The Future of Gaming?: OnLive Set to Launch June 17th

If the buzz around a new service were the sole indicator of its success, OnLive would undoubtedly be a smash hit.  First debuted about a year ago, it aims to completely change the way we play (and purchase) games. The goal is simple – complete platform independence. One should be able to play the same game on a PC or a Mac or on a gaming console without a hitch.

OnLive accomplishes this by moving all the processing grunt work to their servers – we press a button, and the input goes via the internet connection to their machines, which deliver the result of that back to us.  The potential for such a service is huge – we wouldn’t need to worry about upgrading our console/graphics card to keep up with latest crop of games.

Needless to say, this service has its fair share of skeptics who point out two key issues.  The first is latency, which measures the time it takes for a packet to move from source to destination.  If it’s too high, then there is a feeling of lag that makes gameplay unpleasant, if not impossible.  The second is the speed of video compression.  To output HD quality video over a bandwidth of about 5 or so Mbps (as claimed) almost instantaneously, OnLive’s compression algorithms would have to be order of magnitudes better than the ones currently in use.

A sneak preview of the beta confirmed existing beliefs – while the graphics aren’t as good as promised, non-first-person-shooter games were certainly playable.  Latency issues butcher gameplay in shooters that stress on reflexes, like Unreal Tournament 3.  The preview was a beta, though, and the tester was well out of the specified geographical zone, so it could change by the release date.  OnLive is said to be on track for a June 17th, 2010 launch, with initial pricing set at $15/month (plus rental/purchase costs for games).  In just a couple of months’ time, we’ll finally be able to see and judge for ourselves whether the future of gaming is really here.

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