Why OnLive Mobile Changes Everything

[Update: Did it? Share your opinion now that it has been 2-1/2 years. I think this must have been what MS was thinking about when they tried to require network connections for the Xbox One. Where are we now?]

OnLive is a Streaming game service (think Netflix)

OnLive is a Streaming game service (think Netflix)

I must admit that not only am I late to the game, but I also represent many of the naysayers. When I first heard about OnLive 18 months ago I thought, “yeah, right”.

I personally get frustrated having to wait for an HTML webpage to load if it takes more than a few seconds. Worse yet, I’ve logged onto remote servers in the past where the split-second delay between pressing the key and seeing it appear on the terminal could quickly become highly annoying. So, the idea that we are at a point in networking technology where you could play a game on a remote server and get a halfway decent gaming experience seemed laughable.

If you’re not familiar with OnLive, the premise is simple. A game runs on a remote server, the 3D image is rendered on the server and broadcast to your PC (just like a streaming video you might watch on Hulu or YouTube). The difference is that instead of a pre-rendered video, you’re actually playing the game in real-time. When you click a button or move the mouse, that input is sent to the remote server, and as a result you watch your player move in the streamed video (in 720p).

Of course the premise is that… supposing it works, you don’t need a high-end game console (XBOX360, PS3, PC) to play games… you just need a fast enough internet connection. Therefore, if you have a fast enough broadband connection then it’d work… but it could never be responsive enough to make it fun. So said us naysayers.

But in the last 18 months OnLive has been hard at work and this week they released mobile apps for the Android and iOS allowing you to play those same high-def games on your mobile device using WiFi, 4G, or even the slower 3G in some instances. If you didn’t get what I’m saying … yes, not only does OnLive work, you can play these highdef games on your mobile device over the cellphone network!

But don’t take my word for it. If you’ve got a halfway decent WiFi connection, go to their website and play “Batman: Arkham City” or one of the other 150 games they have for free for the first 30 minutes of each game.

So while that’s pretty cool, to me… its just the tip of the iceberg. This represents the start of a computing revolution that will change how we think about technology.

A bit extreme? I don’t think so… and here’s why:

What this fundamentally means is that we can now interact with remote systems in high definition in real-time. As a result, the processing power available on your mobile devices has gone from a local 1Ghz (A5 processor on iPhone4s) to however fast the fastest supercomputer is.

Think about that for gaming. No longer are games limited to how fast your PC/gaming console is. Games can now utilize all the processing power of massive servers to computer physics, AI, and graphics. Developers can now conceivably create a game with AI characters as “smart” as Watson or Siri, physics systems on par with NOAA or the DOD, rendered with real-time ray tracing… all in the palm of your hand, literally. Best yet, this is all using today’s technology.

But it doesn’t stop there. Imagine the applications for augmented reality or any other field that would benefit from having a portable supercomputer. Of course there are still limitations (we’d only be able to process data as quickly as it can be uploaded). But I can imagine a scenario in the next couple years in which something like a portable version of the Kinect receives local visual and depth data, then transmits that data to a server where it is processed and fed back to the user in a real-time 3D graphics overlay on a set of transparent screens (like a pair of glasses). The point being, we no longer have to wait for super high-speed processing to become small enough that it is portable.

Personally, I’m excited. And while I know it’ll be a while before the rest of the industry “gets it”… I’m convinced this is part of a paradigm shift that we’ll look back on in a couple years and wonder how we got by without this technology.

Want to read more about OnLive Mobile?
GameStop: It’s time to take OnLive seriously; Dec 7, 2011
BusinessWeek.com: OnLive mobile helps gamers on the go; Dec, 8 2011
Geek.com: Hands-on with Onlive mobile for Android; Dec 12, 2011

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