OnLive – The Future of Home Gaming & Media: Video Demo

Maybe a sensational headline, but it’s no secret in previous posts I have said that I’d “bet the farm” on subscription based services completely overthrowing traditional media consumption in the next few years so this service has really caught my attenti…

Maybe a sensational headline, but it’s no secret in previous posts I have said that I’d “bet the farm” on subscription based services completely overthrowing traditional media consumption in the next few years so this service has really caught my attention.

One of the earliest mainstream examples of this kind of unlimited subscription media probably being Nokia Comes with Music, some years ago now. Well, music is one thing, and video took a little longer, but Netflix, XBox and AppleTV show that’s well and truly “solved”, but what about gaming? Gaming of course relies entirely on reaction times, and on modern consoles runs in higher resolutions than even movies.

OnLive have been running in stealth mode for 7 years now trying to solve this exact problem, and they claim to have done it. But they are literally being challenged by the laws of physics and that is why I’m still a bit skeptical… but they claim it works fine up to 1000 miles from the servers on cable, 1500 miles on fibre.

The way OnLive provide games (and movies) is via a streaming subscription/rental service. A tiny cheap box plugs into your TV (or Mac/PC), into that you plug your controllers, wired or wireless. The box then streams the standard or high-def game as it is played on a remote server. So your hardware technically “never needs upgrading” (this can be taken with a pinch of salt, but the concept is there). The servers also store your state in a game when you come back to it, even if you have to re-rent the game some time after you originally played it.

The thing is, a human’s reaction time from eye to finger (button) can be as low as 100ms. Lag from a home, to a server and back can easily introduce a very obvious delay in your interactions. So they had to invent a whole new type of video encoding that could solve this problem, supposedly reducing lag to 1ms, seemingly impossible. They’ve done this so successfully you can literally jump in and watch any game being played without any delay at all, great for previewing a game you may want to rent.

Another interesting point is that you rent the games. I have friends who use DVD postal services like LoveFilm to rent all their games, mainly because the cost of a game is so high now, it’s cheaper to rent and complete, why keep the game for years after only to clutter your house, and if the game sucks, you didn’t drop £40-50 on it.

In the video they also mention a subsidiary, MOVA, who’ve done real time 3D facial generation for Hollywood films like The Hulk. They are using this tech for a range of things including avatars in a user community. There are also leader-boards, tournaments (that you can view at any time with no delay), record/save copies of games you’re watching for sharing and so on. So a lot of XBox Live/PSN style features plus some new ideas.

This whole thing is not really a new concept to Sci-Fi fans, with the idea of free gaming consoles presented in several books I’ve read. I think it was William Gibson(?) who mentioned XBox’s given away free in this way. Only to be later hacked with a standard Linux OS installed and used as a free secure computer by those in the know. Really it’s an extension of the free laptop deals offered by a lot of operators when you buy 3G “broadband” subscriptions. This is also good for people like me who use a laptop, I don’t want to get a big PC box just for gaming, but this 2 year old Macbook Pro isn’t up to the latest games even in Bootcamp, so this should extend its gaming-capable life by quite a few years.

See the video/presentation here.

Sign up for beta testing here.

3 thoughts on “OnLive – The Future of Home Gaming & Media: Video Demo”

  1. Don’t believe the hype yet. There have been other services that have tried this before, and have failed. Arguably many were way ahead of their time (GameTap) and deserve merit.

    But beware of the media blitz going on with this product.

  2. Hey Richard, just came from GDC and I actually tried OnLive. It ran great for me, and lots of other people there. The action was fast without noticeable lag. The rep did indicate that physical distance to server could be a factor, so they are releasing it into only a few select areas at first. Apparently the system I was playing on was based something like fifty miles away. Lots of skeptics over on engadget, but what can I say? I played it and it was awesome.
    -t.

  3. @Lukas I share your skepticism with regards to large distances, but that’s only based on my experience of streaming/de-coding HD video entirely in software. I don’t have the expertise to judge with regards to their hardware solution (the “revolutionary” compression), we’ll have to see it (working over distance) to believe it.

    @Timbot, thanks very much for sharing your experience with it. 50 miles is something that would make it possible for me to play from my home in Milton Keynes (U.K.) even if they put servers only in London which is 53 miles south of here. That would already cover a dense and HUGE population even if it doesn’t scale much past that (and they claim 1000 miles) or host more servers in other major cities which is more likely. I imagine the U.S. release is going to be slow and steady, the expansive geography certainly makes it more of a challenge, but I hope we see it released this side of the pond soon after. Now we need a higher concentration of fast connections, 24mb is offered by a couple of providers via cable and ADSL, but the major players offer up to 16 with most people being on something far below that, mine is the Sky MAX “up to 16” (so that I get no download cap) but my distance from the exchange is such that I get at most 3mbps, honestly 4G is my likely upgrade route when you consider the timeframes over which hard lines are upgraded. It’ll be a little bit like going back to dial-up, where no-one else in the house can use the internet if you’re playing a game 😉

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