OnLive brings PC gaming to the iPad

How does PC gaming on an iPad sound? What about if the games streamed online with no local storage? We try OnLive's iPad gaming service hands-on.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read
First Look
Watch this: OnLive iPad beta

The iPad doesn't need any gaming help, in one sense: iOS games are thousandfold and selling like hotcakes, making Apple's tablet an already-rich platform for games of all sorts. Still, I (and many others) have had a dream: what if you could add a Bluetooth controller and play real, PC/console-quality games on the iPad? Would that be a game-changer?

Check out the above video and the hands-on gallery below, and decide for yourself.

OnLive on the iPad: PC gaming to go (hands-on)

See all photos

Short answer: Yes, it could be, especially if those said games weren't even stored on the device itself. OnLive, which we've written about many times, is a cloud-based gaming service that streams remotely stored PC games, while the local user controls the game via keyboard or controller. It sounds like magic, but OnLive actually works, creating a valid option for laptop owners who have underpowered Netbooks, or via last year's TV-connected MicroConsole, a console alternative. Games are saved in the cloud, and titles can be played via subscription or individual purchase license.

Now, here's the long answer.

OnLive released an iPad app last year that allowed viewing of OnLive games being played, but couldn't enable gameplay. OnLive's support for iPads and Android tablets was announced at E3, but I finally got a chance to play with the service at the CEA Line Show in New York. And, via our brief encounter, you can definitely color us impressed.

Related links
E3: OnLive comes to Facebook, tablets
Hands-on with OnLive: The future of PC gaming?
OnLive MicroConsole review

The beta demo didn't have physical controller support, but when OnLive's tablet service goes live in the fall, a Bluetooth controller will be available for both iPad and some Android tablets (the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was OnLive's onsite tablet of choice, but the device's charger was unfortunately misplaced). I had to use the onscreen virtual control pad, which provided a pretty acceptable alternative in one game I played, Virtua Tennis.

OnLive games can be browsed via a store portal or one's own game library (if you're curious which games are available on OnLive, check here). The game started and loaded just like a PC title, complete with launch animations and start screen. I virtual D-padded our way to the one-player game and started a match. Streaming onto the iPad, the game resolution was definitely lower than a locally stored-and-played game, but the stream stayed continuous and didn't break up. More importantly, I could read screen text and identify player details and ball icons.

After the first serve, control had a slight lag but be completely playable. I won my first point after a heated volley back-and-forth. I could chase the ball and lob or slam my shot. After a while, I forgot the game was streaming remotely. I also saw Red Faction: Guerrilla playing, and I could control the character and move around, with some difficulty using the virtual pad. Still, the game was definitely running on the iPad.

One concern I've had has been the bandwidth necessary to play OnLive successfully. OnLive claims you'll need a minimum 3MBps downstream; the demo was played on a 5MBps wireless connection with two other computers connected, according to the person I was speaking with. Still, gaming could get dicey during "crunch" hours. If your Netflix slows to a crawl at night, your Internet certainly won't like OnLive.

We have tons more questions, including the price for the standalone controller, how many controllers an iPad/Android tablet setup will support, and whether OnLive will support HDMI or AirPlay mirroring for gaming on a big-screen TV. If it does, and you can use a controller, too, could OnLive + iPad equal a PC/console killer? Let us know what you think, but from what I've seen, it's definitely something to be reckoned with.