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OnLive and latency: the milliseconds chalenge June 18, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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OnLive is finally here. The system launched yesterday and the team is being very cautious about it. They intend to do a gradual release, starting with fewer users and slowly opening up for everyone. But I don’t have any feedback on the service yet and it will be a while until we have solid numbers, so if you are reading and have something to say, write! I’m particularly interested in access farther away from the servers or in borderline connections (5MB according to OnLive’s FAQ).

Anyway, Gamasutra published a very good interview with Steve Perlman, OnLive’s CEO. And some of what he mentioned made me worry about the service, mostly about the issue everyone is worried about: latency. During the testing phase, Perlman said “99 percent haven’t had any lag complaints”. That is very positive. But in this article at PCWorld, Jared Newman states he experienced choppiness and lag during his tests. OnLive blamed the connection at the convention center.

However, if you put the interview and these first experiences together, you get to my main concern right now: OnLive works, but it takes such a toll on latency that you must be sure everything else works flawlessly.

First things first, OnLive’s main argument is very valid. That is: most of the latency is introduced in what they call the “last mile”. The distance from the server allegedly doesn’t matter much as long as the connection from the computer to ISP is good.

So they are already blaming someone else, right? “Our service is awesome, the problem is with the ISPs”. If you think about the network structure, it makes perfect sense. I hope the new age of remote computing forces ISPs to improve their networks and reduce overall latency. However, it is very easy to say something works in a structure that doesn’t exist. It is like making the most beautiful game ever, but that runs at 5 fps, and blaming GPU manufacturers (anyone thinking Crysis?).

But the other arguments I saw in the interview are worse. I never heard a casual gamer complaining about monitor latency, keyboard latency or mouse latency before. And those are the other reasons for big latency according to Perlman. Again: “Our service is awesome, maybe you just don’t have the right mouse”. Is it fair to blame the peripheral industry? Is it fair to say their service works and throw the problem over the fence? OnLive is the newcomer that should adapt to the current technology.

In my view, if mouse latency is a huge deal, that means it is just the last drop. I interpret that as: OnLive has an acceptable latency by itself, in vacuum, but take it to the atmosphere of the real world and the small latency caused by everything else adds up to an amount that makes the OnLive experience problematic.

Be that as it may, by Perlman’s speech it seems like all problems are solvable. So if you have a good connection to your ISP and small latency peripherals, OnLive should work and work well. And that’s a huge accomplishment. The problems shouldn’t stop gamers from testing the service. More than that, the choice to acquire OnLive and other remote solutions might in the long run force ISPs and peripheral manufacturers start making improvements. And if you have a good ISP at hand, OnLive still means you can run top notch games at high resolutions in low budget computers, which is amazing. I myself intend to try it as soon as possible. I want to play high res games on my laptop!

Just don’t come saying everything is fine and start pointing fingers. That’s just not right.

Side note: on January 29, I wrote a post mentioning OnLive on the iPad as a distant dream and somewhat of a joke. While it is still distant, other people thought of it (or maybe they read gaming me? lol) and it ended up in a proof of concept you can check here. Isn’t it cool?

See you space cowboys…


OnLive + iPad = beauty January 29, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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onlive + ipad

Don’t fall for the picture. I put that together. But when I thought of it, I just had to share.

In one hand we have the iPad, a wireless device with 3G capabilities and a screen big enough for good input and interesting gameplay. On the other hand we have OnLive, a system that streams games, allowing players to enjoy high quality games while requiring very modest hardware requirements. Is everyone connecting the dots?

Let me just say this won’t happen. Apple wants people to use the App Store. But I would love to see OnLive and Apple making this work. Anyway, the doors are open and this merge of remote play + movement freedom will occur eventually, with or without the iPad.

Not that‘s something I would definitely want to buy.

See you space cowboys…

OnLive: the future is not that close October 26, 2009

Posted by Cesar in gaming me, working me.
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A while ago there was an interesting discussion about OnLive on a LinkedIn group.  And I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. I should say my religion is technology and I believe in the concept of OnLive from a theoretical point of view. That is: with a good enough connection, it will be possible to play high end games without disturbing lag. And I believe that connection exists.

That’s not to say I think OnLive will be a huge success. I think while the current connection speeds can be good enough for the service, they will often not be reliable enough, which will be a huge problem since local playing is not an option. You know those days you can’t surf all that well? You won’t be able to play either.

But that’s not all. One guy in the above mentioned discussion brought up a point that is very valid and somewhat unquestionable. While the connections are fast enough, they are not ready for that much traffic. And I am not talking just about the infrastructure, but also about the business model. Most ISPs in the US, Canada and Europe have what they call a fair share policy: there’s no written limit, but if you abuse it, they will cut you down. And according to the OnLive FAQ (and you know how these things go right?), to play with a 720 resolution at 60 fps, you need a 5Mbps connection. But unlike regular online games, where traffic happens in bursts and latency matters more, we can expect a somewhat constant data flow when playing OnLive. So…

That’s 625KB per second.

Roughly 2.2 GB per hour.

For a casual gamer that plays 7 hours a week, we are talking 63 GB per month.

Now imagine how much an avid gamer will consume. I will not even write it down. It is not doable. Not right now. Not with the current plans offered by most ISPs.  So while I believe in the technology, I don’t think the hit will be all that big. In fact, I think we’ll still see one whole generation of home consoles until the OnLive model becomes truly feasible. That is not to say it will fail blatantly either. It just won’t change the industry this winter like many have been saying. I for one intent to get it anyway, even if it is as a secondary console.

But I could be wrong. I hope I am.

See you space cowboys…

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