The Xbox 360 and PS3 may face cable boxes edging in on their gaming turf if AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner and others have their way, with the promise of cloud gaming delivered direct to TVs bypassing traditional consoles. Trials are set to begin later in 2012, insiders tell Bloomberg, with broad commercial launches in 2013 at the earliest; games would be more advanced than the simple casual titles currently offered by some smart TV platforms.
That would rely on the sort of cloud gaming technology already seen from startups like OnLive and Gaikai, where remote servers do the heavy lifting in terms of graphics crunching and powering environment-rich gameplay, and freeing up local devices to merely display the results of that processing. Rather than demanding that each subscriber have a $200-300 console, cable services could use internet-connected set-top boxes to display the streamed gameplay with minimal latency, navigated via simple controllers.
Unsurprisingly, none of the cable companies have been willing to admit they're building up to an actual launch, though they're making the right noises. AT&T says it is "exploring unique ways to offer cloud gaming services to our TV and broadband customers," while Cox echoes that sentiment and claims it too is "exploring" cloud possibilities.
Although all are used to on-demand content delivery, they're taking no chances getting cloud gaming right. Experts Playcast Media Systems, CiiNOW, and Agawi have all confirmed that they are in talks with US cable companies, though refuse to say which. Some of the cable firms are exploring using smartphones as controllers, further reducing the potential cost of entry to subscribers.
Meanwhile, console manufacturers aren't standing still as smart TV solutions challenge their home turf. Microsoft already offers video content with Xbox LIVE, and will add SmartGlass to spread multimedia across multiple screens. More recently, Nintendo revealed Nintendo TVii, its new on-demand and TiVo-integrating home entertainment system based on the upcoming Wii U console, which will turn the GamePad tablet-styled controller into an advanced remote.