Summary:

Nintendo is making a home console that incorporates a tablet, and the Sony PlayStation Vita borrows liberally from this generation of smartphones. But thanks to OnLive, gamers may not have to go looking for devices similar to their iPads and iPhone for a top-tier gaming experience.

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If you want to see the future of gaming, you might consider looking at Nintendo’s newly announced Wii U console, which features a controller with a built-in 6.2-inch touchscreen. But Nintendo is essentially selling a tablet/content transmitter combo, since you can’t buy the controller separate from the Wii U itself. The new OnLive Player unveiled at E3, on the other hand, starts with the tablet players already have, and goes from there.

The OnLive Player app can be used with OnLive’s streaming gaming service, which handles all the heavy lifting for graphics-intensive games on remote servers, and beams the action over an active broadband connection to your device. OnLive has already released a Viewer app to preview its iPad service, but the fully interactive playable version arrives this fall, the company announced at E3.

The key to the OnLive Player app’s appeal lies in its versatility. It allows you to use the tablet as both screen and touch / motion controller, just like you do for most native iPad games, or as a standalone controller for games displayed on an external source, or as a screen for use with a new wireless universal gamepad.

Thanks to the iPad 2’s ability to output its display via the Apple Digital AV Adapter, and even over AirPlay when iOS 5 arrives this fall, it could act as both portable and home gaming console all in one convenient device with the Player app arrives. Not to mention the app will be available for the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as Android handsets and tablets, too. If OnLive or another partner built a case/controller combo for those device and targeted top-tier mobile games developers, an iPhone running OnLive could compete with the likes of Sony’s new PlayStation Vita  (formerly known as the NGP), especially if we get updated hardware in the fall.

Nintendo and Sony are both addressing the threat posed by versatile tablet and smartphone devices by integrating hallmarks of that hardware into its next-gen devices: touchscreens, cellular data connections and two-screen media viewing are all on the docket. But unlike traditional gaming companies, OnLive is free to make use of the tech consumers are already using, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and sell them a brand new device that looks and feels a lot like the ones they already have. Of course, OnLive has to deal with the rising costs of bandwidth, so we’ll have to see how that drama continues to play out before declaring it a winner.

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