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

OnLive Analyzed

I’ll be honest—OnLive is a point-blank look at life in the cloud, which will almost certainly be a more prolific usage model moving forward. As much as I (we) resist it, there’s an inherent convenience to having your documents, pictures, videos, and—maybe someday—games available from anywhere and on a more diverse range of hardware platforms. I’m not there yet. For as much as friends and family rave about Google Docs, I prefer everything local, on my networked storage, and within the confines of my own infrastructure. That includes games. Let me pick my quality settings. Let me set my resolution. Let me decide when I want to play and on what platform. And don’t require that I have at least a 5 Mb/s wired connection. There’s only one place I have access to that—at home. And at home, I have the hardware I need to play at 2560x1600. I don’t foresee hitting the road and getting a hotel room with enough bandwidth to play Just Cause 2 on a netbook anytime soon, so the convenience of portability only really goes as far as the high-speed Internet connections at your disposal.

Fairly constant network load. CPU utilization was around 9% of a Core i7-960 during game play.

But this push forward is frightening for reviewers everywhere, understandably. OnLive is telling you that your hardware doesn’t matter—they’ll take care of it. Suddenly, it ceases to be relevant that Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 480 offers superior tessellation, or that AMD’s Radeon HD 5870 was the first DirectX 11 graphics card by more than half a year. It’s also threatening to enthusiasts, who lust after the most powerful components, and don’t necessarily want to see their gaming experience distilled down into whoever has the fastest Internet connection—though saving thousands of dollars on high-end hardware takes the sting off somewhat, I have to imagine.

At the end of the day, though, OnLive does not deliver a gaming experience to rival what a power user at home with even a modest PC can already achieve. This is very much the theater-cam version of a movie, when what you really want at home is the Blu-ray. Games run at pre-determined quality settings at a maximum resolution of 1280x720. That’s a far cry from the enthusiast-class resolutions we test here at Tom’s. And even then, putting a game like Just Cause 2 at 720p running remotely next to the same resolution locally is a completely one-sided comparison.

OnLive can't match the image quality of local play.

To OnLive’s credit, the gaming service works. It masks latency well enough that more casual gamers on ample connections should not be hampered by the delivery mechanism. It turns an out-of-date notebook into a capable gaming platform. The company is actually doing something I didn’t think was possible one year ago. And while the first demonstration of OnLive’s technology came under scrutiny for what was undoubtedly a controlled showcase, I’m a good 250 miles away from the company’s Santa Clara data center. This is definitely a real-world trial of the service. It’s just not something I’d pay for today. And I’d really avoid paying full price for the titles in OnLive’s library, preferring to perhaps “rent” the game for three days instead.

To anyone who suggests that you may never need another high-end PC to play the latest games, I respond: I’ll hold onto my high-end PC, thanks. OnLive doesn’t come anywhere close to displacing it.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • Bluescreendeath
    Nice article! Great for gaming on the go for low end PCs and notebooks, but the gaming PC remains king!
  • lashton
    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
  • Ragnar-Kon
    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.
  • aznpwned
    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.
  • maxiim
    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.
  • nforce4max
    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.
  • t53186
    Keep the cloud away from my PC. I need local control, not big brother control.
  • JonnyDough
    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.
  • JonnyDough
    Chris, 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. :)
  • vabeachboy0
    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.