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OnLive Makes Crysis on a Netbook Possible

Could this be the start of the “one console future”? It could be, and it’s one that will let you run Crysis on your $200 netbook.

Instead of having to run your own word processor, email and appointment manager on your computer why not make a server do all the work for you--like AMD's Fusion Cloud--to access from any net-connected computer. That’s the idea behind cloud computing, and it will soon be coming to gaming -- not just casual gaming -- hardcore gaming.

That’s the idea being OnLive, a California-based company who has been working behind closed doors for the past seven years. Specifically, OnLive’s technology will allow for Crysis to be rendered and played remotely, then encoded into a streaming video to be sent to the player via a broadband connection.

"What OnLive does is seamless and completely transparent, and it does not have any requirements for the local system," said OnLive CEO Steve Perlman in a Gamasutra story.

As long as the player has a decent broadband connection a computer that’s fast enough  to decode the video (most modern machines should qualify), then even the most demanding games should be possible.

The OnLive client will run on a PC running Windows XP or Vista or a Mac with OS X through a 1 MB browser plug-in. Those who wish to play from the couch can purchase a small MicroConsole (for less than the price a Wii), which has audio and video outputs as well as USB ports and Bluetooth for voice chat. OnLive has yet to reveal pricing of its subscription model.

OnLive says that a 1.5 Mbps broadband connection would yield “Wii level” resolution. We’re assuming that means 480p in resolution, but not overall visual effects. After all, Crysis at 640 x 480 is very different from a Crysis running under Wii hardware. A 4 to 5 Mbps broadband connection is needed for HDTV resolutions, which we assume to be 720p.

Of course, any game played over the internet is susceptible to lag and action games require near-instant input and feedback. OnLive said that it has fixed one part of the equation.

"Not only have we solved the problem of compressing the video games, we've solved the latency problem," Perlman said to Gamasutra. "We knew, in order to make this thing work, we'd have to figure out a way to get video to run compressed over consumer connections with effectively no latency. Our video compression technology has one millisecond in latency -- basically no latency at all. All the latency is just for the transport, and we've also addressed that."

So, it takes only one millisecond to encode the rendered output into video, so now the latency obstacle is the “ping.” And unlike today’s games’ client-side tricks, which can hide lag, reducing between input and response via an encoded video from OnLive becomes of the utmost importance.

We hear about pipe dream technologies all the time, but OnLive’s is apparently granted credibility with its already impressive industry support of Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Take-Two Interactive, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, THQ, Epic Games, Eidos, Atari Interactive and Codemasters.

OnLive is showing 16 titles at the Games Developer Conference this week, including Crysis War, Burnout Paradise, FEAR 2, Mirror’s Edge, Unreal Tournament III and Company of Heroes; and if all goes as planned, this technology could soon wipe out the need to perform yearly, costly CPU and GPU upgrades just to play the latest games.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.