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The New Way
Can you imagine playing the latest PC or console game on your television or laptop? No installation time, no downloads and no trouble running the latest high end games. Simply pick the game you want to play from a library and off you go. Sounds good doesn’t it? Well that is the future that companies like OnLive and Gaikai are claiming they can offer thanks to cloud computing.
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How Does it Work?
The basic premise is a simple one. The console or the PC which is running the game is located in a city far away, the games and hardware are kept up to date and all that you need to access them is broadband. With the bandwidth now supported by the majority of ISPs (internet service providers) you can control a game in your home which sends the input across the web to the machine and returns the game to your screen all fast enough that you can’t feel any delay, according to the technology's proponents.
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No More Hardware
Lets face it: hardware is expensive. Your laptop or your old PC can’t run the latest games and you need a console if you want to play on your television. You are outlaying hundreds and even thousands of dollars every few years simply to keep up with the development of new and more demanding games. This expense could be completely eradicated by the new service, you wouldn’t need to buy a console or a new PC and you could play whatever you wanted on your laptop.
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No Firmware Updates or Patches
The advantage extends beyond the elimination of hardware purchases. Think about the firmware updates on the PlayStation 3, how annoying is it to have to sit and wait for a download and update? Then there’s the software patches or updates applied by systems like Steam which again force you to wait before you can play your game. Titles on these new services would be kept up to date all the time, access would be instantaneous. You decide what you want to play and you play.
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No Disc or Installation
The new services would also do away with the need for physical copies of games. This is already starting to happen with the rise of online download purchases. However buying a game on Steam and waiting for it to download can be a long and boring experience. Having to go to the shops to pick up a disc and then sit through an installation also feels like a frustrating waste of time. You would no longer need to do this. The games would all be pre-installed and ready to go.
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The OnLive service was unveiled at the recent GDC conference and they are offering a micro-console: a tiny device with wireless controller support which would link up to your internet connection and allow you to play on your television. You need high speed broadband, at least 1.5 megabits per second for standard definition and 5 megabits per second for high definition. They claim that lag is not a problem and the device has a ping below 1 millisecond.
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Gaikai are offering a similar service on your PC or laptop. All you need is broadband, a web browser and Adobe Flash Player and you can play the latest games on any machine via a video stream.
Both services are due to enter Beta in the next few months. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are all interested (they have to be really don’t they?) and the big publishers will be quick to jump onboard. If it works and they can get the support they need from ISPs then these services could revolutionize gaming. Those are big ifs, and another big remaining mystery at the moment is how much they will charge.