The simplest way to check out OnLive for many will be with a PC or Mac, as it requires no additional purchases whatsoever. You simply download a tiny program from the official website, and register for your account.
Following this, you'll be able to check out the quality of OnLive, gratis, through its 30-minute demos. These are 30-minute play sessions of the real game, not the usual sort of pre-determined demo scenarios.
Keyboards and mice can be used to control games on a computer, as well as the Universal Wireless gamepad, which is identical to the one bundled with the MicroConsole, aside from the addition of flexible Bluetooth support. Some third-party gamepads are supported too, but the list is fairly limited at present. However, it does include popular choices like the Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller for Windows, the Logitech Chillstream and the Madcatz Gamepad. Shop around and you'll find the Chillstream for around a tenner.
Investing in an official Universal Wireless controller, which sells for £40, guarantees you support across the board, though. And now this board includes support for tablets and smartphones. The iOS app is yet to be released, and may never be thanks to Apple's strict app restrictions, but we checked it out on an Asus Eee Pad Transformer.
The interface works perfectly with the touchscreen - it's just gaming that's a problem. OnLive is doing its best, though, creating touchscreen control templates for each game that requires it.
At present, only a handful of games have been given this treatment - making a great many games unplayable on the touchscreen. We tried out a few that did work, and found the results varied hugely.
Games designed for use with a mouse tend to work very well. Puzzle Quest felt natural on the touchscreen requiring no special buttons, but Dirt 3 was something of a nightmare. We rolled more than a few rally cars into ditches during our testing.
In these touchscreen-tailored games, buttons and switches are dropped onto the screen, along with indicators telling you what each does. It's a turbo-charged version of the way virtual controls are implemented in current smartphone and tablet games And we honestly don't think it'll ever work particularly well for many games. Physical controls are too far removed from touchscreen control, so if a tablet is going to be your main OnLive platform, it's worth investing in the Universal Wireless pad.
A problem that won't be solved with a gamepad is video quality. We found that video quality is worse than when using a PC or the MicroConsole, with the same connection. Reading small text becomes almost impossible, and games just don't look quite as good throughout. Without a direct comparison to consult, though, just having full console games running on your tablet is a thrill, and one that would become pretty practical once a controller is added to the equation.
Using a tablet offers the portability that the MicroConsole sorely misses, and when matched with the right game and Wi-Fi connection, it works just as well as its PC counterpart. It won't run off 3G, but does support 4G in the US. Once the UK jumps on that bandwagon properly in, say, 2018, it'll be fantastic.
OnLive doesn't yet offer the quality of experience that would get us to dump our consoles and list our graphics cards on eBay. However, it's a mostly-great and mostly-practical solution that offers access to many great games for less than the price of a World of Warcraft subscription. It's also perhaps the best way to make your gaming experience truly multi-platform. OnLive uses cloud storage of saved games, so you can take up where you left off when switching between tablets, a computer or a MicroConsole.
Until OnLive starts shifting a version of the MicroConsole that includes a Universal Wireless controller and Wi-Fi support, we'd advise sticking to the PC and tablet versions of the service if possible. But on those platforms it represents great value if you make your purchasing decisions carefully enough.
A proof of concept and a lot more besides, OnLive offers a workable and versatile remote gaming solution that lets you continue your at-home gaming adventures on-the-go, better than almost any other method. Video quality issues and a slightly limited rate of new releases stop us from choosing OnLive as our exclusive gaming partner, but it's something all fans of gaming tech should check out.