OnLive, a pioneering cloud-based gaming service available for the Mac and Windows, launched its long-anticipated standalone game system. OnLive's new MicroConsole TV Adapter and wireless controller Game System expands the OnLive brand, effectively turning any television set into an instant, on-demand gaming device. The home console market is one of the fiercest industries to break into, but OnLive's impressive price tag, $100 including a free game pass, and its strong array of titles may see it make a splash this holiday season.

For those who are unfamiliar with the OnLive name, OnLive is a cloud-based gaming service that lets you stream games to your Mac, Windows PC and thanks to the new Game System, your TV as well. But OnLive's biggest marketing problem is that the average consumer has no idea why it's cool. I know this because trying to explain why it's important to a room of technology enthusiasts will only get blank stares.

So, a history lesson. A decade ago, few gamers would have dreamed that we could play high-end, graphically intensive titles without physically buying the discs and the box first. Then came pirating, as well as Steam and other game services that effectively allowed players to never have to leave their home to enjoy games. Game discs and box art began to be phased out, being replaced by downloadable content. Earlier this year, OnLive proved that gamers don't need discs, high-end machines or even to download large game files in order to enjoy premiere titles.

In a decade, we went from gamers having to go to stores, buying a specific console or a gaming computer and then the games they wanted to play, to where OnLive takes us now: using virtually any TV, Windows or Mac computer can be used as a gaming platform. While we're not there yet, OnLive is exciting because it foretells a new future where gamers don't need to shell out thousands of dollars on high-end machines or hundreds of dollars on specific consoles. OnLive can become the Netflix of gaming and that's why it's so cool.


Since OnLive's spring release, Mac and Windows users have been able to enjoy games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Unreal Tournament and Splinter Cell without game discs or massive downloads thanks to OnLive's now free downloadable service. The Game System, available for $100, brings the service to television and places it in more direct competition with home consoles like Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii.

The home console market is infamously challenging with a very thin margin for error. A bungled console launch has doomed several great gaming developers but the larger and often more buy-happy console gaming market is extremely lucrative if you can make a name for yourself.

OnLive clearly understands the challenge and has done some very smart things. For the Game System launch, OnLive already has a following established through the Windows and Mac community that has been enjoying the service for months who can speak to the OnLive service actually working. OnLive has an impressive list of 35 titles and a list of "upcoming" titles that will hopefully launch simultaneously on the platform. Gamers can make informed decisions about what consoles to buy based on what games are going to be available, OnLive basically says right up front that it's going to have the titles you want, including Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Homefront.

OnLive's engineers have clearly spent a lot of time developing its home console. The Game System is essentially two pieces with the first being a small black box about the size of a portable hard drive. Setting up this MicroConsole TV adapter requires only plugging in an ethernet cable from your router, an HDMI cable to your TV and the power supply. Not only is it easy to set up, it's plenty portable.

The other part of the game system is the Wireless Controller, its something OnLive got very, very right. It looks and plays like the offspring of a TV remote, the PS3 controller and the Xbox 360 controller. The controller features two joysticks, four buttons (X, A, Y, B) in the right corner, a specialised D-pad in the left corner, two triggers and your standard R1 and L1 buttons. It feels a bit heavier than the Xbox 360 controller, which I personally feel is more ergonomically comfortable than the PS3 controller, but I prefer the PS3 and OnLive controller's dual stick design.

Bottom line: the controller is familiar enough to gamers to be easy to pick up and play and still serves OnLive's purposes. At the bottom of the controller is a thin line of five buttons like you'd see on a VCR or DVD player. These effectively allow you to record and play back your brag clips, it's a clever, subtle and useful design quirk that doesn't distract from gameplay.