Review: OnLive

Product: OnLive
Manufacturer: OnLive
Price: $99.00

Based on their cloud-computing service OnLive can now accommodate gamers who prefer to burn away the hours in front of an HDTV instead of a PC monitor with their newly released MicroConsole.  Having been intrigued with this system since it was first announced I was no longer able to keep my wallet in check when the price dropped during the most recent Consumer Electronics Show.

In terms of presentation I could not have been more impressed.  When compared to today’s more popular and mainstream consoles – the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – OnLive’s packaging is head and shoulders above the rest.

Neatly packed into this well-designed box is everything needed to get things started: OnLive MicroConsole TV adapter, OnLive MicroConsole controller with built in media controls, rechargeable controller battery, power adapter, HDMI cable, Ethernet cable, USB cable and 2 AA batteries.

The OnLive MicroConsole is compact and fits easily into the palm of your hand.  It’s lightweight, highly polished and embossed with the OnLive logo.  The design is as sleek and stylish as it is simplistic, and it unassumingly fits just about anywhere.

The OnLive MicroConsole controller, at first glance, appears to be the love child of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 controllers.  The directionals are more PS3 in that it uses individual buttons as opposed to the 360’s less responsive D-Pad.  The analog sticks, although not offset like the 360 controller, include the better-designed concave tops.  Also like the 360 controller the right side buttons rely on the traditional X, Y, B and A.  Both the left and right triggers and bumpers are significantly wider than anything I’ve been accustomed to and involve a substantial amount of resistance and spring.  Finally, a row along the front edge allows for media controls: play, pause, fast-forward, rewind and stop.  Overall, the controller felt good in my hands.  It was neither too heavy nor too light and I was able to easily adapt to it while testing the system out.

For such a new product – and one that has its competitive eye on the likes of Sony and Microsoft – I was moderately impressed with the presentation of the dashboard, the navigation from screen to screen and the overall, initial, selection of games available.  From more recent hits like Mafia 2 and Splinter Cell Conviction, OnLive allows for 30 minute demos of nearly every game listed and provide variations on rentals or full purchases: 3 Day, 5 Day or Full Play Passes allow for several different price ranges depending on the popularity and newness of the game selected.

The picture quality on my Samsung 1080p HDTV was far better than what I was expecting from a cloud-based gaming experience.  There was little to no aliasing, pixelation, artifacting or any such visual distraction.  Although sending both picture and audio through the provided HDMI cable into my 7.1 Onkyo Receiver the OnLive MicroConsole was incapable of providing any surround sound whatsoever.  According to the OnLive site surround sound is forthcoming through a downloadable patch.  (**Update –  Since the authoring of this article OnLive can now accommodate for 5.1 surround sound**)

Still, providing a High Definition picture and quality surround sound pales in comparison to the importance of how the OnLive MicroConsole performs during actual gameplay.  It is here that my enthusiasm for this new product begins to wane.  With the release of the PlayStation Move and the Xbox 360 Kinect I have the ability to motion game via those gaming console peripherals alongside my Nintendo Wii.  It’s no secret that some of these motion controlled devices did not perform as well as the others (I’m looking at you Kinect).  The Wii was groundbreaking when it was first released and the PlayStation Move took that solid functionality and enhanced it even further.  The Kinect went off in an entirely different direction but ultimately stuck with the same concept – motion based gaming.  Each and every one of the 3 unique motion-based platforms are plagued with their own set of issues; the most criticized being lag – or the delay between a game controller’s movement (or body with Kinect) and the on-screen responsiveness of the game’s characters.  Unfortunately, for OnLive, none of the aforementioned consoles can compare to the “lagginess” that is reproduced here.

I’m quite certain that OnLive’s lag is something that I could eventually get used to, but because I have so many other, more responsive, options in my man-cave gaming chamber, I don’t need to.  I can’t say I’ll continue to spend much time with the OnLive MicroConsole.  For the cost it really is a nice option for those gamers just starting out or looking for something on a budget (retails at $99 + 1 free game).  OnLive really is an interesting piece of gaming hardware but I feel they have quite a way to go if they expect to meet the high technical demands of the millions of dedicated gamers around the world.  Updating the MicroConsole with 5.1 surround capabilities is a good first step.  I’ll be watching to see where they go from there.

Written by Bill Braun

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