The publication of pictures of the upcoming OnLive MicroConsole, first announced in March 2009, has renewed curiosity in the potentially revolutionary gaming device. Unlike current consoles, OnLive is purportedly capable of streaming any kind of PC or console game via the internet to its users and, according to the images, the console itself appears to be just 18 cm in length.

Current multiplayer games on consoles such as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii, use internet servers to co-ordinate the flow of data between people playing the same game, but most of the processing is done by each user's individual machine.

The conceptual difference between that and OnLive is that all the heavy computing is to be done at OnLive's data centers and then, using broadband technology, sent back to the players almost instantly.

If the technology can keep up with the marketing, all users have to do is connect the OnLive MicroConsole to their TVs and internet connections. Access to supported games would be bought from OnLive and added to a user's account profile on the company's servers, and nothing other than the MicroConsole and controllers would need to be stored in the home.

OnLive was announced at the Game Developers Conference in San Diego, March 2009. The company plan to roll out the service in the USA during 2010 and then bring it to Europe.

The main sticking point for critics has been the seemingly unavoidable lag between pressing a button at home, waiting for data to come back from the OnLive service, and seeing a result on screen. Even delays of a few tenths of a microsecond can have a noticably disruptive effect on gameplay.

There are similar services planned by other companies: Gaikai, planned for an early 2010 launch, is a website that will be able to stream PC and console games from its offices to PC users, and as such can harness the user's computing power in tandem with its own servers if need be. As well as games, otherwise expensive office applications such as Adobe Photoshop are being trialled.

Microsoft also recently announced its support for distributed or cloud computing using Xbox 360 consoles and Sony, already having Stanford University's protein-folding simulation built into the PlayStation 3's Life With Playstation feature, trademarked "PS Cloud" the day after OnLive's March 2009 announcement.