June 09, 2011, 7:39 AM — Keeping with this E3/gaming theme that I've got going this week, I wanted to talk once more about OnLive, the streaming gaming service. At this point the OnLive service has been up and running for long enough that it no longer seems remarkable that the service works (I was a huge skeptic pre-launch), and since Holiday 2010 plenty of us have been playing OnLive on our TVs via the Micro Console (which OnLive tends to give away with the purchase of certain new game titles, by the way).
So what's next? Tablets. OnLive has talked about bringing its service to tablets for quite some time and I've been skeptical of how one would control the games, given that tablets don't have hardware controls. I should learn my lesson about doubting this company, because once again they've got an answer. Actually three answers. In some cases, OnLive is convincing game developers to put touch awareness in their games. At E3 OnLive's Steve Perlman has been demonstrating Ubisoft's From Dust using the built-in touch controls the devs added for OnLive (and, I'm guessing, Windows tablets).
The next answer is via virtual controls that OnLive offers as an overlay for existing games that don't support touch. This is similar to the virtual joysticks you might find in native tablet games.
But OnLive's third and best answer is what they're calling their Universal Wireless Controller. This looks very similar to the controller that comes with the Micro Console, but it connects (via Bluetooth) to your iPad or Android tablet. No Micro Console or cables needed. OnLive will be offering a USB dongle for edge cases where the UWC won't connect to a device (such as laptops with no Bluetooth – the UWC isn't just for tablets).
The end results is that you'll be able to play OnLive's selection of PC games (they've just hit the 100 title mark) on your tablet using a real controller. The one condition is that you're almost certainly going to have to be on a WiFi network for it to run well, but I think we can all be understanding about that condition.
Later this year we'll start seeing Vizio televisions with built-in OnLive support, and the UWC should connect to those as well.
In addition to PC games, OnLive says it'll bring Flash, Silverlight and Quicktime to tablets (in the case of Android tablets, let's call it faster Flash). In a move that sounds similar to what iSwifter is trying to do, OnLive says it'll offer a full-screen web browser via the cloud. Assuming I'm understanding things correctly, users can then go to any website they like, and if the site uses one of the supported plug-ins, the OnLive servers will handle rendering it and then stream it to your tablet. In the same way that you're just seeing the images from a game that's actually running on the OnLive servers, when web browsing, you're just seeing the image of the browser and plug-in content on your tablet. All the heavy lifting is being done by OnLive's servers. Of course you'll still run into control issues when content expects you to have a keyboard at hand.
It sounds like we can expect both the tablet apps and the Universal Wireless Controller to launch sometime this Fall, plus they're going to bring the web browser to the Micro Console (thus enabling it to play Netflix content via the browser). Here're a couple of videos showing off OnLive on tablets.
Flash & Silverlight:
OnLive still isn't for everyone. It needs a fast Internet connection and ideally one with no data caps if you're going to be using the service heavily. And seriously hardcore gamers are always going to prefer to play on their own hardware so they can tweak out their setups. But for casual gamers with a good connection, OnLive offers fun, hassle-free gaming. No downloading, no patching. Just play.