work into everything. From the technology, to the system to the very packaging.

So now that we have the box out of the way let’s get down to business. Within the box you will find the OnLive MicroConsole TV Adapter w/ 1080p support, OnLive Wireless Controller, MicroConsole Power Adapter, HDMI Cable, 6 foot (1.8m), Rechargeable Controller Battery3: Estimated 36 hours play time, USB Play and charge cable, 6.6 feet (2m), AA batteries for Wireless Controller (2), Ethernet Cable, 5.25 feet (1.6 m). I was really impressed how much you get for so little. Getting an HDMI cable within the box was a nice touch, you don’t have to worry about going out to buy one because it’s missing when you get the system. You get the merchandise and that’s it, you are done, hook up the system and off you go. It should really be that simple. But what if your controller is dead because you didn’t charge it and don’t want to sit within 6.6 feet of the thing while it’s charging? Well you don’t have too, the controller is wireless so all you have to do is pop in the double AA batteries they included and you’re all set. This with the ability to support surround sound has been unheard of, which only makes me like this thing that much more.

The console itself isn’t very big as you can tell from the picture above, which is great for taking it on the go. The height of the unit is only 0.9 inches (22 mm), 3.2 inches (81 mm) wide, 4.9 inches (124 mm) long and it only weighs 0.5 pounds (0.25 kg). Taking something on the go has never been easier with something that can produce unimaginable graphics and hours of entertainment. Some other awesome features of the console are that it mice, keyboards, USB hubs, Bluetooth headsets, USB headsets, and up to 4 controllers for online play. Take for example a father away on business and his child wants to play multi with him. Well they throw on their headsets so they can communicate together, one of them fires up the console which takes about 15 seconds to get into a game from boot to game and the other can jump on a PC or Macintosh. Talk about bringing the family together.

The controller feels like it’s second nature, especially if you have used a PS3, Xbox, or some of the PC controllers out there. It has a port on the front for charging as well as a battery pack storage location right underneath the middle of the controller, a lot like the Xbox controller. The double analog sticks are located in the same location as the Playstation’s DualShock controller. It has the D-pad in the top left and the rest of the other buttons which are Select, Home, Start in their usual location, LB, LT, RB, RT, on the very front and the 4 other buttons like the Triangle, Circle, X, and Square. The biggest difference in this controller from anything else out there are the , are the media buttons Rewind (RW), Record, Function, Play/Pause, Fast Forward (FF). You can use these keys to help you watch media, which can be trailers of movies, upcoming games, or Brag Clips that you or other fellow gamers have created to show us something worthy of talking about within the last 10 seconds of hitting the record button. It’s a really neat feature and something that I am sure a lot of other will want to incorporate into their systems in the years to come.

[tab: Conclusion]

I think a lot of people knew this day would, but I don’t think anyone expected it to come this early and not by a company that just came out of no where. I mean lets recap shell we? The package is $99 which beats out the competition right out of the gate. Second it doesn’t need to be updated at your cost because everything is upgraded on the servers every six months or so. Basically you will only be faced with running a firmware update every once in a while to get the latest features. The other problem with the current generation consoles is that they came out several years ago, so the hardware is outdated and there really isn’t a way of upgrading them except for maybe the hard drive.

There are also many other possibilities that are in the pipe for OnLive, such a motion gaming. This will allow it to complete on a larger scale against the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. I also heard of the ability for hundreds/thousands of spectators joining a sports game in play to cheer/boo as if they were the real crowd. And let’s not for get that this is a true in the cloud gaming system. When you play a game you never have to restart from the beginning you pick up right where you left off even on a different device. Currently you can already play using an iPad but it doesn’t stop there. OnLive wants to make this the device of your choice by allowing you to play games on your iPhone, Android based phones along with many other tablets. Recently Vizio and Onlive inked a deal to integrate the gaming system into the Vizio TV’s so things are about to get that much better. It seems that OnLive is doing to gaming what the Andriod OS is doing to phones.

I tried several games such as Just Cause 2, Briad, Borderlands, World of Goo, and Metro 2033. I have to admit that I had a lot of fun trying them out. It was just as if I was playing on my PS3 or any other console. The fact that you can just sign for the service and play up to 30 minutes on the PC or Mac without paying a dime is unbelievable, its just a sweet way to find out if the service is for you or not. Another great thing about the service is that you are always getting reminders on the specials they are having, a game for $5 bucks here, a game for $30 bucks there, its like Christmas everyday. The best deal I’ve seen so far was a week ago where they offered the entire OnLive Gaming System $66. Now don’t get me wrong, I still think that the PS3, Xbox 360, and the Wii have a place, but I definitely think that OnLive is going to give those systems a run for their money.

This review is based on a retail copy of OnLive provided by OnLive.