Hands-On: OnLive MicroConsole

OnLive, the Internet-based gaming service launched in June with the promise of instantly streaming games to just about any computer, regardless of age or processor speed. While the technology worked surprisingly well, there were a number of issues holding it back: It couldn't be played over a wireless network, there was a monthly subscription fee to just have the right to purchase games, and Mac owners were unable to join in the fun. Those days are long gone; the subscription fee is history, and wireless support has been implemented, as has the ability to play on a Mac.

OnLive First Impressions

Rather than rest on these accomplishments, OnLive is forging ahead, determined to show the world that it's serious about changing the way the world plays games. The next step: the release of the OnLive MicroConsole TV Adapter on December 2. For $99 you get the MicroConsole, a wireless controller, and your choice of a free game. The MicroConsole, which is slightly larger than a smart phone, lets you play OnLive games on a TV, without a computer. All you do is plug-in Ethernet, power, and HDMI cables, turn on the wireless controller, and you have instant access to OnLive's small-yet-expanding library of games. Although the MicroConsole is less-powerful than many of today's smart phones, its role as a streaming device means you won't need to upgrade in a few years to play the latest games - that's all handled on the server-side.

Even if you currently enjoy OnLive via PC, there are several reasons to consider the new MicroConsole. It's capable of displaying games in 1080p at 60fps, compared to 720p and 30fps on the PC. It also has the ability to output in 3D, though there aren't yet any 3D games on the service. Another benefit is the controller, which has been custom built in-house. Latency is a paltry 1ms (as compared to 5ms-plus on other controllers), it's wireless, and there's a button that lets you create "brag clips" to share with your friends with a single press. Another nice thing about the controller is that it combines the great feel of the PS3's analog sticks and the weight, size, and analog triggers of the Xbox 360 into one extremely-comfortable unit.

OnLive First Impressions

OnLive's Owl gamepad.

The release of the MicroConsole is OnLive's next step forward, but it's certainly not the last. Increasing the size of its somewhat-anemic library is a priority. New games, such as Homefront, Duke Nukem Forever, Driver: San Francisco, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 4, and others will be available on OnLive the same day as their console counterparts. The company has also revealed their intention to offer a flat-rate plan which will allow access to an as-of-now-undetermined library of games. This plan won't include new releases, but rather will consist of slightly-older and classic games - emulation of older consoles and operating systems is even a possibility.

Looking further down the road, there's the distinct possibility that someday soon TVs will have OnLive hardware built right in. That iPad, iPhone, and Android phones will play some sort of role in the evolution of the service seems like a no-brainer, as well. Nothing official has been announced on any of these fronts, but as OnLive has already demonstrated by coming this far, anything is impossible.

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