OnLive, the cloud-based gaming platform has just launched on Android and iOS (apps to be available shortly after this announcement), and this new step in OnLive’s history is also a new step in gaming history. While OnLive for PC, Mac and TVs was a very convenient way to access games online, OnLive for mobiles offers a level of game graphics that simply cannot be matched by today’s mobile hardware.
If you are unfamiliar with OnLive, it is an online gaming service that effectively run a game on a remote server while the player controls and sees the rendered frames on a terminal. The remote server performs all the rendering, AI, and even keeps game checkpoints, while the terminal (a PC, mobile or the OnLive box) displays the images and gathers new controller input.
How does it feel? (good)
I’ve played with a few games available with OnLive and things do feel great. The framerate is usually good and it feels like things are moving at around 30FPS or so. I have not seen anything that feels like 60FPS, but for many games, framerate isn’t an issue. For other, it may be. It also depends on your personal preferences.
Many PC games require a controller, but more and more games can be played with the virtual controllers, and more and more games are built to be touch-friendly from the get go.
How is the lag? (playable)
Because of the online nature of OnLive, questioning the latency of the system is completely legitimate as you are basically replacing a high-speed internal computer bus with a longer-latency internet link. There is indeed a small lag associated to any move, but overall, I found things to be playable. For example, the lag in Defense Grid didn’t bother me at all, and even in a racing game or a first-person-shooter things can be OK. However, FPS and racing purists may want 60FPS frame rates at all time.
Image quality (beyond “mobile” reach, but not as sharp as local rendering)
OnLive uses a very interesting low-latency streaming system to transfer the rendered frames to the gaming terminal, but it basically rely on video compression at some point. Because the image is compressed, it won’t look as sharp as if it were rendered locally. For computer, it is usually a quality for convenience trade-off, but for mobile devices it’s a different proposition: although the image is not as sharp as it could be, there’s no way a smartphone or tablet could render those images, period. Overall, this is a huge win.
Image quality will be best with games that have less motion. For instance adventure games like LA Noire, and top-view strategy games will tend to look better. Fast action games may look more blocky at times.
What games can I play? (plenty)
If you have a controller, almost all the games on OnLive will work, so the selection is vast. If you do not have a controller, many games support virtual controllers and few are touch-enabled from the start. In short, the answer is : you’ll have access to a lot of games, and games that are not available on the native platform. To browse available games, check the OnLive store.
Battery Life (OK)
Interestingly, OnLive has the potential to use less battery life than an actual game running locally. Why? Because it is not using the internal graphics processor (GPU), which is one of the most powerful, but also most power-hungry piece of the mobile device. I have yet to run extensive battery tests, but from what I can tell, playing Defense Grid has consumed 1% of battery life every couple of minutes. This was tested on a 4G LTE Galaxy Tab 10.1 over WIFI. I’ll perform long tests if I get a chance.
Onlive for mobiles is more than a welcome addition to our mobile gaming choices. I can deliver a different kind of games and allows players to continue their gaming experience from different location and devices. I don’t see it as a competitor for existing games, for now. Instead it is somewhat of a leap into the future as mobile games simply cannot match the rendering power of the OnLive servers for some of those games. The price to pay for this is some added latency, and an image that can be a bit fuzzy at times, but the alternative is not playing those games at all.
Supported devices at launch
- Acer Iconia Tab A500
- ASUS Eee Pad Transformer
- HTC Flyer
- HTC Jetstream
- Motorola Xoom
- Samsung Galaxy Tab
- Sony Tablet S
- Toshiba Thrive
- HTC EVO
- HTC Nexus One
- HTC Rezound 4G
- HTC Sensation
- HTC Sensation XL
- Motorola Droid 2
- Motorola Droid X2
- Motorola DROID BIONIC 4G
- Motorola DROID RAZR 4G
- Motorola Photon 4G
- Samsung Galaxy S II 4G