Monday, 13 February 2012

The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller Review

Pros
Comfortable. Easy to set up. Makes playing console games on the OnLive PC software much more enjoyable. Doubles as a non-OnLive gamepad with tweaking. Supports Bluetooth for use with mobile devices.

Cons
The OnLive service still needs a reliable, fast internet connection to work well. Support for non-OnLive games isn't a certainty.

Bottom Line
If you want to play console games but don't have the room or money for an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, the Universal OnLive Wireless Controller brings the same experience to your computer with only a few compromises.



OnLive is a service that lets you play games without downloading or installing them by streaming them over the internet. When we reviewed the OnLive MicroConsole ($99), the service worked well enough over an ethernet connection, but the issues with streaming game video and compressing the picture stood out on an HDTV. With the iOS and Android Apps, the wireless connections proved too unreliable to offer a smooth gaming experience. Where the others had shortcomings, the Universal OnLive Wireless Controller succeeds. For $49.99 (£39.99 UK), this controller lets you wirelessly play console games through the OnLive software on your computer, and it doubles as a Bluetooth gamepad for use with tablets and smartphones. On a smaller screen, like a computer monitor, and with an ethernet connection, OnLive becomes an enjoyable experience, and it's a way to play console games even if you don't have the room or budget for them.
The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller
The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller is used to play games and do other things in the OnLive client on various devices. The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller is compatible with most tablets and many smartphones. It utilizes OnLive’s exclusive adaptive wireless technology to automatically find an optimal wireless connection for a given tablet, smartphone, PC, Mac, Blu-ray player, Smart TV or TV through the OnLive Game System.

Universal OnLive Wireless Controller - Angle
The gamepad is identical to the gamepad that comes with the OnLive MicroConsole, with a PlayStation 3-style button layout featuring two analog sticks, a direction pad, four face buttons, four shoulder buttons and start/select buttons.

The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller shipps with a wireless adapter (USB 2.0 plugin), a rechargeable battery pack, the needed Alkaline AA batteries, and a 1 foot long USB charging cable. The controller lasts approximately 36 hours of play time on a single charge. The wireless adapter works with up to 4 separate universal controllers at once, as well as one Bluetooth headset (used for voice chat within the OnLive service). The wireless adapter is recommended for optimal performance, but you can sync the controller with any device over Bluetooth. Bluetooth synchronization has higher latency and doesn't perform as well as with the wireless adapter. Tablets like the Kindle Fire don't work with the Universal OnLive Wireless Controller and are only able to use touch controls with the OnLive App.

Universal OnLive Wireless Controller - Top

The gamepad integrates seamlessly into the OnLive software, letting you navigate the menus with the direction pad or analog stick just as if you were browsing Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network.

The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller Comes With:

The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller is Compatible With:

The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller has been tested with the Acer Iconia Tab A500, ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Toshiba Thrive. OnLive will update this list as the OnLive App is available and tested on additional tablets and smartphones.

Universal OnLive Wireless Controller - Front

Below the main gaming area, five playback buttons handle recording and playing back Brag Clips in the software.

Design
The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller feels extremely solid. It has the same expensive feel to it as any other first party controller, such as the Xbox 360 controller or the PS3 controller. It closely resembles the Xbox 360 controller, except for the placement of the left analog stick, which is positioned similarly to that of the PS3 controller. The gamepad is identical to the controller that comes with the OnLive MicroConsole, with a PlayStation 3-style button layout featuring two analog sticks, a direction pad, four face buttons, four shoulder buttons and start/select buttons. Both analog sticks and all of the buttons press down smoothly and steadily spring back when released. This is not a cheaply constructed controller by any means. Below the main gaming area, five playback buttons handle recording and playing back Brag Clips in the software. A microUSB port connects to the gamepad for wired game control, or for charging the included battery pack. A battery sleeve lets you use two AA batteries in place of the rechargeable battery pack.

Universal OnLive Wireless Controller - Back

microUSB port connects to the gamepad for charging the included battery pack and for playing with the gamepad wired without a battery, and a battery sleeve lets you use two AA batteries in place of the rechargeable battery pack.               

Setting up the gamepad is simple. Just plug the wireless dongle into your computer's USB port, wait for it to light up, then press the OnLive button on the gamepad. The gamepad will automatically sync with the receiver and the computer will register it as a controller. The gamepad also works as a Bluetooth device with tablets, smartphones and computers without the dongle, though the USB receiver is a better option for computers because you don't have to pair it as a Bluetooth device and it can support up to four gamepads at once with just the one port.

Universal OnLive Wireless Controller - Side

Besides OnLive games, the gamepad works like any other human interface device, so you can map the different buttons and configure other games to work with it. OnLive doesn't support the controller for non-OnLive games, though, and you can't be certain if the controller will be fully compatible with your game of choice until you try to configure it.               

The gamepad integrates seamlessly with the OnLive software, letting you navigate the menus with the direction pad or analog stick just as if you were browsing Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. Once you enter a game, the on-screen prompts correspond with the gamepad, making learning games easy. Games are available for rental or purchase, with prices ranging from a few dollars for a few days of gameplay to $50 for unlimited use of new titles. OnLive also features the PlayPack Bundle, a $9.99 monthly subscription plan that offers unlimited access to a growing list of over 140 games.

Besides OnLive games, the gamepad works like any other interface device, so you can map the various buttons and configure other games to work with it. I set up Team Fortress 2, a PC game, to use the gamepad with little effort, though I wouldn't recommend bringing a gamepad to a mouse-and-keyboard fight, like the online games of Team Fortress 2. OnLive doesn't support the controller for non-OnLive games, though, and you can't be certain if the controller will be fully compatible with your game of choice until you try to configure it.

Universal OnLive Wireless Controller - Wireless USB Adapter

Setting up the gamepad is easy. Just plug the wireless dongle into your computer's USB port, wait for it to light up, then press the OnLive button on the gamepad.

Gameplay
The OnLive software and gamepad work much better with a wired internet connection than with the Wi-Fi connections used in the tablet software, and playing on a computer monitor makes the video artifacts easier to ignore than on a large HDTV with the OnLive MicroConsole. While the picture is still not quite up to local games due to the video compression used by OnLive, games look sharper and play much more smoothly on the PC software with the gamepad than on tablets or the MicroConsole. You're not going to get close to a gaming PC running a new game locally with all the effects and resolution settings turned up to max, but you'll get a decent gaming experience.

I played Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and Assassin's Creed: Revelations on OnLive with the controller, and both games felt as responsive as if I was playing their console versions. I hit timed events like chainsword combos and hookblade maneuvers without difficulty. With a wired connection and on a PC monitor, the lower video quality can be overlooked in the face of the satisfying gameplay.

Previous OnLive products have had significant flaws because of the nature of the service. The tablet versions of the OnLive software rely on wireless connections, which can't consistently keep up with the speed requirements of the streaming system, and the MicroConsole, while more reliable with its ethernet connection, still has video issues that stand out on the HDTV you're likely to use with it. The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller brings the same console gameplay to the PC, where an ethernet connection and a smaller screen turn the imperfect OnLive service into an enjoyable, reliable way to play games without downloading or installing them. And it doubles as a wireless gaming controller with only a little effort for remapping, which adds to its value.

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