Review: OnLive Microconsole TV Adapter

It used to take several floppy disks, a chunk of time, and a whole lot of patience to get a PC game up and running. Even as CDs and DVDs improved load times, there was still the matter of configuring a myriad of settings to ensure your game of choice would even load up correctly. I’ve been through it all, and even though a large portion of my roots lie in PC gaming, the accessibility and ease of console gaming is a huge draw for me. Now, in the age of Netflix and streaming media-on-demand, PC games can be purchased, rented, and enjoyed in a matter of moments thanks to cloud-based video game streaming service OnLive and, for those who prefer their gaming on HDTVs, the OnLive Microconsole TV Adapter.

Before we go any further, please note that this review is largely based on the Microconsole itself and not OnLive’s existing cloud-based gaming service. Because of the company’s unique subscription offerings, its easy for PC/Mac users to try the service from the comfort of their keyboards and web browsers. The appeal of the Microconsole is that it brings the service to your HDTV, complete with a real gaming controller through a competitively-priced package. For $99, you receive the small adapter, effectively the “console” itself, ethernet and HDMI cables, a sturdy controller akin to a cross between PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and a voucher for one free game. When you break it down into separate purchases, the added game is a special bonus, seeing as it’s yours to keep…for the length of the service, anyway.

And OnLive is indeed a service, albeit an ingenious one that allows PC and Mac gamers to stream and enjoy some of the most popular recent releases over a variety of different genres through the magic of cloud-computing. It’s free to create an account, and you only need to pay for the games you actually purchase. You can evaluate any game in demo form for half an hour apiece, giving you ample time to try before you buy, keeping your cash safely in that bank account should you decide to pass on a certain purchase. Similar to physical rental services like Gamefly, there’s also a monthly plan, that for $10, you can enjoy certain games as much as you want.

Conveniently, if you decide to rent, own, or indulge in the unlimited access plan, you can continue from where you left off in the demo. It’s a service built on convenience, and one that, from my experience, works quite well.

My review package didn’t include the free game voucher (boo!), so I chose to demo different titles to test out the speed and functionality of the little console that could. Setup was a snap; simply connect the included HDMI or optional component cables to your HDTV (which is required) and ethernet cable to your network, log in using an established OnLive account, choose a game, and you’re done. In fact, the process is actually simpler (and cheaper) for core gamers than any other current console, even offering a sturdy wireless controller similarly to its console brethren.

With my connection, games ran beautifully, offering crisp 720p images and few minor places where the games would hiccup, but no worse than what you might experience with latency issues via Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. According to OnLive a 3 mbps connection is required for the bare minimum of enjoyment, so experiences can and will vary based on your connection and location to each of OnLive’s growing number of servers. For this reason, it’s prudent to test-drive the service on your computer to see if it’s capable of running the games to ensure your network is really up to snuff before deciding to invest in the Microconsole.

Anyone who considers purchasing the Microconsole should bear these factors in mind, as well as the fact that every purchase you make, like with Steam, it’s truly only guaranteed as long as the service is available. This means you won’t actually ‘own’ any of the titles you choose to purchase, and the entirety of your investment takes place completely in the digital world of OnLive’s servers. For a newer company, this is a pretty large risk to take if you value retaining access to saved games or the actual titles themselves.

Aside from the ease of installation and how quick it was to get started, I also enjoyed the dedicated button for capturing in-game footage, which can be stored and shared with your friends. This was an interesting feature, especially for those eager to share some of their more prestigious moments with fellow gamers. It’s obvious the engineers behind the interface and the service itself definitely studied the competition closely,

The OnLive Microconsole TV Adapter is easy to set up, log on, and start playing high-quality games in the cloud. The packaging is sleek and svelte, just like the product itself. Including an ethernet cable, HDMI, and a game for just $99 is rather generous, and the service itself is affordable and – if your connection can handle it – dependable. The wireless controller’s analog sticks are smooth and responsive and felt great in my hands. It’s a budget-conscious way for PC gamers to experience the “console” lifestyle, as well as a growing list of games without the hassle of installations or expensive hardware. It’s an interesting step forward for the industry and (largely) works as promised, though I’m unsure I can get past the fact that my games purchased aren’t quite guaranteed – they’re all up in the cloud.

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