REVIEW: OnLive Game System

OnLive Game Console

The OnLive Game System is a “MicroConsole TV Adapter” that allows you to directly use your OnLive service on a TV without the need of a computer.

OnLive is a cloud computing based gaming-on-demand platform where all games are stored and rendered on remote servers on the internet. Launching in June of 2010, OnLive has grown to be a viable alternative for gaming using unconventional systems such as low-end PC and Mac systems as well as the powered low-cost dedicated console box reviewed today.

The basic premise of the OnLive service is OnLive itself renders customer games on their hardware located at one of five data centers around the country. Users merely need a device capable of playing back the video stream of their game session similar to a remote desktop session, and as such, this allows gaming on a wide variety of portals.

Hardware Review

OnLive Game Console in Box

The package includes the small and portable console, one wireless controller with USB charge cable, and an HDMI, ethernet, and power cable set.

OnLive Wireless Game Controller

The controller itself is modeled after the Microsoft X-Box 360 controller and comes with both a rechargeable controller battery and an additional AA battery pack.  Using standard AA batteries, I was able to get approximately 30 hours of play time with longer results via the rechargeable pack.  It additional has multimedia buttons on the front which allow you to instantly record and review brag clips (a feature where you can record gameplay for later viewing).

The console works with up to 4 wireless controllers, but includes two USB ports for support with any standard USB keyboard and mouse combination. Syncing controllers is merely a matter of connecting it via its USB cable for a moment for it to lock in with the console.

The console also supports a wide variety of current PC gamepads, controllers, and headsets via the USB interface, and as such, purchasing additional OnLive controllers is not needed for split screen multiplayer enjoyment.  Unsurprisingly, only OnLive controllers have wireless support at this time, though a USB wireless dongle-controller combo for PC could work as well in theory.

Setup

OnLive Game Console - Rear Ports

The setup of the console is very simple. Simply plug in the AC adapter, connect the console to your TV via HDMI, and attach an ethernet cable. Note that unlike the XBox, PS3, and Wii, the OnLive Game System only allows for wired network connections.  If you need to use Wi-Fi, you must purchase some type of Wi-Fi bridge as there is no wireless chip on the device.  Also note, that there is no manual network configuration of the device, and as such, a DHCP enabled network is required.  Power on the console, sign in with your OnLive credentials, and immediately start playing.

The console supports 1080p60 HD over HDMI and is 3DTV-ready. It includes optical audio output as well as an analog 3.5mm audio jack for feeding a single to a stereo system.  While the console does support component video output, this cable is a paid for extra available in the OnLive Web Store.

Overall Thoughts

I found the video quality to be superb and there is virtually no lag between the controls and actions on the screen. The video quality is as good as if not better than using the PC or Mac based desktop clients, with the added benefit of having a quality physical controller.

The console supports the use of either USB based microphone headsets or bluetooth earpieces for voice communication with other gamers.

OnLive Service

The OnLive service itself is very good, assuming you have a decent network connection. While 3 Mbps sustained broadband download is required, 5+ Mbps is highly recommended and needed for higher than 720p resolutions.

One of the greatest benefits to cloud gaming is the removal of the physical component of gaming.  I was able to start a game of Lego Batman on my low powered Macbook, move over to my Windows gaming machine, and then continue on via the OnLive Game Console on my TV.  Each time, I was able to pick up directly where I left off without the need to transfer save games, memory cards, or even move hardware.

The game library is continuously growing and currently contains over 100 titles.  Games run from $4.99 for 3 days of “rental” to the full retail price of a game.  Unfortunately, many games cost full price and are much more than you could get via normal retailers.  Also, all purchases are stored online via your OnLive account and are not transferable.  OnLive also provides a $9.99 a month subscription service which provides unlimited access to a large selection of older and indie games.  Almost all games provide a 30 minute “trial” where you can try out the game.

If you enjoy playing games but lack the resources or desire to own a powerful gaming computer or multiple gaming consoles, the OnLive Game Console and service is a great alternative which will allow you to enjoy the latest games without the physical upkeep of a gaming console environment. While it won’t replace a dedicated XBox or PS3, it does provide an inexpensive way to enjoy the same new releases though digital game rentals.

The OnLive service itself is available on PC and Mac (and soon to be iPad) at no cost aside from game rentals and purchases. If you are already a user of the OnLive service, the OnLive Game System is a great addition and value.

The OnLive Game System is available now via the OnLive Web Store for $99 plus $9.99 in shipping.

Final Thoughts:

PROS:

  • Small pocketable device
  • Little to no lag if you have good broadband
  • Solid build quality
  • Easy setupUSB device support
  • $99 is a good value if you are already a OnLive user

CONS:

  • No Wi-Fi support
  • 3rd party controller support is hit-or-miss
  • No included component cable
  • Requires 3 Mbit (but realistically 5 Mbit) or greater Broadband
  • Games can be expensive and aren’t transferable

Comments

  1. Dan says

    Considering AT&T’s recent caps on data usage, and the resolutions this service transfers constantly, I wonder how quickly the OnLive service will top a user out?

    • John says

      OnLive is working with ISPs by bringing in datacenters, reducing the bandwidth necessary for users and themselves. There is a new type of wireless the founder is working on and producing, code named DIDO. Check out the Columbia University Steve Perlman presentation, it’s an hour long, but it’s well worth the watch.

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