What if you could stream top-end games to your TV, just like a Youtube video that you can control? You’d never need to buy a console again.
That’s the future envisaged by Palo Alto startup OnLive, which plans to launch a groundbreaking gaming service this winter. OnLive will supply players with a small set-top box, not much bigger than a Nintendo DS, which will plug into your TV and your home broadband connection. From there, you can start playing games just like those on the Xbox 360, PS3 or PC — but with no install time, no waiting for downloads, and no need for big, noisy, expensive consoles cluttering up your living room. OnLive’s service can be continually upgraded, too, so you’ll never be stuck with obsolete hardware again.
Skeptical? So were we, until we actually sat down and played with an OnLive box last week. Even a blisteringly fast racer like Burnout Paradise was totally playable over the service, and top-spec shooter Crysis: Warhead — which normally requires an expensive gaming PC — ran excellently too. It’s all rolled together with a slick interface that requires just a few button-presses to get playing.
OnLive also includes some features you might associate more with your DVR than with a gaming console, including a Replay feature that lets you save the last ten seconds of your gameplay, and send it to your friends.
PC gamers aren’t left out, either: OnLive’s service can be accessed with a browser plugin from either Mac or PC platforms, works identically to the TV version, and has hardware requirements so low you’ll be able, the company boasts, to play the most advanced of games on a $300 netbook.
OnLive has already signed deals with an impressive range of partners — including EA, Take-Two, and Ubisoft — and promises to have an up-to-the-minute selection of games when the service launches. Along with Burnout and Crysis, we spotted Grand Theft Auto IV, LEGO Batman, and Mirror’s Edge among the games on offer, although the lineup will likely change before the service launches.
There’s a catch, though. Being an online, streaming service, OnLive is only going to be as good as your Internet connection. High-definition resolutions will require a higher-end broadband connection, and if your service is prone to drop out unexpectedly, you’re probably going to wind up frustrated. Even if it works, all that streaming video’s going to add up over the months, and heavy users might find themselves the receipient of some unwelcome attention from their ISPs. Modem users, needless to say, need not apply.
OnLive won’t talk price, other than to say that they’ll be competitive with subscription services like Xbox Live. The box itself is simple and cheap to make, they told us, and it’s easy to imagine it being thrown in with subscriptions — rather like a cable or satellite TV set-top box. Games will most likely be available to rent or buy, and with free demos that don’t need to be downloaded.