As a $99 set-top box, OnLive's MicroConsole offers an intriguing low-cost alternative to traditional living room game consoles, which can cost two to three times as much. We've just gotten our hands on a final hardware unit and tested it with a variety of games and controllers.
If you're not familiar with the OnLive streaming game service, it's essentially cloud-based PC gaming. The original PC client allows nearly any laptop or desktop to play high-end PC games by offloading the CPU- and GPU-intensive tasks of actually running the game software to a remote render farm, then beaming the gameplay back to you as a streaming video.
The PC-based version worked surprisingly well, so expectations are high for this standalone TV-friendly box. Ditching the computer altogether, the MicroConsole acts as a dongle and media streamer, connecting to your TV via HDMI (or component video) and to the Internet via an Ethernet cable (Wi-Fi is still wonky on the PC client, so we don't expect to see it on the MicroConsole anytime soon).
The setup is simple enough: if you have an existing account you can log directly into it, and one of the nice unintended consequences of cloud-based gaming is that your saved games and library travel with you wherever you log in. The interface is identical to the PC client, and includes a marketplace for buying games (you're actually buying a license to play the game on OnLive's servers), a list of your purchased games, and an arena view, which lets you drop in and watch other players' live game streams (this can be turned off in the privacy settings). … Read more