If there was one story that took the GDC by storm, it was OnLive.
The streaming game service from one of the guys behind Quicktime that aims to end the console wars by, well, ending them alltogether and offer even the most basic laptop the opportunity to play Crysis with all the settings ramped up at a steady 60fps.
Sounds too good too be true right?
Numerous publishers have lept on Steve Perlman’s subscription games service (probably mostly down to the promise of 100% anti-piracy measures since nothing ever hits the users machines bar a plugin and the ability to sell DLC via the subscription), giving weight to the magical technology that uses video compression to send what is essentially a live feed to hundreds of users simultaneously from strategically placed data-centres around the globe.
Crysis played over OnLive
Based on either a browser plugin for Windows & Mac computers or a piece of simple cheap hardware the size of a remote control, the video is streamed in either SD or HD to users (with 1MB or 5MB connections respectively) from ultra-high-spec servers that presumably use a form of virtualisation to play multiple users games simultaneously.
Many tech analysts have raised an almost endless number of fundamental issues with the service, including bandwidth shortages/network saturation, cost implications, the purely subscription model, the fact that the content is 100% in the control of the publishers and, mainly, the smoke & mirrors regarding the actual compression technology involved.
Remote Desktop applications have existed for years and none of them can recreate a perfect representation of the computer they’re showing – adequate for business use, remote admin and presentations, but FMV? Nope (and that can be over Gigabit networks).
OnLive claims to have invented a technology that outdoes even YouTube’s HD video streaming technology ten-fold, a fact analysed by HD veteran Richard Leadbetter in this EuroGamer article.
First of all, bear in mind that YouTube’s encoding farms take a long, long time to produce their current, offline 2MBps 30fps HD video. OnLive is going to be doing it all in real-time via a PC plug-in card, at 5MBps, and with surround sound too.
To give some idea of the kind of leap OnLive reckons it is delivering, I consulted one of the world’s leading specialists in high-end video encoding, and his response to OnLive’s claims included such gems as “Bulls***” and “Hahahahaha!” along with a more measured, “I have the feeling that somebody is not telling the entire story here.”
I won’t regurgitate more of the article, but it has videos and lots of convincing evidence.
Perlmen has issued a rebuttal (probably not a good idea given the date) that claims that all FUD is wrong as nobody has properly played with the technology before going into a few more details such as explaining server makeup and data-centre concentration.
So, Phantom or a real console killer? Computers N Stuff will hopefully be able to assist in the decision when the beta expands past the baby steps its currently taking in the US.