With all the recent subscription services increasing in popularity including EA Access and PS Plus, we decided to take another look at OnLive and how it could be the dark horse in the video game streaming race.
OnLive’s CloudLift service allows you to stream your Steam library to any computer, whether it be PC or Mac, and also lets you stream to your Android tablet or mobile. Though currently in Beta the infrastructure is already pretty solid and negates the necessity to actually own a powerful gaming rig as all the hard work is processed server side, where in essence you could potentially purchase Steam games without ever owning a PC and play them on your mobile phone.
We decided to do a trial run for a week playing games only on the service rather than locally to gauge if this could really be the direction that gaming should take in the future. The first concern being that given these are images streamed over the internet, surely the quality would be greatly deteriorated?
This is all down to how stable your internet connection is and the output resolution of your device, and for the most part quality difference is actually negligible! The images are generally processed in 720p given the amount of bandwidth that would be required to deliver an uncompressed full HD image (Sorry 4K adopters, out of the question right now!), however the addition of anti-aliasing and custom pc settings applied to most titles ensures that although the quality is not quite at Ultra/Maximum you will still receive an experience superior to the previous generation of consoles. There may be times that the connection will dip and lower the bitrate of the image but these moments are very rare and the image stabilizes quickly, it’s not as apparent as when it occurs on video streaming sites Netflix or Twitch.
My second concern was input and image latency, because let’s face it there is no point in trying to play games if by the time you’ve pulled the trigger you have to wait a further 2 seconds to watch the bullet miss your opponent. Thankfully this is not the case! For the sake of testing purposes I used a number of peripherals with both the computer and tablet (Rooted Kindle Fire HD using CynogenMod).
The PC OnLive client works with both standard keyboard and mouse setup, in addition to native controller support. The interface feels like it was designed leaning more towards the latter so it’s recommended to use a Windows/Xbox gamepad for the best results, if you already have a wireless controller for the Xbox 360 you can just pick up a wireless adapter to connect it.
Unlike the PC which always has a compatible controller attached I had to purchase extra peripherals for the tablet as I really don’t recommend trying to use the touchscreen for most titles, though navigation on the menu is considerably easier with it.
Did OnLive on the tablet work with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse? Yes.. No, kind of.
While I did try the keyboard and got decent results, the mouse input is configured differently to how it is on the PC and in essence works as a replacement for your finger on the touchscreen. The problem with this is that you have to click and drag to move the cursor anywhere and makes most games near impossible to play, ESPECIALLY shooters where I spent 5 minutes trying to work out why I was stuck looking and shooting at the floor. The Bluetooth gamepad had no problems whatsoever, probably because it’s imitating a Windows Gamepad. The thing is that the idea of using a phone or tablet to stream games is because of their portability, it’s no use using a keyboard and mouse for it unless if you’re at a desk or playing Scribblenauts.
Whilst there are a lot of games to stream from your Steam library you cannot access all of them. Whether this is down to contractual obligations or just that the service is still in Beta is unclear as I estimated about 10% of the games currently in my Steam library were playable via OnLive, the majority of which were Warner Bros titles (Good news Batman fans!). Of course it is early days and I have noticed a couple of newer titles did appear within the last week. One of the features that I was pleasantly surprised about was the ability to get access to your Steam Cloud save games, so I was able to carry on from the last place I was playing on my computer via the tablet and afterward vice versa.
I managed to try the tablet via mobile broadband as well and have learnt three very important things about gaming on the go; anything below 3G+ (HSDPA) won’t do, make sure you have an unlimited data plan and as I discovered on a train the other day, parents may take offense to you performing Fatalities in front of their impressionable children!
Overall it’s a good start and a refreshing change from their standard catalog streaming service, what with the increase in popularity for digital downloads the need for physical copies is waning. Microsoft was poised to do something similar with the Xbox One before the consoles release but the idea was unfortunately swept away with many other policies. The infrastructure is there and the necessity for our always connected lifestyles shows that OnLive are taking a brave step in the right direction, however they need to vastly increase the titles playable in CloudLift to ensure the longevity of the service and increase consumer appeal to survive.