Tuesday, 31 January 2012

NBA 2K11 and Bridge It Join the OnLive PlayPack

NBA 2K11 and Bridge It are this week's new additions to the OnLive PlayPack. The PlayPack is now at 141 titles and growing.

NBA 2K11

NBA 2K11 is a title that was until now available as a PlayPass title on the OnLive Marketplace for some time, the PlayPass for the game costs $19.99 US ($13.99 PlayPack) and £14.99 UK (£10.49 PlayPack). You can also rent the game. The price for a 3-day rental is $5.99 (£3.99 UK) and $8.99 (£5.99 UK) for a 5-day rental. Of course you can also take 30% off the rental prices for PlayPack subscribers. NBA 2K11 is a basketball game with the NBA licence which grants its publisher 2K Sports access to NBA teams and player likenesses. The game was developed by Visual Concepts. NBA 2K10 is already a part of the PlayPack and NBA 2K12 was released on the OnLive cloud gaming service as a PlayPass title a little over a month ago, just in time when the NBA lockout ended and the new shorter NBA season started.

NBA 2K11 requires a 2K Sports account to access online features on OnLive.

NBA 2K9, the #1 selling & #1 rated NBA videogame, set the standard for next generation basketball videogames, and NBA 2K11 surpassed that by delivering an even better basketball experience with all-new gameplay components, out-of-this-world graphics, even more realistic Signature Style animations, all-new presentation elements and an unrivalled online system.

Metascore: 82

You can play the free demo, rent and buy NBA 2K11 for the US powered by OnLive.

You can play the free demo, rent and buy NBA 2K11 for the UK powered by OnLive.

Bridge It

Bridge It is a bridge building simulation puzzle game published and developed by Chronic Logic.

In Bridge It, a stunning, beautiful world awaits as you take on the challenge of bridging the chasm. Can you solve the puzzles and avert disaster?

Set in the picturesque surroundings of sparse deserts and dense forests it is your task to strategically design and construct an engineering masterpiece. Watch in eager anticipation as unsuspecting motorists, heavy freight trains and tourist riverboats approach. Will your solution stand up to the test or will tons of mangled steel be sent plummeting into the river below?

Based on the award winning Bridge Construction Set (Pontifex II) and using the Auran Jet 3D Engine, Bridge It offers a host of real time effects that surpass many pre-rendered scenes.

Bridge It features:

  • 30 challenging levels from novice to expert
  • Cars, trucks, trains to drive across your bridges
  • Boats to really test your draw bridges
  • Build suspension bridges, draw bridges and more!    
  • Scoring system rewards clever design and cheap bridges
  • Intuitive editing tools allow you to build beautiful bridges
  • Narrated tutorial levels
  • Earthquakes to really put your bridges through their paces!

  • You can play the free demo of Bridge It powered by OnLive.

    Monday, 30 January 2012

    OnLive for Android on the Xperia PLAY Review

    Xperia PLAY:

    Operating system: Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread
    CPU: 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
    GPU: Adreno 205
    Memory: 512 MB
    Storage: 400 MB internal (SD Cards up to 32GB)

    Good: The envious looks of pretty much everyone as you sit playing Assassin's Creed: Revelations on public transport.

    Bad: Lack of L3/R3.

    I’ve mulled over quite how to approach this review countless times – do I review the Phone? The OnLive Android App? How the phone works? After writing and rewriting this more times than I care to remember, I am (for now at least) going to cover how the OnLive Android App and the Xperia PLAY interact and what my thoughts are having now used them together for just over a week.

    If you’ve never heard of the Xperia PLAY you may be wondering quite why any Android phone is receiving a specific review here. Well, the Xperia PLAY was released in the Spring of 2011 with the goal of succeeding where other companies had failed and finally nailing the “Gaming Phone” market. It’s a fully functional and frankly pretty damned fantastic Android handset in its own right, however the ace up the sleeve of this phone is the fact it slides open to reveal an integrated gamepad complete with touchpad-based analogue sticks.

    Seems pretty ideal for OnLive doesn’t it? Well OnLive thought so too and shortly after the Android client came out they released an update to add support for the inbuilt controller. There were already some third party tweaks doing the rounds to attempt the same but the addition of official OnLive support for an item I’d quite fancied for a while pushed me over the edge and I decided that I’d go and get myself one, which of course means you lovely people get a review out of me.  

    The Xperia PLAY works just like any other Android device does on OnLive. Upon launching the OnLive App and signing into OnLive you’re presented with the familiar interface and can merrily use the touch screen to play any touch-enabled game. Just like every other Android device, controls on touch-enabled games are handled via an overlay, as illustrated in the above picture of Flock. In some games such as Darksiders this results in a swarm of touch buttons taking up almost the entire screen. It’s here that the Xperia PLAY comes into its own. Compare these two screenshots below both from pretty much the same part of the game. One is using the touch overlay and the other is the result of sliding out the Xperia PLAYs’ gamepad.

    Unless you have tiny pin-like fingers there is absolutely no contest which of the two screens would result in a more enjoyable gaming experience. I think the touch controls for OnLive are fantastic for tablets but on phones you really need to have the same size hands as a baby flea in order to not randomly mash every button on the screen constantly.

    The ability to play the touch enabled games using the controller is cool, but really not the feature that had me excited. If you try and launch any titles which aren’t touch enabled from an Android device you tend to receive this message:

    Now its time for the fun part; simply slide the controller out again and click “Continue” (using either the touch screen or the controller) and you can play! That’s right, you can now play pretty much any title on OnLive using just your Xperia PLAY. No Universal OnLive Wireless Controllers, no third party dongles or software, every controller enabled title (Except Borderlands and Duke Nukem Forever which are “presently not available for this platform”) works!

    Obviously you don’t need reminding that as OnLive is cloud gaming you receive the same experience on every platform, but there is something amazing about sitting there using just a phone and playing Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition or Driver: San Francisco with PC-perfect graphics and all the same features that you’d get playing it on your MicroConsole or PC, even including multiplayer.

    That screenshot you see there was OnLiveFans forum member TransmetaNiven giving me a resounding thrashing in a spot of Driver: San Francisco multiplayer. Now the fact that someone has beaten me by such a massive lead could mean two things: firstly that I am terrible or secondly that playing OnLive via the Xperia PLAY is a little problematic. As it happens it's a combination of both these things.

    There are two main issues I have when using the Xperia PLAY with OnLive. Interestingly both are kind of linked. Having actual analogue sticks on a slide out section of a phone wouldn’t really be feasible so they opted to use touchpads. These pads are in all honesty pretty fantastic and work amazingly well; however, they do require a heck of a lot of adjusting to. They work on the same principal as an analogue stick and basically the further out from the center you hold the touchpad the further you are “pushing” the stick. They’re perfectly responsive and work really well, they just require a lot of getting used to. They do however work fantastically for some games. It's no secret that I am TERRIBLE at Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, however the first time I played it via the Xperia PLAY I managed to complete the single player game, not only for the first time ever, but without losing a single round. Executing quarter- and half-circle moves was so amazingly fluid using the touchpad I was amazed!

    The second issue which is related to the existence of these touchpads is the fact that they are not “clickable” meaning that there is no way to press R3 and L3. This isn’t a massive deal in games such as Driver: San Francisco where R3 is simply the car horn or the Assassin's Creed games where it doesn’t really do anything but in titles such as Batman: Arkham City and Deus Ex: Human Revolution these two buttons are pretty bloody useful and the lack of them results in the game being more or less unplayable. I’m confident that OnLive or a third party will come up with some way to address this.

    Every other button works fantastically, the guys at OnLive even cunningly overcame the lack of L2 and R2 buttons by re-purposing the Volume Up and Volume Down buttons on the handset (located just slightly further in than the L1/R1 shoulder buttons). The start and select buttons are present and working as intended. Fantastically the Android menu button has been mapped to the “OnLive” button (the one usually located in the centre of the controller) meaning you can easily pull up the OnLive overlay and also use short-cuts such as OnLive + Circle to record a Brag Clip.

    Hardware wise its impressive, the device feels well built and OnLive itself runs without issue. One hour of solid OnLive play (via Wi-Fi) took my battery from 87% to 59% so a decent guestimate would be that you can get 3-4 hours of OnLive gaming out of a fully charged battery. Unsurprisingly game play is better over Wi-Fi than over 3G. In fact the only times I’ve managed to play via the cellular network is when I’ve had a HSPA/3G+ connection. There are US versions of the Xperia PLAY which support 4G but to be quite frank as the UK and the US seem to enjoy calling the same technologies by different names for all I know there could be little difference between HSPA and 3G. The point I’m trying to make is that Wi-Fi works fantastically and the phone network either doesn’t let you connect at all or it does and works fantastic. I’ve never managed to find a middle ground there. If you like your OnLive gaming loud then you’ll likely be incredibly impressed as the speakers built into the Xperia PLAY probably put your stereo system to shame; they sound amazing and are so incredibly loud that even having the volume set to one is enough to anger my Mrs.

    There are a couple of things I’d like to see happen with this frankly fantastic union of OnLive App and Xperia PLAY hardware that would earn it a perfect 10. Firstly I’d love to see a solution implemented for the aforementioned L3/R3 issue and secondly I’d like to see the OnLive App integrated into the Xperia PLAY games launcher. This is a piece of software that pops up if you slide the keyboard out (when not in a game) and presents you with a list of all Xperia PLAY compatible software both on your phone and on the Android Market. It’s a simple enough job to list applications in there and aside from being handy for us OnLive fans it would also advertise the service to every single Xperia PLAY owner out there. Let's hope OnLive will fix this little niggle.

    I like this device, I really do, it’s a fantastic phone and a fantastic device for OnLive. The lack of certain titles and the missing L3/R3 is a shame but by no means a deal-breaker. I’m keeping a close eye on what some talented people are coming up with to support this and have heard some positive comments around the use of GameKeyboard to remap various functions in order to run keyboard and mouse only games.

    One of the biggest questions that people have is around just how good this is for playing most OnLive titles. Well the (totally unhelpful answer) is that it varies. Provided the game doesn’t require L3/R3 and provided it isn’t overly busy then it’s usually a fantastic experience. Some games clearly just weren’t meant for a small screen and result in a horrifically packed looking screen full of indecipherable text. Titles such as Driver: San Francisco, DiRT 3, Braid, EDGE, L.A. Noire, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 have all been fantastic fun for me and perfectly playable. I’ve struggled slightly in the Assassin's Creed games due to still not being quite as precise with the analogue pads as I could be, and I’ve found the likes of Saints Row: The Third and Batman: Arkham City were best played with the sole intention of collecting items or mooching around as I found anything more taxing to be pretty tricky.

    This is a hard review to sum up. Personally it's the best phone I’ve ever had and, thanks to OnLive, probably the best gaming hand held I’ve ever had. The reliance on Wi-Fi for OnLive and inability to play certain games due to an unexplained restriction or lack of certain buttons may be a deal breaker for some. However if you love OnLive and need a new phone you really should look into the Xperia PLAY.

    SOURCE: OnLiveFans.

    Sunday, 29 January 2012

    OnLive Community Manager Matt Jensen's Friday 1/27/2012 Livecast

    - OnLive MJ had OnLive video creator genius Eric Peltier as guest. He spoke about his work on creating the promotion videos for OnLive.
    Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine multiplayer is delayed again - no official launch date is given.
    - Next week's releases will not be anything major. There will be 1 PlayPass game that will move into the PlayPack and 1 new PlayPack game added.
    - OnLive is working on the Saints Row: The Third - GenkiBowl VII add-on pack.
    - OnLive has a huge list of new UI features that they are working on that they plan to launch on the service (including adding an achievement total to user profiles).
    - Touch will come to more games in the near future.
    - GDC News: OnLive will be sponsoring the Independent Games Summit on March 5-9.
    - OnLive will be holding a logo contest for the OnLive MJ livestreams very soon.

    Stay tuned for next friday's livecast from OnLive community manager Matt Jensen.

    Saturday, 28 January 2012

    Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Multiplayer for OnLive is Delayed Once Again

    Last week during his live video cast, OnLive Community Manager, Matt Jensen told OnLive gamers that the Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine multiplayer would finally be released this week

    Unfortunately OnLive has run into some unexpected issues, and the release has been delayed yet again. 

    “Space Marine Multiplayer has hit a bug, that would require us to pull it and not release it this week,” said Matt Jensen during this week’s live video cast.

    The bug that the programmers ran into, is one that has to do with matchmaking within the multiplayer portion of the game. OnLive is currently working hard to get it released as soon as possible, but there is no new time frame provided for when we can expect to see it finally released.

    SOURCE: OnLiveFans.

    Aldorlea Games Plans to Bring At Least 5 Games to OnLive

    Back in early September, OnLiveFans made contact with Aldorlea Games, to inquire if they were planning to bring any of their games to OnLive. At that time, OnLiveFans introduced the game developer to the cloud gaming service, and helped them get in contact with OnLive. They didn’t know what OnLive was at the time, but they ended up talking with representatives from the company, and came away rather impressed.

    Aldorlea Games told OnLiveFans yesterday, that they have plans to bring some of their games to the service. While these plans are pretty solid, they are still a long ways off from being released.

    Aldorlea is a game developer that specializes in RPG and adventure games. The first game they ever released was Laxius Force back in August of 2008. This is one of the games that they have planned for the OnLive service.

    The games which Aldorlea plans to bring to OnLive first, are as follows (note: the company has said that they may bring more games to the services as well, but they plan to start with these 5):

    - 3 Stars of Destiny
    - Dreamscape
    - Laxius Force
    - Millennium: A New Hope
    - Millennium 2: Take Me Higher

    While Aldorlea is still in the preliminary stages of working out the final details, they are not yet sure if these games will be released in the OnLive PlayPack or sold as individual standalone PlayPass titles.

    Here are some details of the coming 5 games, courtesy of Aldorlea Games:

    3 Stars of Destiny

  • 60 hours of playing!
  • 10 Legendary Heroes!
  • 50 Quests!
  • Play the Laxius stars in the early years!

  • An evil god has made a discovery. Now his attention is turned onto three youths who between them hold an unusual energy!

    Yet he is hindered - unable to act directly in their mortal world. In an attempt to twist the odds, he sets a deadly trap - what will happen?
    Is the gathering of 3 stars a simple matter of coincidence or is it... fate?

    Fight monsters, explore, complete quests, rescue people in need and explore a fantasy medieval world.


  • 30 hours of playing!
  • Visit the dreams of everyone you meet!
  • Cute heroes, funny adventure!
  • Unique game and unique gameplay!

  • Just a normal day. Erin was quite happy how things were, studying biology and off to see her boyfriend. He, however, was about to change everything.

    Her boyfriend, Terry, wants her to just watch him as he listens to a tune. He says it will be a special experience. She says he should stop joking but since he insists she gives him what he wants. After all, it's only wasting a few seconds of time.

    Terry puts his headphones on. The next moment - the bedroom no longer exists. Erin has entered another world. She can only call out as she sees Terry across a bridge from where she is standing just moving away from her. Further and further away. Then, she is alone with nothing around her.

    What has happened? Will Erin pierce the secret of Dreamscape? And will she ever find Terry again?

    Laxius Force

  • 80 hours of playing!
  • 15 Legendary Heroes!
  • 500+ Locations!
  • Epic Adventure!

  • The story of Random and Sarah who find themsleves engulfed in a war against the Order, a dangerous organization wishing control of the world.

    Meet Brussian, Wendala, Marion and their many other friends as they join the adventure for the only purpose of defending Adretana, a town that happens to be the next target of the Order’s plans.

    Laxius Force is an epic, addicting RPG at the crossroads of games like Baldur's Gate and the old Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. If any of those are among your favorite games, then you should definitely give a try to Laxius Force.

    Millennium: A New Hope

  • 4 levels of difficulty
  • Choose visible or invisible monsters!
  • Optional guiding arrows
  • Tens of secret rooms!
  • 40 quests!
  • Battle superb monsters including 8 Animal Kings!
  • Gorgeous graphics and musics!
  • RPGFan's Indie RPG of the Year 2009

  • Marine starts upon a challenging path that could change the world of Myst forever. Her goal? She has a bit less than a month to find and convince twelve warriors to support her, so that ultimately she can confront the thirteen powerful warriors of the heartless government of Mystrock in a legendary showdown.

    If she wins the lands of Myst will never be the same again but in a land with so much suffering can she find the twelve people that will allow her to pursue her dream of a better future?

    Millennium 2: Take Me Higher

  • Tens of secret rooms!
  • 40 quests!
  • Battle superb monsters including 8 Animal Kings!
  • Gorgeous graphics and musics!

  • Millennium 2 is the sequel to the new epic saga of Aldorlea Games, specialists in RPG and adventure. Will Marine gather the people she needs so that they can challenge the Lords of Mystrock to a legendary showdown?

    With magic and marvels a world and journey await you.

    While these are not the AAA titles that a lot of OnLive fans have been hoping to see more of, these are fun addicting games that should be able to keep you busy for hours on end. 

    SOURCE: OnLiveFans.

    Thursday, 26 January 2012

    Review - The Futuristic OnLive Desktop Runs Windows Apps on the iPad

    The current state of computing is always under scrutiny and speculation. For years laptop and desktop computers have been proclaimed dead, most recently in the face of smartphones and tablet computers. OnLive Desktop may be the first sign of an evolution for everyday PC computing, one that would silence naysayers and utilize all types of application-driven computing devices.

    OnLive Desktop – from OnLive, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based cloud-gaming company – is a Windows 7 work environment, streaming from the cloud, as a simple downloadable app. Using the same technology from its OnLive cloud gaming client, OnLive Desktop promises to deliver a desktop computing experience on tablets and smartphones. In this way, all devices do is display what’s on the Windows desktop and provide touch feedback. All of the processing is done on the backend. OnLive CEO Steve Perlman unveiled OnLive Desktop at the recent Consumer Electronics Show.

    The significance of OnLive Desktop is that, in time, users will be able to have a full Windows computer in the cloud, as long as they have a free app and an Internet connection. Currently the service is limited to the iPad, though it is scheduled to be released for Android, other iOS devices, Windows, and OS X. This review is of the OnLive Desktop Standard edition. Pro and Enterprise versions will release in the near future with more features.

    A Veritable Windows Machine

    OnLive Desktop isn’t just a bare Windows 7 workspace. It comes with applications available for immediate use, including Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, along with basic Windows applications such as Paint, Media Player, Notepad, Calculator, etc. All of the basics you would expect from a Windows 7 machine are immediately available through OnLive Desktop.

    There are a few key differences, mostly from the operating system. It isn’t your typical Windows 7 Home or Premium edition; instead, it’s Windows 7 Touch, designed specifically for touch-enabled devices. We’ll get to touch performance later on, but what that means is that the entire OS works similar to the Microsoft Surface table: a multi-touch surface in a Windows environment. Several Surface applications are included, such as Microsoft Surface Collage, and a handful of Surface games.

    After a basic login screen, users are dropped at the standard Windows 7 desktop. The available Office applications, a folder of Surface apps, sample Office documents and the Getting Started Guide are all that sit on the desktop. For all intents and purposes, it is a Windows-based machine on an iPad.

    However, there are specific features missing on the Standard version of OnLive Desktop. There is no web browser. OnLive has struggled to find a solution to provide a web browser that handles all the data on their servers, but simultaneously doesn’t go to dangerous websites that could harm the servers. OnLive Desktop Standard does not have a built-in web browser, but then again iPad owners can just switch into the iPad’s Safari web browser, and go back into the OnLive Desktop when done. The bigger letdown is that copied material isn’t saved to the Windows clipboard, so copied text or images can’t be pasted to Windows.

    Settings cannot be adjusted for the Windows machine either, at least not yet. I found the touch cursor is slightly off, but there is no way to adjust it. No other functions can be adjusted whatsoever.

    Documents and data can be transferred to the OnLive Desktop through any computer by uploading directly to OnLive’s website. After logging in, users can upload up to 2GB of data (pay-for subscriptions will include more space).

    Solid, but Mediocre Video Compression

    The biggest difference between a native Windows computer and the OnLive Desktop app is, of course, that the latter is streaming. Unlike OnLive’s gaming client, which streams games through computers, tablets and smartphones, the video compression algorithm is different and made more suitable for standard desktop computing. It makes sense from a theoretical standpoint – videogames are far more intensive than, say, a PowerPoint presentation, which is almost constantly static.

    The video compression, or how Windows looks on the iPad, is solid, but rarely clear or crisp. While typing several articles using Word, sometimes the text would be too difficult to read on the screen, even with an excellent Wi-Fi connection. In fact, how strong the connection is makes almost no difference in the quality of video, unless it’s a poor connection to begin with.

    What lowers the screen quality is, in fact, heavy use of the app. Typing articles, for instance, using an external keyboard (the Windows on-screen keyboard is absolutely awful; to take full advantage of everything OnLive Desktop has to offer, use a Bluetooth keyboard) constantly sends data up and down, to and from OnLive’s servers. It may be just a few bytes at a time, but the constant hounding seems to lower quality of video regularly. Every minute or so the screen quality dropped severely, but would return to visible quality in a few seconds.

    To get crisp, clean visibility requires users to not upload data consistently. In other words, the less you do – for instance, the less you use the touchscreen or the less you type – the less data is uploaded to OnLive’s servers and slowing down the connection. Watching videos, reading documents, and showing PowerPoint presentations all provide high quality visuals.

    More intensive applications like Microsoft Surface Collage, where users can manipulate photos by touch, don’t appear as distorted or pixelated as text-based apps. Graphically-intensive applications also have data processed by more powerful servers, though for now it’s too difficult to tell whether or not that is occurring here.

    Lag time is, for the most part, nonintrusive. Typing documents, creating PowerPoints, and almost every other task has slight and noticeable lag, but it isn’t a bother. Lag is most visible when using apps like Paint, where it may take a half-second for the paintbrush to reach where you’ve drawn. The lag currently present will not cause any workflow problems, at least for the currently available applications.

    Potentially Disruptive

    Today, OnLive Desktop is a solid application client that has all the basic functions of a Windows computer freely available for all iPad users. Along with the basic Office apps and the Windows 7 Touch environment, OnLive Desktop has the potential to change the way we use tablets and smartphones, and perhaps even PCs. With a Windows-based machine as readily available as an internet connection, this technology may be paving the way for the future of cloud computing.

    There are, however, severe limitations with what can be done currently with the service. File support is minimal, there are only a few applications currently available, the display quality is mediocre regardless of the internet connection, and there is no personalization whatsoever. Even with these misgivings, as a free service for anyone with an iPad, and soon with an Android or iOS based device, there is nothing like OnLive Desktop anywhere. VPN offers a similar solution, but it isn’t cloud based and requires a separate computer for users to manage. With OnLive Desktop, someone else handles everything. And an exceptional side effect to the service is because it runs on tablets, which generally have excellent battery life, running OnLive Desktop actually lasts longer than a traditional laptop.

    For now, OnLive Desktop Standard shows a taste of what’s to come with future service plans. There are plenty of improvements to be made on the service today, but I recommend all iPad owners download the free application and try it out. OnLive Desktop opens the first gateway into actual cloud computing, with a full desktop workspace. Apple may believe that it is cannibalizing Windows PCs with monstrous sales of iPads, but with a service like this, more people than ever may start using Windows in ways never before imagined.

    SOURCE: VentureBeat.

    Breaking Down OnLive Desktop: Why This is Not the Desktop Virtualization Solution You're Looking For

    I've been trying to get together with OnLive for well over a year now, ever since seeing their cloud-based gaming platform. I'm not much of a gamer, though. For me it was the protocol that they use that generated the most interest. For a while my requests fell on deaf ears, but when they announced their OnLive Desktop solution in early 2011, followed by a release during CES in 2012, they joined our desktop virtualization world.

    Jack happened to make a contact at CES, and it wasn't more than a week or two later that we had a meeting with OnLive CEO Steve Perlman down at their offices in Palo Alto. We went in armed with the questions that almost everyone has:
    • What protocol is OnLive using?
    • What platform do the games run on?
    • How is the backend brokering done?
    • Is OnLive Desktop using Windows 7 or 2008 RDS?
    • How is Microsoft Licensing handled since there's no SPLA license for Windows 7?
    Since the meeting, I've had a chance to use the product and form some opinions based on what we talked about, what I've seen, and some speculation. What follows is what I know about these questions, as well as my thoughts on the experience and the product in general. Like me, you will still have questions at the end. It's still worth reading…I promise.

    What protocol is OnLive using?

    Sometime in 2010-2011, I'd heard that OnLive was using HP RGS as their protocol of choice. I actually met with HP earlier in the week, and they confirmed that HP RGS was *not* the protocol behind OnLive. As it turns out, OnLive is leveraging a combination of both their own silicon, their own UDP-based protocol, and partnerships with all the major ISPs in the country.

    At the silicon level, OnLive touts a custom board in each of their servers that works in conjunction with their "System" (that's my word for their ambiguous system behind the scenes. It's a recurring theme). The System encodes the video stream as a full screen video, then sends it out via a UDP protocol. What's interesting is that the OnLive client is aware of the capabilities of the client (screen size, bandwidth, local resources, etc…), and OnLive says that they actually have a different protocol for each device. The example they gave was that with Android they get some access to the hardware, so they can send it a stream that encoded better because they can use the GPU or DSP to offload some of the decoding, whereas with iOS devices they have to do everything in software via the CPU, so the video stream sent to iOS is optimized for iOS devices.

    Protocol aside, there are still a few challenges in delivering a realtime, 3D gaming experience (or a desktop, for that matter) over the internet. Part of that is addressed by the UDP protocol. As we know, UDP isn't subjected to the same checks as TCP. UDP packets are simply blasted out at the client with no regard for whether or not the packets were received. TCP, on the other hand, will retransmit lost packets to the point where it holds up the flow. In a game, this would be bad. Just talk to VMware about PCoIP :) Still, using UDP means that some packets might not make it to the client side. When asked how that works, I was told that there is technology on the client side that puts something in place to make it look normal. I imagine this like the predictive pixel technology that's built into 120Hz + televisions, where even though the signal is coming in at 60Hz, the processor in the TV knows what the first and second frames look like and can fill in the gaps. In practice, it looks like it's just compression, though.

    The last thing that brings all of this together is the relationships OnLive has with all the major ISPs in the country. If you've read their marketing collateral, you'll know that there are bandwidth and distance limitations to using OnLive for games. Those limitations are different (less restrictive) for desktops, but they still exist because the protocol depends on those relationships to provide a good experience. Essentially, OnLive's systems plug directly into all of the major ISPs in the country, which they call peering. This reduces the number of hops required to get from OnLive's servers to you. It's not a QoS thing, and OnLive isn't getting any preferential treatment on each of the major networks, it's just that the path the information takes is as short as possible. Part of the session initiation process is to identify the shortest path to the servers, and then lock that in.

    Before we move on, let's sum up the protocol discussion. Custom graphics boards that feed a System that encodes the video data and delivers it via device-specific protocols on a network with as few hops as possible. It's complex, but if you've played any games via OnLive, it works.

    What platform do the games run on?

    I asked this question as an aside to my licensing question, and it turns out the answer is fairly complex. Unfortunately the licensing answer wasn't as comprehensive as the platform answer, so we'll go with the good one first. The platform, in a word, "depends." I went in thinking "Windows Windows Windows," because that's the licensing and platform that I cared about. The thing is, they have a backend that's capable of running games from different kinds of systems. Some of the games they provide run on Windows, some on Linux. OnLive actually gets custom games from developers that run on their systems, which makes sense when you consider the number of PS3 and XBox games they have, and the fact that the PS3 runs a Linux derivative. It's not like there are XBox and PS3 consoles sitting in a data center (well, there might be, but I doubt it).

    How is the back-end brokering done?

    This is a much shorter section, because the answer is "it's all proprietary." OnLive has spent a lot of time assembling their backend, and they claim to not be borrowing bits and pieces from other companies. We went in wondering if they use some sort of packaged or open-source brokering solution, but everything they've done is on their own. There are data centers around the country and in Europe, so when someone signs in, they're pointed to the data center closest to them. Frankly, with the varied systems they run to support the games, a home-grown brokering solution makes sense. They're leveraging this system for the Windows desktops, too.

    Is OnLive Desktop using Windows 7 or 2008 RDS?

    Believe it or not, the answer I got here was "It depends," which I thought was weird because I simply asked "What version of Windows am I getting if I connect to OnLive Desktop? Windows 7, or Windows 2008 R2 RDS?" At this point it was like the doors closed and the information flow slowed. In practice, it was pretty easy to find out. I signed up for an account, launched the desktop, and poked around. It looks like Windows 7, but that alone isn't enough since it's possible to make Windows Server 2008 R2 resemble Windows 7. Most of the features were locked down (in fact, for the free version of OnLive Desktop, there isn't even a web browser), but signs throughout the UI point to Windows 7. I thought I'd try some old tricks, like File > Open, right click on CMD, have your way with the machine, but that didn't work.

    I finally found my answer when looking at the Help > About screen in Notepad. OnLive Desktop is using Windows 7 Enterprise!

    How can this be? Read on...

    How is Microsoft Licensing handled since there's no SPLA license for Windows 7?

    This is the biggest question I've heard from the people I've talked to because as many of us know, there is no Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) for Windows 7. A SPLA program would allow organizations to deploy Windows 7 to any user at any organization (think DaaS providers), and it's something that the industry has been waiting for for years. As of today, the only way to deploy the same copy of Windows to users in different organizations is with Remote Desktop Services on Windows Server 2008 R2 (and prior versions).

    Ignoring the lack of a SPLA license program for Windows 7, other considerations have to be made for client device access. Currently, OnLive Desktop only works on iPads, which for obvious reasons can't have SA entitlements. That means that a VDA license must be purchased for each instance of Windows. Of course, that's not the proper method since we're all accessing this as a cloud service (unless it's running on dedicated hardware, but we'll get to that in a minute), but even if we were all OnLive employees, we'd still have to have that license.

    I posed these questions to Steve several times, and never got an answer besides (and I'm paraphrasing) "it depends" or "that's not the hard stuff--the hard stuff is in delivering this experience."

    I was told that OnLive has licensing experts that have all this worked out, but I was never told how that could be. I explained the licensing issues, the SPLA, the VDA, the fact that there are dozens of DaaS (Desktop as a service) providers that are trying to accomplish the same thing but can't due to Microsoft licensing restrictions. Each time, my question was deflected and focus shifted over to the device demos.

    I even asked about it in the context of games. I assume there are some Windows games in the OnLive library, and each of those would have to have a specific license for remote access as well. It has nothing to do with the fact that it's a game - it has everything to do with the fact that users are accessing applications running on Windows. OnLive has been in the works since 2005, and available to the public since 2009, but this is the kind of thing we've been dealing with for 15 years.

    So, there are a few things that could be going on. The most likely solution that would be in compliance is if OnLive was using dedicated hardware for each instance of Windows. This would be entirely legal, but to do so could be very inefficient. It still means that VDA licenses are required, though, which isn't necessarily a small cost. It could be that they may have to run dedicated hardware for each session (game or desktop) to support the gaming side of the operation, in which case they probably have some super-efficient, motherboards-on-a-rack (or blade PC) infrastructure behind the scenes that makes it efficient to pull this off. If that's the case, then perhaps all of the above is true. I'm not necessarily sure if VDA licenses would be valid in this scenario, but I'll call on the licensing nerds to help us out in the comments on that one.

    It's been suggested that you don't need VDA if the remote machine is installed on a physical host, so this is looking more likely. Too bad we still have to guess.

    When giving away access to Windows desktops for free (or even $9.99/month as the OnLive Desktop Pro plan will do), it's not easy to make up for that cost, let alone the infrastructure required to support dedicated hardware for each installation of Windows. In the meeting we had, OnLive mentioned that they had predictable usage patterns where the games were used more heavily at night and the desktops during the day. If that's the case, perhaps they're leveraging that, and the video game solution is subsidizing the virtual desktop solution (or, in effect, leveraging unused resources during the day). You'd have to think that remoting video games would be subjected to the same license restrictions, so maybe this is something OnLive already addressed.

    Another, albeit less likely, option for a legitimate solution would be if they had some sort of special agreement with Microsoft worked out. If that's the case, Microsoft, there is a large, opinionated group of people that would love to talk to you.

    Anything other than these two scenarios is likely not in compliance with current Microsoft licensing.

    On top of all of this OS licensing talk, there's also the issue that both the OnLive Desktop Free and OnLive Desktop Pro apps come with Microsoft Office installed. How, again, can this be done? This is less complex than the OS licensing issue, but still one to consider when looking at the overall solution and the licensing cost associated with it.

    What's OnLive Desktop like?

    If you watch the video that's on YouTube of Steve Perlman giving a demonstration at the NExTWORK conference last summer, you'll see that OnLive is very proud of their product. From a video game standpoint, they should be. They've pulled off an impressive feat by enabling realtime 3D gaming over the internet. I think, though, that OnLive overvalues that technology and just assumes that it will work just fine for desktops, too. In the video I mentioned, you can see Steve comparing OnLive Desktop to Citrix, saying things like OnLive Desktop is "...kinda like what Citrix is doing for the cloud thing…except the remote desktop feels local. In fact, in a lot of ways it's better than local," and, after essentially shadowing a session, he says "...and again, for those of you who've used Citrix, you've never seen anything like this before." He goes on to show a demo of a Flash app from SpeedTest.net running in a session, showing what great speed the datacenter has.

    Even if I hadn't seen this before (I've been watching the same basic demo for 13 or 14 years), I'd still be amazed at the fact that to get these features you need to have a minimum 1Mbps connection to the web, and that it would be best to have 2Mbps. Frankly, if Citrix, VMware, or Microsoft's protocols had that much pipe all the time, their stuff would rock, too.

    So, I tried OnLive Desktop on my iPad, and short of shooting a video demo of it, you can see where the technology they have that works fine for games falls a bit short when it comes to Windows desktops. The thing is, the compression algorithms used on games (which only go as high as 720p in OnLive's system) can be pretty liberal because there is motion all the time, and motion obscures what's happening on the screen anyway. Compressing that is probably imperceptible, or at the very least usable. With static windows that use very precise, fine lines, Windows desktops expose some of the compression techniques used by OnLive.

    I don't know if it works this way on purpose or not, but when the low res, highly compressed image appears on the screen, you can watch it do what VMware calls "build to lossless." There are a few screenshots below. Keep in mind that these are just snapshots, and within a few seconds the screen changed from this to something useable. Also note that this did not happen all the time, but often enough over my 20Mbps home internet connection that it's worth mentioning.

    Another thing worth noting is that there is absolutely nothing in the local client in terms of user tools. Every other remote desktop client that we'd use on a regular basis has a client-side keyboard, scroll, right-click, and other usability features. OnLive Desktop relies entirely on Windows 7's built-in touch capabilities, remoting your touch commands instead of translating them into mouse clicks. This is cool because you get some of the multitouch and Surface capabilities and handwriting recognition that we've been hoping for the past few years, but in the end the user experience isn't as nice. Still, they almost require a bluetooth keyboard to make it usable, since it otherwise relies on the built-in Windows 7 keyboard app for typing (which means that you can't type well unless the connection is rock solid). Kudos to OnLive for the try, though. I'd love to find a way to get the best of both worlds when it comes to controlling your remote session.

    So why does everyone else think this is awesome?

    I think we were all sold on the "holy shit" awesomeness of being able to play 3D games online, and, like OnLive, our thinking was that this just has to be the ultimate solution for desktops, too. The general consensus of people in the desktop virtualization industry, though, seems to be "meh." I think the people that are drooling over this technology are the consumers, the users, the gamers, iPad fanboys, and anyone else who hasn't really been exposed to this technology before. To them, this is amazing technology, like having a computer somewhere else with a really long keyboard and mouse cable (or whatever simile you used to use to sell the tech in 1999). Today, though, we want perfect performance on almost any connection, on any device, and that means remotely rendered keyboards and super-lossy compression along with high bandwidth requirements aren't going to cut it.

    What about the other versions that OnLive announced?

    OnLive Desktop Free is available to anyone with an email address and an iPad by visiting desktop.onlive.com. It's limited to only a few gigabytes of cloud storage (which is owned and operated by OnLive, although they're looking to get out of that business), and it includes some Microsoft Office applications, but no Internet Explorer. It's also subject to system availability, so maybe there's a licensing catch in there, too, like they're only allowed to have a certain number of machines available in this manner. OnLive Desktop Pro, at a cost of $9.99/mo, will give you 50GB of cloud storage, "cloud-accelerated web browsing" (which means that IE is using their datacenter's connection to the internet, not anything as complex as Amazon Silk), and the ability to add PC applications when it comes out "soon." For both editions, non-iPad versions are also coming that will work on other devices, including OnLive set-top boxes.

    Beyond those versions, OnLive also has plans for an enterprise version of the solution that will essentially give organizations access to the bare metal, onto which they can install anything they want. In this situation, it's all about using OnLive's network and compute power, and the customer assumes the software acquisition and licensing costs. This solution will be interesting to follow, since there are so many other companies out there that have DaaS (Desktop as a service) solutions and hybrid cloud offerings. OnLive's key attractions at this point are their network peers and their protocol, and if people can get better performance in on more devices with more management capabilities elsewhere, OnLive Desktop Enterprise may never make it out of the gates.

    Wrap Up

    My tone is less than excited about this, as I'm sure you can tell. I love the product for the gaming aspect, but I think that OnLive needs to be more candid when talking about their licensing and protocol. I think it's amazing that they're using full-on Windows 7 but can't answer the question about how it's licensed. Ignoring licensing, though, I can still say that my brief experience with OnLive (compared to how other clients and protocols perform in the same scenario) leads me to believe that this is not enterprise-class desktop virtualization, and that the issues that affect online gaming are not the same ones that we have to deal with day-to-day to deliver applications to users. OnLive believes that if you can do video games, you've already solved the hardest problem in remote access to applications, so desktops are no problem. It sounded good initially, but I'm not sure I can agree with that anymore.

    SOURCE: Gabe Knuth at BrianMadden.