Onlive is a service announced today at the Game Developers Conference. And it's... well, part of it you'd have heard about before, and other parts, you'd have only dreamed about.
Onlive is essentially an off-site version of Steam. You create an Onlive account, you play games, you communicate with friends while playing them. The big difference being it's off-site, which means the game is actually being run on Onlive's machines, with the video and audio streamed to your house.
This, of course, presents problems. Your controller input isn't going from your hand to the controller to the machine in front of you, it's going from you hand to the controller through the internet to Onlive's machines then back again. Which is completely untested technology, in which there's certainly the potential for lag to totally screw up your game.
But it also presents opportunities. Because Onlive games are streamed to you, and not dependent on which gaming platforms you own, you can play whatever is running on Onlive's machines. PC games, Xbox 360 games, PS3 games, it doesn't matter. They can all be streamed onto your PC, your MAC or, most interesting of all, your TV via a small network dongle.
So you can play an Xbox 360 game on your Mac. Or a PS3 game on your PC. Or an Xbox 360 game on your TV, even if you don't own an Xbox 360. If you're going to use this on a TV, it works via OnLive's "MicroConsole", pictured left, which has two USB ports for controller input (you can use a dongle for more), an optical audio cable and a HDMI video cable.
As for gaming on a PC, OnLive promise that all you'll need is the most basic of rigs and a broadband connection. You don't even need a GPU. Running the service on a Mac is fine, so long as you've got one of the more recent Intel-based machines.
The quality of the graphics you'll be seeing is entirely dependent on the speed of your internet connection. Onlive claim that, if you're rocking a 1.5mb/s connection, you'll be seeing "standard definition" visuals. If you've got a 5mb/s connection? High definition visuals, with 720p and 60 frames per second listed as the benchmark.
Unlike many other pie-in-the-sky deals, however, this one already has publisher support. Companies like EA, Ubisoft, Take-Two and Warner Bros. will be offering games on the service, and you can see how these (and many other) games are implemented in the promo video below.
While we're concerned about the potential for lag on this service, it would be a mean, bitter old writer to try and say there's not even a little bit of excitement to be found in an announcement like this. How much excitement will depend, though, on the price for the service (it's subscription-based, and we're not sure whether you then pay extra for the games or not), which OnLive aren't yet disclosing.
GDC 09: OnLive Introduces The Future of Gaming [IGN]