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Interview: OnLive Built Into Vizio TVs, Blu-ray Players, Mobiles

Interview: OnLive Built Into Vizio TVs, Blu-ray Players, Mobiles

January 4, 2011 | By Kris Graft

January 4, 2011 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Rapidly-growing HDTV company Vizio has made a name for itself over the past several years as a price disrupter within the TV market, selling more affordable flat-panel TVs that have driven down competitors' prices.

Now, the 300-person Irvine, CA-based operation is partnering with another hopeful market disrupter. Cloud gaming company OnLive told Gamasutra that Vizio's new line of Via internet-enabled TVs, arriving later this year, will all have OnLive directly integrated into the sets, alongside apps like Netflix and Pandora.

"It's pretty damn cool," said Steve Perlman, CEO of Palo Alto, CA's OnLive in a phone interview. The partnership puts OnLive with a company that says it shipped the most HDTVs in the U.S. for 2009, ahead of heavy-hitters like Samsung and Sony.

TV-integrated OnLive will be a new venue for consumers to play games including World of Goo, Braid, Mafia II, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Borderlands and other major releases available on the service.

OnLive's cloud-based infrastructure relies on remote servers that host games that users access through broadband connections.

These servers handle the brunt of the processing for games, and don't require a local download, installation or disc-based consoles like the Wii, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. OnLive offers various payment methods, including a full "PlayPass" and a Netflix-like subscription plan.

Perlman said because Onlive is cloud-based and dependent on constantly-upgraded remote servers instead of local hardware, the TV may age over the years, but the service will continue to improve as datacenters get more and better servers.

"That is important for televisions, because they stick around longer than something like cell phones," he said. "You may keep them around for five, six or seven years."

Sales of the recently-released MicroConsole will continue following the Vizio deal. That device, released a month ago, connects televisions to OnLive's remote servers via a broadband connection. Users can use an included gamepad to play games.

The current output for OnLive is 720p, but the MicroConsole upscales to 1080p on high-definition televisions. Later this year, OnLive will introduce 1080p output, Perlman said, as well as an update that will lessen latency.

"A larger and larger amount of internet connections can handle it," he said, even just over the last year. OnLive also has a new partnership with audio firm SRS, whose tech will be supplying bandwidth-friendly 5.1 surround sound beginning with an OnLive update early this year.

The CEO would not go on record about potential partnerships with any other TV or electronics manufacturers. OnLive is demoing HDTV integration at this month's CES in Las Vegas.

OnLive In Vizio Blu-ray Players, Mobiles

OnLive's partnership with Vizio doesn't stop at TVs. Vizio also announced that it will introduce Blu-ray players with OnLive built in, as well as tablets and smartphones based on Google's Android operating system that integrate the gaming service through its Via Plus ecosystem.

OnLive is already publicly available for Apple's iPad, but that app is exclusively for spectating other people who are playing Onlive through PCs or the MicroConsole. Perlman said Onlive is coming to Vizio's mobile devices with playable games.

Most of OnLive's game library is made up of titles that were created with a game controller or mouse and keyboard in mind. Perlman said some publishers, which he would not yet disclose, are retrofitting their existing games for more mobile-friendly touch control with OnLive in mind.

"If a game does not support touch [controls], we cannot make it support touch," he explained, "but the publishers are developing touch [and inertial] interfaces for them. So as those touch interfaces roll out, then yes, they will work on the tablets."

Perlman also said that thanks to the open nature of the Android platform, manufacturers are creating more traditional game controllers for Android tablets. Some resemble a gamepad cut in half, where one half snaps on either side of the table screen, Perlman said. Certain Android tablets will also potentially work with Onlive's official controller, if the mobile device supports the appropriate RF interface.

OnLive is working on versions of playable OnLive for Apple's mobile devices, but their release is ultimately "up to Apple."

"Snappier" Gameplay

Perlman wouldn't comment on sales of the currently-available MicroConsole, but insisted sales were "extremely good" and beyond internal projections. More games will be arriving in the first quarter, day and date alongside digital distribution releases and retail, he said.

Currently the company uses three datacenters, and he's found that's "more than enough" for now. "We have a big release [for the service] in beta now that's coming early this year [that will bring] another big drop in latency. So it'll get snappier and snappier."

"We have some guys playing first-person shooters in the beta that can't tell the difference between local [play] and remote on OnLive," Perlman said. "We actually do these blind tests where we don't tell them what connection it is. We're getting there, you know. It's still in the early days of cloud gaming."

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