OnLive Full Review

Posted: January 4, 2011 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

Have I said America, Fuck Yeah recently?  Because our tech finally owns all again and I love it.

Our MicroConsole finally arrived yesterday so that means it’s full review time.  I’ve been posting tidbits about OnLive for the last month, but I’ve held off on a full review until I got the hardware to see if I have anything to add that isn’t already on the internet.  Since all of the reviews are pretty tech-lite, the answer to that is definitely yes.  If you’ve been waiting for someone to actually explain this thing, read on.

MicroConsole Performance

Using OnLive through the MC is superior to a PC connection in several ways.  The MC uses the Marvell Armada chipset, which is a media PDA tablet style board designed with game streaming in mind.  When Marvell announced the technology and said it would be featured in an upcoming, unannounced game console, it was assumed to be the 3DS.  The chipset is actually more like an Android PDA board than a game portable and OnLive’s press releases say it features OnLive’s custom technology.  Since OnLive CEO Steve Perlman is very familiar with the Android platform, it stands to reason that the chipset was designed with OnLive in mind with his input.  What this means is that the MicroConsole is built from the ground up to reduce picture and input lag as well as improve the quality of streamed video.  As OnLive runs through it’s own app rather than your browser, you cannot currently use your GPU to improve the picture quality on a PC or Mac.  The MicroConsole however is able to upscale and decompress the image with it’s proprietary hardware.  The end result is much better image quality, especially when upscaling to 1080p.  Speaking of the MC’s 720/1080p option, be sure to set it to your screen’s native HD resolution for the best quality.  Even if you are running through a 1680×1050 monitor, 720p will look better as downscaling from 1920×1080 to 1680×1050 will increase video lag more than the monitor’s native 720p upscaling.

I won’t bother listing the other features of the hardware as it’s all old news.  The only other notables are that bluetooth headsets are untestable as voice chat is not yet available.  Also my understanding of the board is that is has a wifi dongle built in, but currently wireless can only be used through a bridge connected to the cat-5(LAN) jack.

Does The Controller Lag?

So some of the reviews that have reported an odd controller lag they can’t quite identify are partially incorrect.  From what I can tell, the MC uses software to anticipate x/y inputs to compensate for lag.  This means the system is trying to guess what you will do next with the control sticks to eliminate wireless and internet lag.  Generally this makes stick movements feel more responsive than an Xbox360 or PC pad.  When it guesses wrong, you keep turning left for half a second and then suddenly jerk right as the system receives your actual input and compensates.  While this is only conjecture from what I know about tech, it fits the evidence pretty well.  I’ve tested it repeatedly compared to a wired 360 pad and I feel pretty safe in my hypothesis that there is software within the MicroConsole that tries to compensate for controller lag and it will hopefully improve with firmware updates.  It’s not gamebreaking in any way and 90% of the time creates responsiveness superior to other wireless controllers on other systems.  When it makes mistakes though, it feels like Tomb Raider 3 when Lara is doing literally the opposite of what you’re pressing.  At the moment this contributes to the belief that OnLive is laggier than traditional online setups.  This belief is mostly untrue as the controller is generally more responsive and the client>cloud>client structure is potentially faster than client>server>other clients>server>client structure other services use.

Is the OnLive MicroConsole a Worthy Purchase?

Absolutely yes.  The MC uses less bandwidth with less interference, so not only is your quality and speed better, it also takes less bandwidth from other OnLive clients on the same connection.  When we played with two PC clients on one cable connection before, we got a slight increase in lag and drop in picture quality.  Granted we were using two large, high-res monitors and it was probably Comcast saying ‘hell no’ and nerfing our bandwidth as we should have plenty.  Anyway, with the MC and one low lag net-top computer (an MSI wind net-top with an Intel integrated GPU that strangely runs OnLive better than anything but the MC), things were much better.  Now the problem is we can’t use Skype or Ventrilo on the MC, so we’re back to not talking again.  Oh well, chat soon I hope.

The controller is just plain rad.  Not only is black/orange my current gen tech color scheme (My PC has orange LEDs and black casing on everything except the PSU which is blue and I just ordered a new orange backlit kb/m set), but the look is more befitting the sleek and streamlined look of current tech, as opposed to the PS3 and 360’s durable, utilitarian look.  The media controls and orange lighting make the MC controller really stand out.  If the three controllers were a Mac/PC commercial, the OnLive controller would be Audrey Hepburn standing there in a ballgown with a PhD in Astrophysics saying “Yeah, fuck you.”

And then there’s the free game.  Why will it not work with Borderlands GOTY when it worked on other $50 games?  The world may never know.  The point is you get a free game up to $50 (any game but Borderlands GOTY which apparently is multiple games in the system).  In the “Last Game Console” feature I did in Novemember, 3 days before the announcement of the MC release and it’s price, I said I would pay up to $99 for such a device.  So even without the game and the free PlayPack beta admission, they had me at buy now.  The setup looks and feels so solid and so cool that I would pay $50 just for the controller over an Xbox pad any day.  The HDMI cable and USB are quailty, so worth $15-20 even at lowest possible online price with shipping elsewhere.  Even not considering the free game, this leaves a high tech PDA board with USB, Network interface,HDMI, Optical Audio and Bluetooth dongle for about $30.  I don’t think OnLive is losing much on these, but it’s definitely very competitive pricing considering what’s included.

Finally there’s the launch lineup.  Even though it’s thin compared to Steam (okay, extremely thin), compared to any game service or console launch it’s pretty good.  These games are all good to excellent and are priced pretty competitively.  Sales are frequent, so you can get things on a budget comparable to Steam.  The thing OnLive needs is new titles.  While new releases have been steady since the service’ beta, the lack of new releases for the holiday season was a blunder.   Especially since Metro 2033 and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood were already released and licensed to be released on OnLive.  Even if it required shooting a few employees and lawyers, making this a priority for the holiday season should have been mission primary at OnLive.  So far I have plenty to do with the ten games I own and the PlayPack, but as always, I want more.  I’m also lucky I never played a lot of these games a year ago, so they’re new to me.  Here’s hoping that AC:B and Metro hit this week, but if AvP goes on sale, I won’t care for a week or so.

  1. lagunawsu2 says:

    I WANT IT!!!!!!!!!!

    On another note I was playing GC PSO with the guys last night and thought to myself “Why isn’t this on OnLive?! The code is like…free on the damn internet.”

    UPDATE: As far as OnLive goes, they either !@#$ this launch royally, or got hacked, cause I haven’t been able to log in all day and that irks me.

  2. ryanlecocq says:

    That’s weird you were having trouble, mine was fine. I mostly wasn’t playing because I finally got NetFlix.

    • lagunawsu2 says:

      Nah kept getting UDP errors, I have this feeling is was because everyone got their boxes all at once. I also think PC users are given limited bandwidth compared to box users, but this may just be a paranoid theory.

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