OnLive MicroConsole Review: PC Gaming Without The PC

onlive_feat

The OnLive Service

The OnLive service gives users the option of renting and purchasing individual games, and also offers a monthly “PlayPack Bundle” which includes unlimited play for many (but not all) of the titles on the OnLive service for $9.99 a month. While I have no doubt that the “PlayBack Bundle” is an excellent deal for somebody intending on using OnLive daily, those looking to only play occasionally would probably rather rent or purchase the games individually.

That’s where I ran into my first problem with the OnLive service: for whatever reason, many of the games are available only in the monthly bundle, and not individually. I wanted to play “S.T.A.L.K.E.R“, but I couldn’t as it was only available through the PlayPack and gave me no option to purchase it. I’m not sure if there is some licensing issue with some games, or if OnLive simply wants to push it’s monthly subscription (which I am sure nets them more money then individual sales), but I didn’t like it. Nor was I thrilled with the opposite situation, if I did break down and purchase the monthly package, I still wouldn’t have access to all the games. This is something I think OnLive needs to address going further, as it’s the sort of business practice that can really get under people’s skin. It would be like Netflix saying I can stream all of “The X-Files” as part of my monthly service, but I would have to purchase each season of “Lost” separately at full retail value.

The other issue with the service is selection. When I first looked into OnLive last year, there was something like 15 or 20 games available on the service. Unless you really liked one of the games they had, the service just didn’t make sense. I am happy to report that the situation has gotten much better, as there were many more games available this time around, including some recent titles like “Saint’s Row: The Third” and “Batman: Arkham City“. Still, the die hard gamer is probably not going to be 100% satisfied with the selection, if for nothing else than the fact that so many excellent games are exclusive to the PS3 and 360.

OnLive Open Source

Everything we do here on “The Powerbase” is always of some use or interest to the free and open source software community, and this review is no different. Not only is the MicroConsole useful to users of FOSS operating systems like Linux and BSD, it actually runs Linux internally. One of the prerequisites for us reviewing a piece of hardware is that it is fully compliant with the licensing of whatever open source software it employs. The MicroConsole passes that test, and OnLive has made their modified source available on the following page:

http://opensource.onlive.com/

Unfortunately, it’s a standard Tivoization scenario: while we have modified source we don’t have a toolchain to actually build it for our OnLive consoles (and presumably, there would be no way to get our modified firmware image on the device even if we could). While this situation isn’t much of a surprise, I would have liked to at least seen more documentation included with the source release. Some packages, like bluez-libs, aren’t even modified; the MD5 sum matches that of the official BlueZ package exactly.

The Verdict

The OnLive MicroConsole, currently retailing for $99.99 from OnLive.com is an undeniably impressive piece of hardware and a fantastic way to access the OnLive service. Frankly, having used the Windows client software and now the MicroConsole, there is no way I would go back to using the software version (dislike for Windows notwithstanding). While the game selection still isn’t at the point that the hardcore gamer could call this his or her primary console, it’s gotten much better and should satisfy the more casual player who simply doesn’t want to miss out on some of the big name games they keep hearing about in the media.

OnLive has made good on the GPL license used by the open source code they leveraged to create the MicroConsole, though I would really like to see some proper documentation. In addition, I believe there is a lost opportunity here by not getting more non-game software onto the MicoConsole through the OnLive service. Roku has done very well for themselves with their freely available SDK, allowing anyone to create their own Roku channels free of charge. OnLive has a handful of indie games up for download, but outside of that, it’s all big name publishers. OnLive’s CEO Steve Perlman said the company was looking into movie streaming, but that was in December 2010 and nobody has heard anything about it since. Apps for Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube could greatly expand the market for the MicroConsole overnight, and you have to wonder why it hasn’t happened yet.

Overall, I would highly recommend the OnLive MicroConsole to anyone who doesn’t have the patience (or operating system) for traditional PC games. It’s an excellent device and after a few minutes of playing with it you’ll probably forget it’s not a $300 game console. While there is certainly room for improvement in the service itself, it’s clear that OnLive is dedicated to their product and I have no doubt that it will constantly be improving. With the improvements OnLive made from 2010 to 2011, I can’t wait to see what 2012 will hold.

Be sure to check back with “The Powerbase” for coverage of OnLive’s future projects, such as “OnLive Desktop”: a Windows 7 virtual machine complete with Microsoft Office which you can access from Android, iOS, or the MicroConsole.


Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .

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  • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

    The optical audio connector on the back is a nice touch for those of us not using HDMI or routing audio to a separate source. I think they could have easily not provided one at this price point.

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  • conor rynne

    that looks to be a badass service. Shame UK broadband is so ****!

  • phillip campbell

    i have a question. how come when i try to play just cause 2 on my pc it gives an error and when i play it in onlive it works perfectly withot a directx error

    • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

      You mean if you install the game natively versus playing it through the OnLive desktop software?

      The OnLive desktop software has much lower specs than any of the games it plays actually does, so its very possible your system could have problems running the real game but the OnLive player runs it without a hitch.

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  • joker159

    how is it possible that onlive have the commitment to build a console around linux and this is very good and the other side, not have a client for the linux pc platform, it just bugs me ??!

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