We’re pretty smitten with OnLive, the cloud-based gaming service that’s been in America for a while but only recently launched in the UK. And this Universal OnLive Wireless Controller is only going to deepen our love for the service. Visit Group test: What's the best games console?
OnLive offers a small (but pretty good) range of games that stream remotely to your Mac, PC, or Android tablet (there’s still no news on the iPad version of OnLive, which we assume Apple is mulling over approval).
The games are number-crunched remotely and the video is streamed to a light software client on the local machine. You need a Internet connection (5Mbps recommended) with a good ping rate and few dropouts, but provided that OnLive enables you to play full-quality games on everything from a MacBook Air to a Android Tablet. Performance on low-end machines is just as good as the highest-spec Mac Pro or PC gaming rig. And it enables you to play some of the latest PC games like Arkham City before they arrive on the Mac.
Added to this OnLive has a neat little TV box called the OnLive Game System that connects to a television and enables you to play games using an Xbox-style controller.
All this is great, especially because some games (such as Dirt and Driver: San Francisco) are more suited to console-style controllers than a mouse and keyboard. And some people simply prefer playing games using a controller than a keyboard. One thing that particularly impressed us about OnLive is the way you can switch between playing the same game (with the same save point) using a keyboard and mouse on your computer, and the controller on your television.
With the technology available it was only a matter of time before OnLive released a wireless controller that worked on a Mac or PC. This controller has been ‘coming soon’ for a while now, and we’re amongst the first people in the world to get one.
If you’ve used the OnLive Game System you’ll already have a good feel for the controller (which is the same but with Bluetooth functionality). It’s an Xbox 360 style affair, with two analogue sticks, d-pad, four regular buttons and four trigger buttons. Most Xbox-style controllers have a flimsy feel, but the OnLive controller is sturdy, weighty, and well built. In addition to the regular buttons it sports a series of playback buttons (eject, play, stop, and so on) on the front bevel.
You can power the controller using AA batteries or the rechargeable battery pack (supplied in the box) which uses a USB cable to charge up and a dedicated dongle to attach to your Mac or PC (you can also set it up via regular Bluetooth methods).
Connecting the wireless controller to a Mac or PC was straightforward. Simply plug in the dongle and switch on the controller. If you want to reset the sync press and hold the Power button and Eject button on the controller, and tap the button on the dongle (although we didn’t have to do this to get it working).
Where OnLive has got interesting, is the recent release of an app for the service on Android tablets and smartphones (which is now available) and for the iPad (which is, we presume, in Apple’s approval line waiting for them to work out a way to get the 30% cut from OnLive).
We found syncing with an Android tablet slightly more of a chore than with the desktop. You have to set up the Bluetooth and press both buttons on the controller, then find the right one. We tested it out on a Sony S tablet, and it worked fine. But on a Nexus S smartphone we couldn’t get it to pair. We also found it couldn’t get it to pair with more than one device at a time, which is annoying if you have both an Android smartphone and tablet. OnLive lists eight tablets that it has tested compatibility with, and it includes all the big hitters: Eee Pad Transformer, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Sony Tablet S, and so on.
All the big hitters but the biggest one of all, that is. Obviously the Apple iPad isn’t on that list and, as keen Apple fans, we can’t help feel we’re missing out. It’s not exactly OnLive’s fault, it has an Apple iPad client submitted to Apple, and is awaiting approval. It’s also been extremely quiet about the approval process, although we imagine there’s some discussion between Apple and OnLive regarding implementation of in-app purchasing and Apple getting a 30 per cent cut from games bought via the Apple App. We hope they can work it out as both OnLive and Apple are poorer for not having this service working on the iPad.
In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if keen gamers see this as a reason to opt for an Android tablet over an iPad. Or at least buy an Android tablet as a second device.
Finally, you might be interested to know that you can also set up the OnLive Wireless Controller to work with regular games on your Mac using an app called GamePad Companion. This enables you match the buttons to in-game controls, and has default settings for Steam games. We managed to get it working with Portal 2 and Bus Driver.