Getting Your Video Game Fix Without a Console

Are we about to see the demise of the game console? It’s hard to believe the days of Sony’s ubiquitous PlayStation system, introduced in 1994 — or even those of the Xbox — may be numbered.

But with changing delivery systems, the spreading cloud, and processor advances, those PlayStations and Wiis may be going the way of the Walkman.

Side-loading Games

First, it is now possible to port plain old Android games, purchased for anywhere between free and five bucks, from your rooted phone to a Google TV box hooked up to your television through a technique called side-loading.

I wrote about this game-transferring technique in my Google TV series of articles recently concluded here.

In a nutshell, root the phone and then use a combination of the Dropbox app file upload functions and the Root Explorer app, or similar, to port the game’s apk-extension file through the cloud and over to the Google TV box. Then run it on the box, thus installing the game.

Tablet Hosting

Alternatively, run an HDMI cable from any tablet with the appropriate ports to the television and play Android games hosted on the tablet — creating big-screen video and audio results, just like a US$300 game console resplendent with a fifty dollar game.

The tablet acts as the processor and remote. The $299 Toshiba Thrive 10.1-inch tablet, complete with gyroscope and accelerometer, is notable for its full sized-HDMI port.

Free Games

Plug the tablet into any high-definition television and hey-presto: gaming console, plus portable tablet, plus improved bank balance.

I play Polarbit’s free “Raging Thunder” muscle car game, and Creative Mobile’s free “Drag Racing” game like this.

Ports and Cables

Purchase the right cable. Many tablets, and indeed some phones, have reduced-sized HDMI ports that you can use to connect to a television. There are two types: mini-HDMI and micro-HDMI.

Check the specifications of the phone or device and buy the cable at an electronics retailer. The more geek-targeted kind of store, like Fry’s, is likely to have it at reasonable prices. Look to pay under ten bucks. The cable doesn’t ship with the device, so it won’t be in the box.

On-Demand Systems

L.A. Noire

Sign up to a game-specific online cloud delivery system. We are beginning to see the emergence of top-rated — read expensive — video games being delivered on demand to TVs, PCs and tablets. These are the kinds of games that would have historically been restricted to physical media purchase and classic gaming consoles.

Titles such as Ubisoft’s “Assassins Creed Revelations” and Rockstar Games’ “L.A. Noire – The Complete Edition” are available at OnLive. Various pricing models exist, but expect to pay $49.99 for “full access” to the newest games.

Rental options are also available for less-popular games. OnLive provides a free Android app that can be used to deliver these high-end games to your TV too, in the manner described above.

OnLive’s Cloud-Based Service

Sign up for an OnLive account on a desktop computer rather than a tablet — it’s less fiddly. The Android app is configured for phones rather than tablets, and the sign-up text boxes are minuscule. Then enter a credit card in the payment area.

Download the OnLive app from the Android Market and sign in. Then choose a game from the menu. Look for touch-enabled games if you’re using an Android device. Free trials are available for most games.

I chose a three-day rental of Codemasters’ “Dirt 3,” a rally-style racer, for $5.99. The game starts immediately and replicates a similar experience that you’d get using a console remote — just using on-screen controls instead.

Pixelation will occur if your Internet bandwidth isn’t acceptable; 2Mbps is required, and 5Mbps is recommended.

There’s also an OnLive game system available for $99.99 that comes with a TV adapter and wireless controller. Or you can just get a $49.95 wireless controller that can be used to operate the games on TVs or PCs.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you’d like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that’s got you confounded?

Please use the Talkback feature below, and I’ll try to answer as many questions as possible in this column.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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