OnLive: The end of console gaming is nigh?

Before you pitch both your Xbox and your PlayStation, let's take a look at the technology behind the console-less console that was revealed last night at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. It has been created by the same people who created WebTV which was ultimately sold to Microsoft for US$500 million.

Entrepreneur Steve Perlman, C.E.O. of his Palo Alto-based company OnLive Inc. and a former principal scientist at Apple, says "It's the last console you'll need." What does he mean by that? The OnLive console is thin client that streams gaming content from the Internet to your television. If you prefer, they will also stream gaming content to a low-end Macintosh or PC. All of the processing is done from the server end which means that OnLive will be responsible for any hardware upgrades required for new titles and that means that you won't need to buy a new console every few years.

Experienced players know that the true enemy of online gaming is lag. Simply put, this is the delay between when a command is issued and when the server responds. Anything that slows down response time or creates hiccups in the flow of game can ruin the gaming experience pretty quickly and even more so when your 10th level Elf "needs food badly". Well, after seven years of working on the project, the OnLive people think they have solved this. OnLive says they can now compress and stream the content fast enough that people will not be able to notice the lag. In fact, they demonstrated Crysis in action at the Game Developers Conference.

There would seem to be many advantages to this new system of delivery but there would be concerns as well:
-The system requires a high speed Internet connection to be present
-Playing games may reduce the usable bandwidth for everyone else in the house
-Playing games may use up your monthly cap (a 250GB cap could be used up in 12 full days of playing)
-The popularity of the service may place huge strains on the servers thus increasing the lag to noticeable levels

As with all gaming solution, the key to this venture will be in the titles that are made available. Electronic Arts Inc., Eidos Interactive Ltd. and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. have already signed up to produce content.

Many a smart gamer will hold on to their existing consoles and titles to see how this venture will be played out. Among the greatest interest will be to see if this product is marketed at casual gamers or core gamers. The biggest potential loser would be your local game shop since titles will be sold electronically and downloaded directly to the device.

Screenshot: OnLive MicroConsole
Screenshot: How it Works
Link: OnLive Website

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38 Comments

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I swear sometimes people need to just see something like this and say that's cool, lalalala. Not attack the living hell out of one demo and down on it for every little thing they say. All the people attacking the hell out of this company and not just waiting a bit to find out "what happens", did you watch the demo or read in depth about it and just get POed? I watched it and was happy.

I liked, Fred Derf's comment the best. Just wait and see.

Showing doubts or disagreement with something is not the same as "attacking the living hell out of" it.

There are major, fundamental flaws to this type of system, and there is nothing wrong with pointing them out.

I bet that they'll have a program where they can pay you for your extra computing power that you don't use at night, and create a huge system of thousands of combined computers instead of hosting all games on their own server, as it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with the amount of processing power with their own machine. Much like How BOINC works.

Bandwidth is hardly the biggest problem here. I posted this comment on Engadget, and I stand by it completely:
I'm not sold on this at all.

It's basically Citrix/RDP for gaming. Everyone thinks cloud computing will eventually become the be-all/end-all solution, however, there is a lot of misunderstanding on the topic. The more users you add, the more processing power is required.

There is a big difference between using the cloud to store information, and using the cloud to process information. Storing information is significantly easier (and more cost effective) to perform: you just add more storage. Processing, however, is not so easy. As applications get bigger and more complex, so do the hardware requirements to run those applications.

Gaming is extremely resource intensive. Not only for the CPU, but the GPU and RAM. Just 1 user running 1 game requires a ton of resources. Now multiply that for many users running many different games. The amount of resources to run this is massive. Massive server farms would need to be created, and as newer and more advanced games come out, those server farms will become overloaded and will require upgrades. Those upgrades are very costly. In addition to the upgrade costs, one must also take into consideration the operating costs, especially power (both for operating the servers and cooling them down).

A long time ago, mainframes processed all information. That has since changed, as the mainframe was simply not powerful enough for processing newer applications for all users on the system, and was not providing a cost-effective solution. I believe that while cloud computing will continue to grow; it will not be an adequate replacement for powerful client hardware. It is, however, great for storing information and presenting that information to the user whenever they want access to it.

How can anyone believe that this service will be successful? Gaming does not scale well across multiple users!

I love all these grand plans as more and more ISPs play with bandwidth caps. I was wondering where the guys who dreamed up the Phantom went, now I know.

There are times when my internet goes out and I want to play a game. How will that work? Right now, I can fire up my 360 and play, regardless of my internet connection.

I see this being a niche product, not a replacement. There are millions of console users not even interested in internet features - so investing in a product that relies 100% on the internet isn't for them. I say, keep up the work with OnLive but don't do so with the intent on eliminating the console.

No thanks, I'd rather pay a one off investment of a couple of hundred pounds for a console and keep it for 8-10 years.

I think this is aimed at helping people play games on a PC, where requirements are high and updates are needed every few years, not at eliminating console games.

And lastly, I think streaming is capped at 720p, even on consoles some games run at 1080p.

McDave said,
Quite a few games for the 360 are not in HD, best example is Halo 3.

It definitely is, all the way to 1080p to be exact.

Audioboxer said,
No thanks, I'd rather pay a one off investment of a couple of hundred pounds for a console and keep it for 8-10 years.

I think this is aimed at helping people play games on a PC, where requirements are high and updates are needed every few years, not at eliminating console games.

And lastly, I think streaming is capped at 720p, even on consoles some games run at 1080p.

what would make you think streaming is capped at anything? the only cap is the cap on the line. there is no mystical property to 1920x1080 video that restricts it from being streamed. but streaming uncompressed HD quality video is not even a glimmer in the American eye. even uncompressed 720p is something like 70-80MB/s (not to be confused with 70-80Mb/s). 1080 is probably over 300MB/s. so it really all comes down to the compression.

everything is processed at the servers, the "console" just displays the video and send controller input to the server.

phantom's about downloading games into the console, so it still needed the usual gaming hardware .

all OnLive client needed is a web browser or the video decoder thingy.

mocax said,
everything is processed at the servers, the "console" just displays the video and send controller input to the server.

phantom's about downloading games into the console, so it still needed the usual gaming hardware .

all OnLive client needed is a web browser or the video decoder thingy.


and a prayer that there isnt a million people trying to play a game on a data center that can't handle it...

neufuse said,

and a prayer that there isnt a million people trying to play a game on a data center that can't handle it...

the data center is an irrelevant factor, all the data center is is floorspace. its the carriers that will determine available bandwidth. these days, bandwidth is cheep. as long as they provision enough funds for adequate bandwidth it wont be an issue. this is the same reason why this service will probably carry a monthly fee.

i dont think you guys fully understand what this system does. essentially all you are doing is streaming video and passing keyboard/mouse commands to a server. a service like this already exists, its streammygame.com. you install a server app on your beefy home computer, and the client on your POS office computer. the game is played by your home system, and just streams the video to you POS box. games will not need to be re-writen or anything like that. this service has the potential to be really big so long as their hardware model is scalable and its resonably priced. you can almost gurantee there will be a monthly service fee but you will probably be able to buy your games for $10 less then retail to make up for it. or something like that.

andrewbares said,
Hey, does that streammygame.com service work well without lag? If so, then the OnLive service will work well too.

considering the price, and the varying hardware they have to support; yes. of course, its extremely dependent on the hardware and throughput available, as is this OnLive service. The largest issue will be latency though, and the biggest effect on latency is geographical distance. so, if all of the OnLive server are in NY, and im in CA, im screwed. i doubt they are that naive, though. if they are, its the least of their problems.

Sounds eerily like the Phantom. I believe that was touted as the end-all be-all of consoles. We all know how that went.

The big 3 aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

-Spenser

These people will eventually control what you can play and when you can play it... and "decommission" games after a while under their model... which stinks for people who like to play what ever they own when ever they want right now... I can see someone like EA saying oh SimCity 4 is old now, SimCity Socities is out you can no longer play SC4...


Because we all know in the USA how the "Sega Channel" worked... and in Japan with Nintendo's satelite based system worked out...

I could also see this turning into an outragious rental system with pay for play per hour or something stupid like that

Games would need to be re-written from scratch to make this work. As it stands games are made for specific video chipsets. The speed and processing done on those chips are millions of times faster than any broadband. Unless there is a hard drive and video/sound/processing chips in that small device, this is simply BUNK. Look at the load on Quakelive, for a good example. Quake 3 is "old" (no great gfx/physics), yet the load is high. In theory this can work on slow screen changing games, but not on fast paced large area games that most people enjoy. Look at the size of a full Warcraft install. lol

thatmikeguy2 said,
Games would need to be re-written from scratch to make this work. As it stands games are made for specific video chipsets. The speed and processing done on those chips are millions of times faster than any broadband. Unless there is a hard drive and video/sound/processing chips in that small device, this is simply BUNK. Look at the load on Quakelive, for a good example. Quake 3 is "old" (no great gfx/physics), yet the load is high. In theory this can work on slow screen changing games, but not on fast paced large area games that most people enjoy. Look at the size of a full Warcraft install. lol


i dont think you get how this works. The box itself simply acts as a communication tool. The user send input to the game and receives back video of the game. All of the actual game processing is done on the servers being run by OnLive. Within those servers are the exact same video/sound/chipset configurations you're talking about.

i dont see how this one company could manage enough systems/processing power to take over for the majority of gaming consoles, although i guess if there all done on/around the same systems the communication between players, and loading of images would be near instant (retrieve cached data).

id need to see some real tests.

I dunno. While I used to prefer PC gaming. Since I got a mac I haven't done it nearly as much as I used to. Shocking eh? However I play my PS3 quite a lot. So for me it's increased my gaming. If more games supported the mac I might be more inclined to do it there. But its easier to just turn the PS3 on instead of booting into Windows. Plus it's on a much larger screen.

Soo, I didn't read the whole article first. Streaming games off the internet? I don't think so. Maybe casual games sure, but anything that serious gamers would play. Not anytime soon.

I don't think the internet can handle this at the moment and people would still have to pay for high speed internet which could counter the cost of using this console. There are also users who do not have internet so a offline console would still be needed. They will most likely not have most of the publishers for awhile. Not to mention microsoft will most likely keep getting DLC just for the 360 which would help that.

Cute, but I doubt it could ever measure up to the graphical capabilities of high-end consoles, not with today's internet connections at least. Maybe if you had a 200-500Mb connection into your house they could stream true hi-def content, but that is about 100 times what most people have today.

Well have to see how revolutionary OnLive's compression/streaming algorithms are. They are currently claiming to be able to do high resolution gaming without lag. We'll see how that scales and we'll see how well it works on an average high speed connection. I wouldn't want to be the first one in but it is interesting.

I can't play WoW without lag spikes on my 10mbps connection, and that game's communication is designed to run on 56kbps modems.... I can't imagine this working as smoothly as they expect it to. They can't even stream TV real time to most people, hulu has nice chunk of buffering at the start to ensure smooth play, setting you a few seconds away from the "live" feed, even if you can watch it all without stopping.

Rolith said,
I can't play WoW without lag spikes on my 10mbps connection, and that game's communication is designed to run on 56kbps modems....


Lag is to do with latency not available bandwidth. You could have a 1Gbps connection but if you have high latency it will still be useless for online gaming.

have less then 10ms lag for the vast majority of time, does not mean there are not lag spikes on even the best of connections. Have them on my 1gps local wired network as well, meaning i couldn't play this without SOME annoyance even if the server was downstairs and i was in my bedroom. I don't think the technology's near there yet.

exotoxic said,
Lag is to do with latency not available bandwidth. You could have a 1Gbps connection but if you have high latency it will still be useless for online gaming.


That is what I don't understand about this service. No matter how much bandwidth you have the server cannot anticipate and buffer every action you may take, so there will be times when the game cannot react to you until there has been a communications round-trip with the service, which even with good connections on both ends is normally at least 50ms. 50ms may not seem like much time but it can make the different between feeling like you are in control of your charactor or not--espachlly on FPS games.

sphbecker said,
That is what I don't understand about this service. No matter how much bandwidth you have the server cannot anticipate and buffer every action you may take, so there will be times when the game cannot react to you until there has been a communications round-trip with the service, which even with good connections on both ends is normally at least 50ms. 50ms may not seem like much time but it can make the different between feeling like you are in control of your charactor or not--espachlly on FPS games.


I see what you meant now

exotoxic said,
Lag is to do with latency not available bandwidth. You could have a 1Gbps connection but if you have high latency it will still be useless for online gaming.

Indeed. Latency and bandwidth are entirely different. Funny how people think, oh my 1.5mbps connection lags my games so I'll upgrade to 10mbps. With the same provider you will probably not lower your latency no matter how much bandwidth you are paying for.

However, if you don't have enough bandwidth forget about latency. It will be crap.

sphbecker said,
That is what I don't understand about this service. No matter how much bandwidth you have the server cannot anticipate and buffer every action you may take, so there will be times when the game cannot react to you until there has been a communications round-trip with the service, which even with good connections on both ends is normally at least 50ms. 50ms may not seem like much time but it can make the different between feeling like you are in control of your charactor or not--espachlly on FPS games.

Imagine if your controller had a 50ms lag... it just wouldn't work for gaming. I know the subject has more to do with ghosting than lag, but I saw a huge difference between my older 5ms response computer LCD monitor and my newer 2ms response one. I will have to see it to believe it... good idea in principle but I think that it will not work with typical internet latency.