Israeli cable TV provider, Hot, has announced today a new service that will offer video games through their set-top box. As a pilot stage it will be offered to 1,000 customers only, and will be expanded to the entire customer base by early 2010. Users of the new service will be allowed to select games from the library offered by Hot, and play them withing seconds – no installation required. Subscribers will receive a USB joystick (you could actually use any USB joystick, and a wireless controller in the future).
The technology, by Israeli company PlayCast, is commercialy installed for the first time ever. The games are running on the cable company's servers and only the final image of the game is transferred to the customer's TV. This way, all the heavy lifting required for the game is done on the server, and the set-top box small processor is enough to play modern games (as opposed to the simple crap games we got until today). Hot's private cable network reaches all the way to every customer's home and promises a speedier, more reliable connection, required for smooth running of the games.
If you don't get it yet, this is nothing less than a revolution in the gaming world: customers of the service will not be required to buy advanced, expensive game consoles or upgrade their home computers, and will need to install nothing. For your subscription money you will be able to play every game in the library for as long (or for as little) as you want (To be more accurate, it looks like it's going to be mostly a monthly subscription model, but for premium games its pay-pre-view)
In the press conference today the system was demoed with, uhm, less than exciting games, but we were promised by Dr. Natan Peterfreund, Playcast's CTO, that their system is quite capable of running top name games, and the biggest limitation is actually acquiring the proper license. Playcast's technology allows them to run numerous games on the same server (In some cases more than 20 games simultaneously), and a special video compression scheme allows a fast broadcasting of the game to the player's TV. The time from hitting "Fire" until receiving a fresh image of the game is "Under a quarter of a second" (that's under 250msec to you). While this is more than enough for strategy games, it doesn't sound super-fast for a serious FPS. We assume this number will go lower as the network speed increases (currently in Israel, 10Mb is the fastest internet connection you can get, although we are not sure is this is 100% relevant to our case here)
We wrote here in the past (and quite enthusiastically) about similiar services from OnLive and OTOY, but Playcast's technology is different as we said: by relying on the cable provider's network they promise a better game experience. Also, for the first time this is a real product launch and not a private demo.
We will be reporting hands-on from the living room couch as soon as its avaiable.
This is an English translation of our original Hebrew post here