THE LAUNCH of a new online games service could spell the end for expensive games consoles and hit sales of high-end consumer PCs, if it succeeds.
Onlive, currently on beta test in the US, allows users to play even the most demanding games on low-spec PCs or netbooks, which act simply as front-ends for code running on specially optimised remote servers.
Transmission delays are negligible provided the server is not more than a thousand miles from the user, Onlive founder Steve Perlman claimed at the Emerging Technology conference in Boston.
There have long been predictions that gaming will move online to take advantage of the almost limitless computing power of cloud servers offering processing as a service. This would affect the hardware industry because games have been a major driver in pushing up the power of consumer PCs.
A move online could also encourage users to make more use of the cloud for other purposes such as workaday office tasks. However, Onlive is not a typical cloud application because it uses specialised servers, packing a board that compresses the video data and fools games into behaving as if they are running on a normal PC.
Perlman reckons he can run a standard definition game on a 1.5Mbps link and high-definition on a 5Mbps connection, speeds which are now commonly available to broadband subscribers on the web. He claims to have the backing of leading games developers and says the system has advantages for both developers and end users.
"It cuts out piracy and the selling-on of [secondhand] games and it means users do not need a high-spec PC. They also don't have to bother about upgrading their hardware."
Perlman plans to take Onlive to Britain and the rest of Europe after getting it established in the US over the coming year. µ