Last month, cloud gaming company OnLive introduced, in collaboration with Linden Lab, a new service named SL Go in the form of a public beta. The launch was announced through LL’s official blog and (sadly and unsurprisingly) caused a lot of drama that had to do with certain misconceptions about its pricing that should not have been there, but I guess this sort of thing comes as “standard equipment” with a frustratingly large portion of SL’s user base.
What is SL Go?
Essentially, SL Go is a third-party viewer (TPV) running on high-end machines in the cloud, with the resulting visuals and responses streamed back to your machine, whether it is a tablet or a computer. Right now, you can only use it on the following hardware/OS combinations:
- Smartphones with Android 4.0 or newer
- Tablets with Android 3.2 or newer
- Windows PCs
I’m saying it’s a TPV, because it actually is: it involves a dedicated client that allows you to remotely access the viewer running on OnLive’s servers; this viewer may be essentially SL’s own bog-standard viewer, but there have been modifications to fit the usage model: For instance, you don’t get the “Advanced” and “Develop” menus at all and, for tablets and smartphones, you get some extra UI overlays for movement, camera controls and a few other options.
Sadly, iOS users will have to wait a bit, and I don’t know if a Linux version is in OnLive’s plans at all.
What it aims to do is to enable those who are on obsolete hardware to enjoy SL with all of its visuals, at proper speeds and everywhere. This, of course, places it in a completely different market segment from my “go to” mobile SL viewer, Alina Lyvette’s Lumiya.
Why is it different from Lumiya?
Let’s handle Lumiya first: Lumiya is strictly for Android smartphones and tablets (and can actually run even on Android 2.3) and there is no desktop (Windows, Linux or Mac) version, at least for the time being. It runs locally, i.e. relying on your smartphone’s or tablet’s processing power, with all the limitations this imposes on your SL on the go experience. Finally, its entire UI has been designed from the ground up to support a text-only mode and to make things sensible for users of mobile devices.
On the other hand, SL Go is a client that allows you to access a slightly modified version of the official, “vanilla” viewer running on a remote server and streamed back to your mobile or desktop device – it’s not a million miles away from what you’d get if you were using a remote desktop access application to run SL on a high-spec machine while you’re on a tablet or a low-spec laptop far away from home.
What’s it cost?
As announced by LL and OnLive, the pricing structure (which should address the initial criticism with which the service was met) is as follows:
Since launching the beta of SL Go about a month ago, OnLive reports they’ve seen a very positive response to the Second Life® Viewer for Android™ that allows users to access Second Life over wifi or 4G LTE on tablets and laptops.Today, OnLive has updated the SL Go beta with new pricing:
- Monthly unlimited-use subscription for $9.95 (USD) / £6.95 (GBP). No contract and no commitment
- Reduced hourly rate: $1 / £0.70 per hour.
The previously available offer of a 20-minute free trial still stands.
Is it worth it? You’ll be the judge of that. Personally, I’ve opted for the monthly subscription.
What’s it like to use?
On both a desktop machine and on tablet it’s visually stunning. You’re essentially running the official viewer with almost everything enabled and there’s margin for you to enable all bells and whistles and still get very, very good performance. But here’s where the good bits stop and the bad ones start:
- Controlling things via the mouse is not as smooth as I’d like, due to latency.
- You’re saddled with the horribly designed CHUI.
- You have no access to the “Advanced” and “Develop” menus (but I think I can understand why).
I gave SL Go a go on my Lenovo A3000 tablet, on Wi-Fi networks at home and various other venues (cafés, hotels, restaurants) and using my prepaid mobile internet card where Wi-Fi was not available. Also, I don’t have an external keyboard, so I had to rely on the on-screen virttual keyboard.
Here, you control your avatar’s movement and camera through the UI overlays seen below.
The controls take a bit of getting used to, but I don’t think they should pose too great a difficulty for most users. And, thankfully, you don’t get the mouse cursor latency you get on a desktop. There are, however, other problems with using SL Go on a mobile device:
- Using the menus can be a chore, even with pinch-zooming on them. This is an area where Lumiya trumps SL Go, because Alina had the freedom to redesign the entire UI to fit the ergonomic idiosyncracies of tablets and smartphones, and I don’t think OnLive’s developers enjoyed such liberties.
- Data usage is HIGH. With about four hours of usage on a mobile internet service over a weekend, I used 1.36GB of traffic. So, given the fact that mobile carriers don’t offer anything close to net neutrality (even if it wouldn’t really cost them anything), you’d best use it on a Wi-Fi connection.
- On a mobile connection that staggers between HSDPA and 3G (mind you, a bad 3G connection might not allow you to connect to the OnLive client at all) causes hiccups and severe artifacting, with the screen appearing as a garbled mess.
Issues common to both desktop and mobile devices:
- I was unable to attach really high-resolution snapshots to emails.
- Media autoplay – this is a serious privacy concern, as the RedZone debacle has shown in the past.
- CHUI – I loathe it; it’s counter-intuitive and a real pain to use on a normal desktop. Twice so on SL Go (desktop); thrice on SL Go (mobile).
- CAMERA SETTINGS. Seriously, they are even worse than those of the official viewer’s. Or the small screen of a tablet exacerbates the issue. Things that are behind and above (or simply behind) your avatar get in the way, obstructing your view of your avatar, and navigating a region becomes problematic. Plus, you don’t get the immersive feeling you’d like (see below).
Any ideas on how SL Go can be improved?
Actually, OnLive themselves want our opinions, and Jo Yardley has blogged about it. Although there are considerations that Trinity Dejavu raised w.r.t. code licences for TPVs’ work in that post’s discussions, I believe there is room for OnLive and the Lab to work more closely with TPVs – and I do believe TPV devs could (and should) get some recompense for their hard work. Here’s my wish list:
- Improve the camera settings. I’ve offered-up a link to my latest pertinent post, and I do believe a floater providing adjusters and “factory” and user presets would be very appreciated.
- Adopt some bits from Firestorm: the Media Filter (very important for privacy protection), the Quick Prefs floater and the Phototools floater.
- Incorporate RLV support. SL Go would be an excellent choice for enjoying in-world artistic productions like the Basilique Performing Arts Company’s Paradise Lost in Second Life and, since RLV can be used for enhancing the interactive element, I don’t see why SL Go couldn’t or shouldn’t benefit from this functionality.
So, is SL Go worth it?
In my eyes, it is. It will not replace Lumiya for me, but I do use it to great effect and it’s a great way of bringing the best visual quality that SL can offer to people whose machines are on the lower end of the market. And – for the last time: No. LL is not asking you to pay to use SL. SL Go is a product from a third party, however this third party has worked closely with the Lab to ensure its product works well. That said, whether you’ll adopt it or not is entirely up to you.
- Introducing SL Go from OnLive – Second Life Official Blogs
- Revisiting the issue of camera placement (this blog)
- SL Go: Second Life on a tablet, on the move, and more – by Inara Pey
- OnLive wants to know your opinion on SL Go – by Jo Yardley
- SL Go coverage on this blog
- SL Go coverage by Inara Pey
- Paradise Lost in Second Life coverage on this blog