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OnLive: Will videogames be changed forever?

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Onlive_lFirst you bought an Atari 2600, then the Nintendo NES, then the Super Nintendo, then the Sega Genesis, then the Sony PlayStation, then the Nintendo64, then the Playstation 2, then the XBox, then the XBox360, then the Nintendo Wii, then the Playstation 3. (We’ll just ignore that Sega Saturn and TurboGrafx 16 collecting dust in your crawl space.) Then you bought the OnLive system, and never had to dig into your wallet for another plastic-encased video game console again.

At least, that’s the hope of two silicon valley veterans, who announced yesterday a new video gaming system called OnLive that is trying to do for video games what iTunes has done for music and what outfits like Roku and AppleTV are trying to do for television and feature films. Here’s the gist: You download a program to your Mac or PC, hook up an OnLive “micro-console” to your TV, make sure you’re signed onto some super-fast broadband inter-tubes, and then through the magic of patented coding hoopdedoo, you can stream the game of your choice and play it in real time. When the games get more sophisticated, you don’t need to shell out for a new box — like, say, the PlayStation 4, or XBox 720; OnLive just amps up its servers instead.

The catch? Well, there’s a few. While OnLive has some pretty big gaming companies (Electronic Arts, Ubisoft) already signed on, A-list franchises like Microsoft’s Halo and Nintendo’s Mario and Zelda aren’t so much on board, for obvious reasons. The system itself, meanwhile, is only as stable as your Internet connection, and there’s no greater gaming buzzkill than have your DSL cut out right as you’re about to unleash your final blow on the bad guy. Finally, while Sony and Microsoft certainly have good reason to worry, there’s nothing that OnLive has presented thus far that looks like it’ll directly threaten Nintendo’s motion-controlled Wii or hand-held DS, both industry leaders.

What do you think, PopWatchers? While there’s been no talk of price just yet, the system will have a public beta this summer, and promises to launch for real in time for the holidays. Are you gonna be first in line? Or will they only get your XBox or PS3 controllers when they pry them out of your cold, dead, calloused hands?

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