Posted by Alex Jordan on

I heard that you no longer need a subscription to access OnLive, so curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check it out.

For those not in the know, OnLive is an online video game service created by the guy responsible for WebTV. The whole idea is that you don't need a physical game console or a super powerful computer to run popular games. OnLive's remote servers have all the power you need, and OnLive actually runs the games remotely, captures the video feed, and uses a revolutionary new video compression codec to send that high-quality video feed back to your TV or laptop or desktop monitor, all at 60 frames per second and with minimal input lag. You're not playing the game on your computer... you're watching footage of you playing the game.

So I installed it on my laptop and gave it a whirl. This was trying, since I don't have any hard-wired internet connections in my apartment and OnLive's wi-fi support is still in beta. That, and my supposedly-wonderful Verizon FiOS has developed multiple personality disorder after a summer of brutal power outages. But eventually I got it to work, and played about 30 minutes of Splinter Cell: Conviction.

First: it works. Input lag is there, but it's vanishingly small. You won't ever confuse the gameplay video feed for the real thing, since the video compression lacks the quality of a freshly-rendered screen, but it works, it's consistent, and you don't have to worry about framerate drops.

Also, since OnLive stores its games remotely, their demo feature is pretty cool: play any game you want, from the beginning, but with a 30 minute timer. OnLive simply cuts the feed after 30 minutes, unless you choose to purchase the game. This is a wonderful demo capability, since computers and consoles distribute demos as discreet packages that often have to be custom-tailored so that the end-user can't hack the demo and play the full game. That often leaves you with really awkward demos that only show you, say, a middle level of the game, where you have no idea what's going on with the plot or how the gameplay works. That's one of the reasons I hated Conviction when I tried the demo a few months ago. But this time, starting from scratch, I actually found myself getting more into it.

Not that I bought the game. Since OnLive is a new business, their pricing models are all across the board. No two games cost the same. Once it gets more users, hopefully things will settle down and it'll be easier to determine where value is in the market. However, since OnLive got rid of subscriptions, you no longer have to worry about buying a game and then losing the right to play it when you cancel your subscription. That alone makes it worth a second or third look in the future.