Saturday, 24 September 2011

Standardized Dynamic Hardware – Why OnLive is Truly Revolutionary

At the crux of the console vs PC debate is the issue of hardware, with each platform having its own benefits. Console hardware is standardized, allowing for greater optimization and stability. PC hardware is dynamic, changing over time and advancing by leaps and bounds. Each has its benefits, as well as its drawbacks.

OnLive just launched in the United Kingdom this week at the Eurogamer Expo 2011 in London, England. The response by UK residents was greater than anticipated for OnLive. Could OnLive take the world by storm? Here are a few things that make OnLive truly revolutionary.
Standardized Hardware

With consoles there are no major variances in the hardware. When developing a game for a specific console, developers can count on every user having the same hardware specifications. This allows them to optimize their games specifically for that hardware, squeezing as many drops of power from it as they can. This also results in an overall more stable experience, and allows them to test for possible errors more effectively.

This results is reduced costs and a lower barrier to entry for the end consumer. They can confidently purchase a console and be absolutely certain that their single investment will grant them returns for years to come. Since they’re running games which are truly optimized for their hardware, hazards such as driver and OS conflicts are completely unheard of. The games have the benefit of being specifically designed for the platform they’re using, resulting in an overall more stable experience.

The drawback with standardized hardware is that it’s, by nature, static. A new standard may be the top of the line upon its release, but as the years pass the hardware becomes increasingly dated. This effect is somewhat mitigated through optimization, the achievement of greater performance with that same hardware through technical wizardry, but even that can only go so far. Eventually the hardware reaches its limit, and no more can be done with it.

Dynamic Hardware

With the PC you have more dynamic hardware. Unlike the static nature of consoles, PC hardware changes rapidly over time. New GPUs are released packing more power than the version that preceded it, for example. This allows for games to reach incredible heights of graphical fidelity and effects, easily outstripping that of their static console counterparts. The consumer who can afford the latest and greatest will be (theoretically) treated to the best visuals our medium can currently produce.

The downside of dynamic hardware is that it is, by nature, fluid. A developer cannot count on their consumers having the same, or even similar, hardware, and thus must ensure that their game can run on a wide range of hardware specifications. Failure to do so means locking out potential customers by selling them a game they cannot play due to their hardware limits. This reduces their ability to optimize, or tap into the full potential of any given hardware.

The varied nature of the hardware landscape also means greater potential for conflicts and bugs, since developers cannot possibly account for all of the hardware and system environments that their game will encounter. A developer cannot truly know what problems may arise until their game is released into the wild and the bug reports start coming in. What runs smoothly on person A’s setup may have bugs and crashes on person B’s setup, and so on.

This greater potential for instability, as well as the ever-changing nature of the non-standardized hardware environment, results in an increased barrier to entry for the consumer. The hardware, as well as the system requirements for upcoming games, changes over time, making hardware upgrades more frequently necessary if the consumer wishes to continue having the best possible experience. Consumers have to invest not only their money, but also their time to fully understand these technical requirements and upgrade their systems accordingly.

The technical knowledge required of the end consumer to effectively exist in the dynamic hardware world further raises this barrier. Whereas console owners need only consider the brand of console they’re using when purchasing a game, PC owners must keep an array of technical details in mind when making their own purchases. For example, it is easy to buy a game for a console owner as a Christmas present if you know what console that person owns. To do the same for a PC gamer requires a familiarity with the specifics of that person’s hardware. Grandma can hardly be expected to know what a GeForce 8800 is, or what it means when a game recommends an AMD Radeon HD 5850 or better.

So while dynamic hardware offers unrivaled power and adaptability, in the end it makes things more complicated for the developer and the consumer, and requires a greater commitment from both.

OnLive – How it Changes Everything

It used to be that a platform could only be one or the other–standardized or dynamic. It was simply impossible to have both. The reason for this is the large number of entry points one must consider. Each consumer owns one set of hardware (an entry point for their game), and this determined the overall hardware environment. With both dynamic and standardized hardware you are considering millions of individual entry points simultaneously. That is where the problems arise. All of those entry points must be identical (or very nearly so) in order for standardization to exist.

OnLive takes this concept and turns it on its head. Its very nature as a cloud gaming platform grants us something that is truly unprecedented: standardized dynamic hardware.

With OnLive, the developer must consider only one entry point: the OnLive data center. That data center is the source of all the games every OnLive customer plays. It does all the hard work behind the scenes, invisible to the end user. This changes everything, and all for the better.

Like with standardized hardware, the developer may optimize for only one specification and ensure that all of their consumers will have the same experience. Like with dynamic hardware, the specs improve over time. Cloud Gaming offers the stability and ease of standardization and the raw power of dynamic hardware. It has the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither.

We are not seeing the full benefits of this game-changer yet because OnLive is still receiving PC ports of games that are retrofitted to run in the cloud, with varying levels of optimization depending on developer commitment. In the future, though, we will be seeing true cloud games that take advantage of the unique hardware environment that is OnLive. It will not be a case of OnLive running a modified PC version, it will be OnLive running the true OnLive version.

Imagine a game built from the ground up specifically for OnLive, designed to tap into the full potential of the data center; running on an OnLive OS designed specifically to deliver an optimal cloud gaming experience. As the tech advances, OnLive advances with it, delivering the latest performance with no additional investment from the end consumer. An infinite shelf life.

The end consumer gets the simplicity of having only to consider a brand when buying their games, as well as a minimal or even nonexistent hardware investment. The biggest investment an OnLive consumer may have to make is the purchase of a MicroConsole, but many OnLive users receive those things for free with a game pre-order anyway. Once OnLive starts coming pre-baked into the televisions, Blu-Ray players, tablets and smartphones people will buy anyway, the question of hardware will be completely removed from the consumer equation.

This previously unthinkable mixture of simplicity and power, combined with the ubiquity OnLive will achieve with its integration into net-connected electronics, will be the linchpin of a gaming renaissance. Cloud gaming will reach a wider audience while providing experiences that are impossible to get anywhere else.

The simplicity of a standardized environment without the stagnation.

The power of a dynamic environment without the cost and complexity for the end user.

All of this wrapped in a simple, cheap service that allows instant access to it all with minimal to no investment outside of the price of the games themselves.

SOURCE: OnLiveFans.

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