Trying Out Onlive

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We at the Gibson household upgraded our Internet connection last week from a measly 2-3ishMb to a whopping 30Mb (a bit less than that but still) and this has given me some awesome things like streaming HD video without waiting for it to buffer. One of the things I’ve wanted to try out for a while is Onlive and Gaikai. The ability to play any video game on the cloud with little to no input lag just seemed too good to be true. My connection still couldn’t pass what I assume is a rigorous connection speed test for Gaikai but Onlive let me in without any trouble when I tried it out tonight. I haven’t had time to really put it through its paces but I tried out three demos and I have to say I was very impressed.

After being presented with the over the top bootup screen, I was on the menu to select my first game. Looking down the list, I saw DiRT 2, which I’d no doubt like, being a fan of racing games. Lo and behold, I pressed play trial and after a short wait I was plonked into a 30 minute trial of the game. And I’m happy to say, it works. What I was impressed with most was the input lag. I now have a decent connection for being in this country but I wouldn’t call it anything special. With a racing game you need to have fast reactions, both psychologically and physically through the controller. One second of input lag could be disastrous. However, there I was, playing the first race and control wise, it felt nearly identical to the console demo I had played last year. It can of course never match the input of actually running a PC game, but it really was hard for me to notice any lag when playing the game.

After trying out DiRT 2, I moved on to Metro 2033, a first person shooter. Like racing games, a large input lag could make any first person shooter virtually unplayable. Again though, everything worked fine. I could even adjust the mouse sensitivity to suit my needs, and it was the game’s difficulty that challenged me, not the controls. The only real problem Onlive has right now is the video stream. Of course this will never match an actual PC game because at best it looks like a HD stream of a game rather than the actual game. That’s good enough most of the time though, although as I noticed with Metro 2033, this quality drop doesn’t lend itself to dark areas. It made the game look very washed out.

Finally, I tried out a bot match in Unreal Tournament 3. Again, because of the washy colours, it was sometimes hard for me to make out details on the map I was playing on, and if the enemy team hadn’t been highlighted, I might have had trouble spotting them too. Another problem as a result of the video stream is a varying quality in that stream. As network connection speed fluxuates, sometimes it can reach points where the stream gets really blocky and blurry, which again didn’t help when tying to make out the details in games. It’s not that much of a problem for single player games but it could be really detrimental if you were playing a multiplayer game online and then suddenly the stream quality dropped.

Overall though, I liked what I saw with Onlive. It will never, ever replace an actual gaming capable PC, but it has a purpose considering the fact that for $10 a month, you can play as many games as you want on any PC, providing you have a good enough connection. I also like the fact that you could play 30 minute trials of the actual retail games, rather than just demos. You could just build a gaming PC over time, but for some people, the convenience will just be too tempting, not to mention the fact that they could play games across multiple devices. All it needs are some more stream quality optimisations and some more games (I want to say that I can play Crysis on my netbook), but Onlive to me proves that gaming in the cloud is possible.

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