Mind Grapes

and then things get awesome

OnLive, phenomenal cosmic powers! ..Itty bitty living space.

Sorry for the title, I just recently watched Waking Sleeping Beauty and now have images of the mega-Disney movies from the early ’90’s in my head. You’ll hopefully recognize the line from the movie Aladdin which fits my thoughts on the new OnLive console, if you can even call it a console…

I’ve been using OnLive, the new cloud-based gaming system, for a few months now. I have been amazed at how fast it loads, how smooth it runs and the quality of the graphics. However, the most amazing feature is the ability to play a game on my wife’s run-of-the-mill PC and then play on my 17″ MacBook Pro with little to no difference in quality. Also, I can pick up a saved game where I left off. There are many other features that have made OnLive attractive like not having to download each game title, the ability to pay to play for a limited time (3 day pass), the ability to watch other people play, and even the fact that OnLive has an iPad app. The iPad app is currently only for viewing, but this video from E3 shows someone playing a game which looks like it is the same quality as what I have on the MacBook Pro. Amazing. It’s the promise of the cloud.

Like most cloud-based endeavors, the people at OnLive realized all you need to play a video game is the picture (and sound) of that game and a way to control the picture. If all you need is a picture and a way to send control commands somewhere else then you don’t need very much hardware on your end. Basically all you need is a decent internet connection and an output to your monitor that can handle the HD stream. So, OnLive introduced their “MicroConsole” a couple of months ago with a introductory cost of only $99 (plus you get a voucher for a free game included). During the week of CES they dropped the price to $66, still including the free game voucher. Some games are $50, which means you are really only paying $16 for the console and controller (at least that was what was on slide 5 of my “Buying the OnLive MicroConsole ROI” PowerPoint presentation I gave to my wife). I ordered one and this is what I got:

Very nice packaging for an item that cost $66

I was impressed with the quality of packaging and what I found in the box. At first glance it would seem as if you aren’t getting a lot for $99 but I think it’s a good deal and even better at $66. They really want to get the user base up to attract better game producers and eventually advertisers.

MicroConsole and 1 Wireless controller

You get the MicroConsole, 1 Wireless controller* that seems to be as nice (from a material quality & feel) as an XBox controller, an HDMI cable (that would cost you $10+ alone), a USB cable (for the initial controller sync), 2 AA batteries [Duracell], a NiMH rechargeable battery pack, and an Ethernet cable (that looks like the most high quality Ethernet cable I have ever seen).

That's my actual hand for scale

Setup was a breeze. Just plug the MicroConsole into your TV via HDMI, turn everything on, and sync the controller (20 secs or less). After you are hooked up and logged into your account all your games are instantly available to you. I can now turn on my TV and the MicroConsole and get from zero to playing a game in under a minute (individual game load times may vary).

How is the game quality? What you would expect, this tiny box performed just as well as my MacBook Pro because in reality neither one of them is running the game, some OnLive super-computer-server-farm-thingy (“cloud” for short) is. I’m not the biggest “gamer” ever so I’m not a good one to judge gaming systems. What games I do play are almost exclusively PC based** over the years and I only own a console (Wii) because of the kids (or that was my excuse). That being said, if you are a PC gamer who is always frustrated that you can’t play the latest titles at the top settings without upgrading to the latest graphics card or adding more memory, then you will be as impressed as I am that this little box can out perform any computer I have ever owned and will theoretically*** always out perform any computer I will ever own in the future.

I think this is exciting for me not because I’m a huge gamer, and not because it’s something we didn’t see coming, but because in some ways I see this as the beginning. The gaming and entertainment industries have traditionally pushed technology to the edge that eventually makes it into the rest of our lives. This represents the next step (which we knew was coming but can now feel) of everything we do moving to “the cloud”. I think we all want more than just file-sharing and note taking, and this is a step in the right direction. If I can currently remote access my PC at home from my Mac at work, and OnLive can run the most hardware dependent apps (games) through a tiny box, then it won’t be long till I can have that cloud-OS I’ve always wanted (seriously, since I saw Penny’s “Computer Book”). It’s also just good to see someone has actually made a real and useful “cloud” device.

*Comes with 1 controller but you can sync more. Also has USB ports so that you can plug in a keyboard and mouse.
**I’ve been using Steam for years now as my sole repository for games. I think it’s the best thing going as far as PC games go, but OnLive could take them if they can increase their library.
***I’m sure when we start to see “Super HD” TVs, or whatever the next jump in resolution will be, then I’ll have to upgrade but until then this system should keep up.

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