Tuesday, 25 October 2011

OnLive Founder and CEO Steve Perlman: “Innovation is a dish best served hot”

Revolutionizing the video game industry, OnLive is the first distribution service to successfully bring Cloud gaming to an international audience and is already inspiring the emergence of a new digital market. In this biographical article I hope to take you on a journey exploring OnLive Founder and CEO Steve Perlman’s career, aspirations, and his numerous accomplishments. Learn what has led this creative genius to the forefront of innovation in the Cloud: His journey may surprise you.


Who is Steve Perlman?

OnLive Founder and CEO Steve Perlman has been pioneering the future of technology for nearly 30 years, but his passion for invention and innovation began much earlier. As a young boy in the 1960′s and 70′s, Steve experimented with clay animation short films as well as computer and video game design. “Even as a toddler, I loved to make things,” says Perlman. He would step forward through life with one particular calling in mind: “building technologies to allow people to create artificial worlds and interact with one another.”

After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, Steve worked on a parallel-processing graphics system as well as a massively-parallel 3D animation chip and a software-based high-speed modem at Atari and Coleco, respectively. Two years later he would join what has arguably become the most innovative company of our generation: Apple.

Upon joining Apple Computer, Inc. as a principal scientist in 1985, Perlman spearheaded development of the video compression technology which led to QuickTime. Aptly named Road Pizza, the Apple codec supported live-action video and was included with the first versions of QuickTime to be released in 1991. Steve also developed a system-on-a-chip silicon for another company named General Magic, which was included within the first Windows CE PDAs and software-based high-speed modem technology deployed by Broadcom. Three short years would see Perlman take his first steps into the world of video games.

In 1994, Perlman co-founded a company named Catapult Entertainment. Catapult introduced an online modem for the SNES and Sega Genesis systems which enabled the first successful online console gaming experience. Gamers could plug this XBAND modem into a phone line and use dial-up connectivity to play directly with or against other gamers on a selection of 28 titles spanning the two systems.

The XBAND service was a direct precursor to modern online video gaming. Arcades were still very popular at the time and the concept of online gaming was ambiguous at best. Surprisingly, many of the features we take for granted today (leaderboards, private messaging, usernames, ranks, avatars, etc.) were present on the service, which, at its height, had 7,000 subscribed members.

One year after Catapult launched XBAND, Steve created and co-founded a company which brought consumers the first television-based Internet browsing device. Called WebTV, this large and rectangular dark-grey box was sold with an infrared wireless keyboard and a remote which allowed users to browse the Internet using their television sets as monitors. “I’ve been working to create an interactive television my entire life,” says Perlman. “I always knew it was a way of bringing computers to average people.”

WebTV, like XBAND, connected through dial-up. It was a breakthrough device which gave affordable Internet access to a consumer base who, at that time, had many difficulties affording an expensive home computer. Because of this, Steve Perlman is credited with introducing the first true convergence product; combining Internet TV, interactive TV, digital TV, Digital Video Recording, and games into an integrated, simple and inexpensive consumer electronics device.

It should also be noted that within 20 months of release WebTV, now MSN TV, was sold to Microsoft for over $500 million. Those teams went on to create the hardware for the Xbox 360, both of Microsoft’s TV distribution platforms, Microsoft's cable TV products, and IPTV.


In 1999 Steve deployed the world’s first DVR through Dish Network. The Dishplayer Digital Video Recorder satellite receiver tripled the number of DVRs sold by all other manufacturers combined by selling over 200,000 units. But Perlman’s greatest accomplishments to date were still ahead, as the turn of the century would see him bring about a new advent in online interactive media.

One of the greatest difficulties Steve Perlman faced in Silicon Valley during this time period was finding somewhere to do effective Research & Development. Steve’s time at Apple had afforded the opportunity to work on intensely creative projects like color Macs, sound technology, 3-D, animation, and QuickTime under heavy pressure (a great motivator). However, “by 1989 or 1990, we couldn’t get things through the system anymore,” says Perlman.

Taking a position at Microsoft he faced similar problems, as competition was driving the company in various directions. Other possible options in Steve’s eyes included start-ups and universities; but the latter involves extremely scarce funding by comparison. As a solution to this problem, Rearden Steel was born.

“Silicon Valley forgot how to do R&D. I firmly believe that now.” — Steve Perlman

Rearden Steel, now Rearden Labs, or just, Rearden, was created in 1999-2000. Steve calls Rearden an incubator company: They take a look far into the future to see what technologies or production techniques might be needed, and go about trying to solve the problem. When they find a solution (or solutions) they think can work, those teams split off into a subsidiary company to focus on that problem.

“At that early stage, we won’t know how to solve it and won’t know how big the market will be when it’s solved. So, unfortunately, at that stage, you can’t bring in outside financing,” explains Perlman. “We fund the companies ourselves. Most of the things we’ve tried have worked.”

The company name Rearden, it’s worth noting, comes from one of the protagonists of Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Ayn Rand. In the book, Hank Rearden is an honorable genius who battles the small-minded meddlers trying to bring him down; he invents a stronger kind of steel and gets the girl. Perlman has since tried to distance his incubator from Rand and her politically divisive libertarianism, but he still talks like one of her characters, especially when he gets going about Silicon Valley and his place in it. He figures that this region once teeming with risk-takers has grown soft and unadventurous. Venture capitalists have succumbed to funding Internet eye candy like social networks and coupon services at the expense of breakthrough inventions. And yet a few people out there—him, for instance—are still willing to do the whole blood, sweat, and tears thing. “People have decided they don’t want to invent anything new anymore,” Perlman says. “To hell with them.”

Steve also founded a home entertainment company in 2000 called Moxi Digital. This company would debut a STB (set-top box) which integrated Digital Video Recording, Music Jukebox, DVD player, and Internet Gateway into a single device called the Moxi Media Center. This technology could network wireless video, audio, and broadband throughout the home and is currently used by Comcast, Time Warner and Charter cable TV networks, among others.

Little did we know that, just 2 years later, Perlman and Rearden Labs would begin developing OnLive, the first successful international Cloud-distribution video game service.

Moving forward, in 2004 Steve began working with special effects geared towards cinematic film. The resulting technology, Mova Contour, first garnered worldwide attention when it was used to graphically enhance and alter Brad Pitt’s face in the 2008 movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  This technology was heralded as a breakthrough in face-capturing for its unmatched realism and accuracy. See How It Works.

Mova Contour technology can currently be seen in the trailer below for the Warner Bros. game Batman: Arkham City, which was released for OnLive in November, 2011.


Mova’s work has included video game motion capture for Electronic Arts’ The Godfather, and From Russia with Love and Vivendi's Eragon. Steve also co-founded Ice Blink Studios with renowned artist Doug Chiang. Ice Blink’s work can be seen in major motion pictures War of the Worlds (2005), directed by Steven Spielberg; Monster House (2006), produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis; and Beowulf (2007), directed by Robert Zemeckis.
A demonstration of his insight into the future of technology, one highly unpublicized mention must go to the fact that Perlman seeded initial funding into the Android operating system, supporting it and his friend, Andy Rubin, at a time when no one else would.

With that we move into the debut of OnLive in 2009. Steve Perlman walked onto the stage of 2009′s Game Developers Conference and changed the face of gaming forever. Secretly in development for 7 years, the compression algorithm OnLive has introduced is the first of its kind to bring high-definition, high-end, over-the-Internet Cloud gaming to international consumers.

In an interview, Steve Perlman said that his vision for the 21st century is the complete integration of cinema and video games; showcasing more realistic and interactive entertainment than we have ever known. Steve has claimed that Rearden, Mova, and OnLive will be combining their individual resources to bring an industry-wide shift in popular media through incredible 4K video resolution, unmatched realism with Mova Contour, and the possible use of DIDO wireless technology.

Utilizing the resources and findings of Rearden along with its spun out companies, OnLive and Mova, Steve Perlman plans to build a gaming experience the likes of which the world has not yet experienced. Combining these technologies with the computing powerhouse of massive data-centers, OnLive has the potential to provide games and services which utilize enormous amounts of processing power at an affordable cost for the first time in history.

Looking back on Perlman’s work we can clearly see how each of his projects has built on the foundation which has led to the creation and success of OnLive. Steve Perlman has been impacting the face of our technological landscape for nearly 30 years: His companies continue to inspire and impress an international market.

As an avid follower of Steve’s work for the last 2 decades, I can only wonder with excitement and anticipation at how the OnLive project will continue to evolve. Steve Perlman once said, “Innovation is a dish best served hot,” and I truly believe this man’s legacy is barely heating up.

SOURCE: OnLive Informer.

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