OnLive: Exciting New Tech out of GDC ’09

Last week was the Game Developer’s Conference, and probably the biggest thing shown there was not a game, but a new technology — OnLive. OnLive is a “cloud” network streaming service that has been really controversial, as skeptics try to debunk the technology involved. The basic premise is that instead of a user owning a console or super high-end PC to run the latest games, they can actually instead be directly streamed to ANY computer from their service centers up to 1,000 miles away. This takes the processing load out of the user’s hands, allowing anybody to run really graphically complex games at a high framerate with little to no latency.

The method for doing this involves taking the user’s input, streaming it to the data center, using it to control the game running on their servers, and then streaming compressed video back out to the user. The company developing OnLive plans for all this to happen in a fraction of a fraction of a second, providing a seamless experience for the user. In an interview with Joystiq.com, OnLive Founder Steve Perlman talks about his plans for nationwide coverage, and says that they are already beta testing with service centers in Virginia and Santa Clara, California.

If it works, (which is what everyone seems to be saying these days,) it means a new way of thinking for streaming video and interactive content over the Internet. As an animator who works at DDA doing a lot of web-based video animation, Flash animation, online training videos, and website training tools that involve using streaming, compressed video, I can tell you that new methods of streaming technology of any sort excite me. Think of the possibilities if, in the next 10 or so years, this technology becomes mainstream. Streaming interactive content from a central server to any place in the country with little to no input lag? Imagine what that would mean for interactive medical training programs! We could run realtime 3D simulations of anatomy and complex medical situations without having to worry at all about the user’s system specs and performance. The same could be said for any corporate or industry training tool, interactive website, or entertainment experience.

I’m skeptical that we’re not there exactly yet, but the announcement of OnLive does seem a pretty good indicator that that’s where we’re headed!