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Stunning OnLive app streams PC games to your Android tablet or phone

by Phil Hornshaw

It’s taking me a while to get over just how cool the very concept of OnLive’s new app really is.

OnLive is a gaming service that lets you stream PC games over the Internet. You pay a fee, either to buy a game on the service or as a monthly subscription for a big group of them, and then you can stream those games down to your computer or a dedicated set-top box on your TV. It’s a great service if you happen to want to play Windows games but own a Mac, or have an older computer that’s not as powerful as what’s needed to play some of the top-of-the-line games out there. OnLive makes it so your hardware doesn’t really matter, because your computer isn’t the one running the game.

And that’s why OnLive for Android is so cool – the app lets you stream PC games to your tablet. I can’t get over that. You’re playing a big-time video game release on an Android device, and all you need is an Internet connection.

I previewed OnLive’s app back at E3 2011, and was impressed by it there. Now that the app is finally live on the Android Market, I’ve had a chance to mess around with it quite a bit more. It’s not nearly as good as streaming your games to your computer or TV, but playing PC games on your tablet is practical if you don’t mind a bit of a drop in graphical quality.

OnLive currently features 25 games that have been optimized for tablets, giving them special touchscreen controls that give you the ability to play them without a standard controller or keyboard and mouse like you would need on the set-top box or computer. Downloading the app earns you a copy of one of those optimized games, LEGO Batman, and once you sign-in to (or sign-up for) the service, you can be into the game in mere minutes. It’s really pretty amazing how quickly and easily OnLive works on an Android tab like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which is what I tested it on. (The full list of compatible devices is available here.)

In terms of performance, OnLive ran pretty well throughout my time with it. Sometimes it looked surprisingly great; other times, the image would break up a little bit and look like a rough YouTube video. These moments didn’t last long and never rendered the game unplayable, they just made it ugly. As long as you’re playing on a decent Internet connection (I was using my home Wi-Fi, which isn’t great), the game runs well even if the picture spends a few moments looking a bit muddled.

Controlling LEGO Batman was a little rougher, though. Even with the optimized touchscreen controls, this is definitely not the way the game was meant to be played, and it took some getting used to. Playing with touchscreen controls is good in a pinch, but OnLive is currently working on a wireless gamepad controller that will work with compatible tablets that should work much better than trying to control the game on the screen. It’ll also make OnLive’s full library available to tablet players – a little over 180 games.

Still, even with some visual issues and with the controls feeling weird, OnLive is pretty amazing. The app is free, as is your membership to the service – you only pay for what you play. And we’re talking about playing full video games on a tablet here; that’s just too cool to get over. Mind you, playing OnLive games on any mobile device is not the absolute ideal way to do it, but it opens up a lot more opportunities for gamers to take their titles on the go with them, or to play while someone else is watching TV, or to use in a host of other circumstances.

If you’re already an OnLive player, there’s no reason not to grab this app. If you’re not, you might want to consider it if you’re into PC games and like the idea of taking your gaming across multiple devices.