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OnLive allows modern video games to be played without a traditional home console or a powerful PC

OnLive, a company founded by internet entrepreneur Steve Perlman, demonstrated its new video game delivery service at this year’s Game Developer Conference 2009. OnLive is a new system that deviates from the traditional way in which video game content is delivered and played using consoles and PCs.

OnLive games are not played off of media disc or local hard drive installs, but are instead processed on OnLive servers and delivered via broadband to the player using a low cost "micro console" or a low end PC or Mac.

The “micro console” is a small, low-cost device that does not contain a GPU and acts only as a video decoding control hub. The device will have two USB inputs and support for four Bluetooth devices, it will output audio and video via optical and HDMI connections.

In theory mainstream games such as F.E.A.R. 2, Bioshock, Far Cry Warhead, and Prince of Persia will be playable without the need of a powerful video game console or computer. The heavy processing will occur on OnLive’s servers and streamed back to the game player.

According to Kotaku, OnLive uses patented video compression technology combined with a system designed to compensate for lag and packet loss. OnLive will deliver video at up to 720p resolution and 60 frames per second. The Kotaku article states for standard definition television quality, a broadband connection of at least 1.5 megabits per second is required. For HDTV resolution, a connection of at least 5 mbps is needed. The OnLive technology is claimed to have a ping of less than one millisecond for video feeds.

The main benefit of OnLive is the need to have a powerful system locally is eliminated. Local installation of games is not necessary and hard drive storage space is no longer an issue. The power of the local system dictating the type of games that can be played would become less of an issue.

According to Kotaku the Crysis Wars demo of OnLive worked well enough in a controlled environment. Major game companies such as EA, Ubisoft, Take-Two, and Eidos have signed on and partnered with OnLive. A subscription based system for the OnLive service is planned and the company is currently searching for beta testers via their company website.

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RE: Three main problems with this.
By Chris Peredun on 3/30/2009 2:29:08 PM , Rating: 2
1. Compressing 720p to a 5MBps stream is entirely doable, and it can look good. You can even compress 720p60 and have it still look good. What you can't do is run that in realtime while maintaining quality. Encoders are set up so that the longer they have to work on a scene, the better an end result they can make. A high-quality, CPU-hogging multi-pass encode will give far better quality than a low-overhead realtime compression.

2. Network lag can be compensated for much more easily than input lag. This is what people mention when they talk about "loose" or "floaty" controls in a game - while it might work for an MMO that's already buffering input and compensating, it will not play nicely with a twitch-reaction game like TF2 or L4D. Also, I don't imagine people taking nicely to the idea of "lag" in their single-player games.

3. Yes, the video output is being streamed, but it has to be rendered just like if the person was sitting at the machine. Instead of the final operation being "paste to display buffer" it's "paste to input pipe of the video compression engine" - which then needs its own overhead. They can probably throw AA and AF out the window though, as the blurring and macroblocking introduced by point #1 above will negate any benefits of those.

Again - I'd really love to be proven wrong on this. But so far I haven't seen anything concrete.

RE: Three main problems with this.
By omnicronx on 3/30/2009 3:07:19 PM , Rating: 2
I can't really disagree with your 2009 phantom comment, just the that this could be doable, as we still do not know the specifics.

Where I could see this being employed is in the form of an on demand service from say a cable company. Doing so would drastically open up the possibilities on how they would deal with the various issues you have presented.

RE: Three main problems with this.
By Targon on 4/2/2009 9:59:47 AM , Rating: 2
This would ONLY work if the games are designed for this sort of thing. That is the problem, most games are NOT designed with the network latency issues in mind. First person shooters are also just one type of game, and others just might not work well.

This sort of service might be good for those with $400 computer towers, but a Radeon 4870 will turn that $400 tower into an acceptable game machine which would not need the service. $180...hmmm, ok, I might be willing to pay $5 per month if they can provide the performance of that video card. If they can't do that, then why wouldn't I just buy a video card?

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