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OnLive Cloud-Based Gaming: Is This The End Of High-End PCs?

OnLive Cloud-Based Gaming: Is This The End Of High-End PCs?
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We've been hearing about OnLive's cloud-based service for more than a year now. The company claims it can offer the latest games on demand, without a need for meaty hardware requirements on the client end. Could this really be the end of high-end PCs?

Count me amongst the many who heard Steve Perlman’s announcement of OnLive in 2009 and went “No bloody way. They can’t do that.” Yet here I am, some months later, with a Founding Members invite and access to a handful of the games I’ve used to benchmark graphics cards and CPUs on Tom’s Hardware. Well I’ll be…

I’ll refrain from bloviating on the specifics of how OnLive does what it does—I’ve already read plenty of analysis one way and the other about what a cloud service could mean for gaming and why it’s a technically infeasible (one of the best, from Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter, can be read here). Moreover, OnLive has been fairly low-key about the information it’ll give out. All that matters today, on Day 1 of availability, is how it performs—the experience OnLive enables. It’s time to step away from the “what ifs” and dig into the “how does it do?”

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Getting up and running after receiving the email literally took five minutes. You fill in your information, billing data, and download a 500KB client setup app, which, by default, runs in a window on your desktop. Just make sure that when you fire up the client, you’re not doing anything else to tax your Internet connection—which must be at least 5 Mb/s for a high-def stream. I have access to AT&T’s 24 Mb/s U-Verse plan, so I’m alright there, but when I tried to load the service with a file transfer running in the background, I was politely turned away from logging in. If it turns out that you share your pipeline with a college roommate, for example, that’s going to quickly become a problem. Here, we’re going from worrying about our graphics card to stressing over who’s using the network.

With all other transfers halted, I hopped on. For the folks who get in on the Founding Members plan, you can join OnLive for 12 months free, after which you pay $5 a month for the privilege of having your content delivered in this manner. From there, you can play many games in demo mode, 30 minutes at a time (without the ability to save). I need another monthly recurring bill like I need a hole in my head.

If you want to continue on, you’ll need a PlayPass, available in Full (unlimited access), 5-day, and 3-day options. Now, not all PlayPasses are offered for each game. If you want to play Batman: Arkham Asylum, you can buy a 5-day pass for $7 or a 3-day pass for $5, but there is no full pass. Assassin’s Creed II is only available as a full pass for $40. DiRT 2 is only available as a demo. The model that makes the most sense, I think, is paying a few bucks for a game you’d otherwise play and beat in a week and never touch again. Fair enough. No way I’d pay $50 for the full version of a game without a way around OnLive’s imposed Internet-optimized settings, though. Charge an extra $5 or $10 and give me the option to download the full game locally and I might be interested.

Just Cause 2 running on a desktop and Just Cause 2 on a notebook with integrated graphics. Thanks OnLive!Just Cause 2 running on a desktop and Just Cause 2 on a notebook with integrated graphics. Thanks OnLive!

Now, I wanted to get the experience of using OnLive on a powerful desktop that’d have no trouble playing any of the available games using its own hardware, and then on a notebook with no chance of touching 3D at all.

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Top Comments
  • 29 Hide
    Ragnar-Kon , June 26, 2010 8:25 PM
    I know for me it isn't the end of high-end machines.
    Reason? Well...
    1. My internet isn't all that fast (1.6mb/s down, which is the fastest available in my area), which is far from their required 5mb down.
    2. I actually enjoy shopping for parts and putting together a PC. I often spend hours on Newegg searching for parts, even if I have no plans on buying them.
    3. I rather not pay to "rent" a game. If it is game I enjoy, I'll buy it.

    Do I think this service will help people who don't know how to build their own computer, and who are willing to fork out the cash for fees and fast internet? Yes I do.
    Is this service right for me? No.
  • 21 Hide
    t53186 , June 26, 2010 9:09 PM
    Keep the cloud away from my PC. I need local control, not big brother control.
  • 21 Hide
    Bluescreendeath , June 26, 2010 8:22 PM
    Nice article! Great for gaming on the go for low end PCs and notebooks, but the gaming PC remains king!
Other Comments
  • 21 Hide
    Bluescreendeath , June 26, 2010 8:22 PM
    Nice article! Great for gaming on the go for low end PCs and notebooks, but the gaming PC remains king!
  • 16 Hide
    lashton , June 26, 2010 8:22 PM
    i singed up for this and still have not been accepted, also i would prefer my local PC to play don't trust online companies
  • 29 Hide
    Ragnar-Kon , June 26, 2010 8:25 PM
    I know for me it isn't the end of high-end machines.
    Reason? Well...
    1. My internet isn't all that fast (1.6mb/s down, which is the fastest available in my area), which is far from their required 5mb down.
    2. I actually enjoy shopping for parts and putting together a PC. I often spend hours on Newegg searching for parts, even if I have no plans on buying them.
    3. I rather not pay to "rent" a game. If it is game I enjoy, I'll buy it.

    Do I think this service will help people who don't know how to build their own computer, and who are willing to fork out the cash for fees and fast internet? Yes I do.
    Is this service right for me? No.
  • 2 Hide
    aznpwned , June 26, 2010 8:42 PM
    It's the calm before the cloud computing storm.

    With the big companies pushing towards the cloud such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google (Cloud Video Editing). Cloud computing is only going to become more prominent. It's just not "there" yet.

    Don't get me wrong, i'm all for locally based computing, but cloud computing is only going to grow bigger.
  • -7 Hide
    maxiim , June 26, 2010 8:43 PM
    Somewhere I heard that thing service is a POS. So I'd say NO it is definitely not an end to high end gaming PCs.
  • 20 Hide
    nforce4max , June 26, 2010 8:48 PM
    Sure all is good till the network is down or suffers some high pings then all hits the fan. I much rather stick with the traditional rig when it comes to gaming and other things. Reliability is paramount when gaming.
  • 21 Hide
    t53186 , June 26, 2010 9:09 PM
    Keep the cloud away from my PC. I need local control, not big brother control.
  • 9 Hide
    JonnyDough , June 26, 2010 9:10 PM
    Quote:
    OnLive Cloud-Based Gaming: Is This The End Of High-End PCs?


    Answer: No. Especially not until we have better broadband speeds and availability here in the U.S. Nothing beats a LAN party. Nothin.
  • 2 Hide
    vabeachboy0 , June 26, 2010 9:19 PM
    I was invited to beta, and it still has a a long way to go. I played dirt 2 on Onlive then i played the regular game there really is a big diffrence. Still too laggy for onlive ill stick to high end pc. High end pc gaming will never die.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , June 26, 2010 9:35 PM
    JonnyDoughChris, I'm curious why you posted a picture of yourself. Do you love yourself that much? Its nice to try to get a connection with your readers, but in all honesty I don't care about you - I care about the tech. Posing yourself on here just seems kind of weird to me. I can already recognize you. Which is silly since I will most likely never know you unless I decide to run for president someday and decide to give you audience.


    Because it's an editorial. =)
  • 8 Hide
    giovanni86 , June 26, 2010 9:41 PM
    No. On-live to me is a dead end service. The end of High end PC's not likely in my life time. I take what another said i like spending hours, days, weeks, months of my time researching parts for my new build even if i don't build my next PC for another 2 years. I think this will work for ppl who get bored with games easily and don't care on OWNING the game. No thanks not for me, but i am sure it will sucker in quite a crowd. Good for them.
  • 9 Hide
    jaysbob , June 26, 2010 9:47 PM
    but I enjoy having and upgrading hardware. I fiddle with my PC probably almost as much as I spend actually gaming on it. a cloud service takes out half the fun.
  • -2 Hide
    godnodog , June 26, 2010 9:50 PM
    Every1 keeps forgeting something, and that something has "the size of the world", wich is: What is the position of Nvidia, AMD and Intel,Sony and Nintendo, and at some level Microsoft with their XBox, and Asus...etc ? These guys are on the hardware busyness, and if cloud goes deep, the domestic market will shrink heavely, taking out of business a lot of companies.

    I won´t be surprise if these giants would join forces and started doing something to stop, probably only partialy, cloud computing.

    I, on the other hand, think this system, at least for gaming, is a fail system, only because it´s 100% online.
  • 7 Hide
    zfsnoobman , June 26, 2010 10:01 PM
    any chance you can tell us how much data you transfer every hour or so? Most people have internet bandwidth caps so it would be great if we could ballpark how much we use based on number of hours.
  • 1 Hide
    gerand , June 26, 2010 10:08 PM
    This isn't exactly new. Hasn't anyone heard of StreamMyGame?
    http://www.streammygame.com/
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , June 26, 2010 10:11 PM
    zfsnoobmanany chance you can tell us how much data you transfer every hour or so? Most people have internet bandwidth caps so it would be great if we could ballpark how much we use based on number of hours.


    Well, let's do a little math.

    They require 5 Mb/s for an HD stream. Let's say they allow 20% for overhead, so you might be using 4 Mb/s, which is 500 KB/s (note the difference between bits and bytes). That's 30 MB/min or 1.8 GB/hr. That's by no means scientific, but a ballpark figure making a big assumption about what the service actually needs for fluid game play.
  • 3 Hide
    walt526 , June 26, 2010 10:14 PM
    I tried it the other day for less than 30 minutes before calling it quits. I definitely wouldn't pay for it at this point. It was too choppy and slow to respond to input. My internet connection wasn't the problem (have a 20Mbps connection that is consistently tests at that level, and I was the only on at the time) and my computer was well above the minimum specs.
  • 13 Hide
    Wamphryi , June 26, 2010 11:49 PM
    I doubt that Cloud will topple the High End PC as King. When Citrix Winframe and Terminal Services appeared around 1996 it was claimed that we would see an end to client PC's in the work place. That did not happen. The netbook was supposed to topple the PC and the Notebook and that didnt happen. Playstation 3 and XBox were supposed to kill off the PC as gaming platform. Again that didnt happen. The PC is too versatile to be toppled anytime soon. Not only does a PC game it does a whole lot of other things that are beyond the capabilities of any specialised piece of hardware or Internet service. Care to try video editing on your Xbox? It would be like telling everyone that they will trade their cars for a bus service or their houses for a tiny apartment in a huge block of units to be shared with many others. The PC is one of the few areas of life left where you can make something in your own image and people are not going to turn their backs on that. Cloud computing is awesome for the many people who have low resources and require access to services they normally wouldnt be able to afford. For people who have a choice however Cloud has a limited appeal.
  • -1 Hide
    Tomtompiper , June 27, 2010 12:01 AM
    A great man once said "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." This will allow Geeks like me to ditch MS (I only use it for Games) and run high end games on our Linux Distro's. This works, not well, but it is after all a young technology, and at the rate TV's are developing how long before they meet the minimum spec for this service. Crisis on your 50" LCD at 1080P anybody?
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