Wednesday, December 1, 2010

OnLive just works, even for those darn Europeans!

I think this deserves it's own post. Someone (Anonymous) told me that the OnLive service can be accessed and played from EU countries as well, so I gave it a try and downloaded and installed the tiny OnLive plug-in. To my surprise, I actually got it working on a pretty old PC (just a Pentium 4 at 3GHz). I was flabbergasted. I'm about 6000 miles away from the OnLive servers and it's still running! The quality of the video stream was more than decent and smoother than when I try to decode 720p Youtube videos which my system just cannot handle.

My first impression: I love it, now I'm absolutely positive that this is the very near future for video games. It's a joy to watch others play and to start playing the same game within seconds! I've tried some Borderlands, Splinter Cell Conviction and FEAR2. There is some lag, because I'm about 6000 miles away from the OnLive server (I got a warning during log-in that my connection has huge latency), but I could nevertheless still enjoy the game. About half a second (or less) passes between hitting the shoot key and seeing the gun actually shoot, and when moving your character . I must say though that I got used to the delay after a while, and I anticipated my moves by half a second. My brain notices the delay during the first minutes of play, but I forgot about it after a while and just enjoyed the game. I think that if I can enjoy an OnLive game from 6000 miles away, then US players, who live much closer to the OnLive servers, have got to have an awesome experience. The lag could also be due to my own ancient PC (which is not even dual core) or to the local network infrastructure here in Belgium even though I have a pretty big bandwidth connection. I can't wait until they deploy their EU servers. Image quality is very variable, I guess it's partly because of my PC, which cannot decode the video stream fast enough. FEAR 2 looked very sharp though. The image looks best when you're not moving the camera and just stare at the scene. The recently announced MicroConsole seems to offer very good image quality from what I've read.

I think that cloud gaming will give an enormous boost to the graphics side of games and that photorealistic games will be here much sooner thanks to cloud rendering and it's inherent rendering efficiency (especially when using ray tracing, see the interview with Jules Urbach). My biggest gripe with consoles like Xbox and Playstation is that they stall graphics development for the duration of the console cycle (around 5 years), especially the latest round of consoles. With the exception of Crysis, PC games don't make full use of the latest GPUs which are much more powerful than the consoles. I just ran 3DMark05 some days ago, and it's striking me that this 5-year old benchmark still looks superior than any console game on the market. I truely hope that cloud gaming will get rid of the fixed console hardware and free up game developers (and graphics engineers in particular) to go nuts, because I'm sick of seeing another Unreal Engine 3 powered game.

I also think that OnLive will not be the only player and that there will be fierce competition between several cloud gaming services, each with their own exclusive games. I can imagine a future with multiple cloud gaming providers such as OnLive, OTOY, Gaikai, PlayStation Little Big Cloud, Activision Cloud of Duty, EA Battlefield Cloud of Honor, UbiCloud, MS Red Ringing Cloud of Death (offering Halo: RROD exclusively), Valve Strrream... To succeed they would have to be accessible for free (just like OnLive is now), without monthly subscription fees.

All in all, it's an awesome experience and it's going to open up gaming for the masses and will give a new meaning to the word "video" game. The incredible ease of use (easier than downloading a song from the iTunes Store) will attract vast audiences and for this reason I think it's going to be much bigger than Wii and will completely shake up the next-gen console landscape (Wii2, PS4 and Xbox 2.5/720/RROD2/...). MS, Sony and Nintendo better think twice before releasing a brand new console.

Be it OnLive, OTOY, Gaikai or any other service, I, for one, welcome our new cloud gaming overlords!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recently got a nice, 20 Mbps internet connection and finally got to try OnLive here in the states (Utah).

Playing Borderlands seemed very laggy and had decompression and graphics problems (block artifacts and very fuzzy 720p pictures). It's true that I only played for 10 minutes or so, but I don't think in its current incarnation OnLive would replace games on my PC.

However, it was fun to watch other people play games, but most still seemed pretty fuzzy and low-resolution. Not to mention that the vision you have of the future of the service for graphics programmers is kind of compelling.

Ray Tracey said...

thanks for your comment! Some people in the US report a very good experience, while others have latency issues and degraded image quality. I'm not sure if OnLive can be entirely accounted for that. I guess there is still a long way to go before everyone in the US has a good and reliable internet connection to enjoy OnLive to the max.

One thing's for sure, it's only going to get better soon (less lag and fewer compression artefacts)

Anonymous said...

The thing about cloud gaming is that each cloud gaming company will come out with their own microconsole. Each company will create their own exclusive games. Then were back to square one. Where were in complete competition with one another.

Cloud gaming is great because you don't have to upgrade your PC hardware every 2 to 5 years. But all these cloud gaming companies will offer microconsoles and like console gamers they like to buy 2 or 3 of the current consoles. These gamers are likely to want to buy microconsoles from each of these cloud gaming companies and then the cost amounts up. Then you find buying these consoles, and the games or monthly flat rate subscription plans turn out to cost you as much as buying a top of the range PC each year.

So what a company needs to do now is create a small microconsole that can be sold for less than $100 that isn't a closed system and which would allow you to use current game controllers on the market like the Xbox 360 PC game controller and allow you to play through this console on all the cloud gaming systems as well include an internet browser so you can browse your emails, google docs, ebooks and even be compatible with the onlive microconsole game controller.

An alternative method would be to wait for programmers to work on a mod for the new apple TV to do everything I have just written. The apple TV has been selling for as low as $90. Of course it doesn't come with a free game or game controller like the Onlive micronconsole. Either this or the onlive microconsole will get a mod and programmers could make it work with all the cloud gaming companies games. This would be amazing.

Ray Tracey said...

That's an interesting argument.

Personally I think there will be "generic" microconsoles on the market soon, that will work with every cloud gaming service. They will be produced by the regular tech companies, like Panasonic, Hitachi, Sony, Samsung, as stand-alone device or integrated into their TV sets (OnLive has hinted that this will happen very soon) and they will all be great at what they are supposed to do, i.e. decoding 1080p video streams in under 1 millisecond.