By Kenny Chee
IF EXPENSIVE gaming hardware or titles are preventing you from picking up video gaming, a new online service could offer a solution.
SingTel yesterday launched a subscription-based cloud gaming service called ESC (pronounced Escape) with London-headquartered technology partner Playcast Media.
ESC allows you to play high-end games over the Internet, also called the cloud, on low-powered desktop computers or notebooks running on at least the Pentium 4 chip.
And with SingTel's set-top box for its fibre-optic exCite TV service, you can play the games streamed to your TV set too.
In terms of broadband speeds needed to enjoy ESC, SingTel recommended 10Mbps and above, although those using a 10Mbps connection could experience issues if other users at home access heavy-duty applications online.
ESC is not limited to those with SingTel Internet connections. Customers with a StarHub or M1 line, for instance, can also subscribe.
For $1.99 a day or $9.99 a month, consumers get unlimited access to all games available on ESC. Next month, a bundle deal of ESC with a SingTel 50Mbps fibre broadband plan will be available for $66.90.
Currently, 24 games are available, including fighting game Street Fighter IV, first-person shooter Frontlines: Fuel Of War, action title Toy Story 3: The Video Game, and casual game Chameleon Gems. SingTel plans to add two to three titles each month.
The games are streamed over the Internet in standard definition, such as a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels.
There are no immediate plans to offer games in sharper, high-definition resolution, like 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, because SingTel plans to enhance other aspects of ESC first.
For instance, it will add online multiplayer capabilities for ESC next month, and it is trying to reduce any lag, or delays, that consumers might experience with ESC.
Mr Allen Lew, SingTel's chief executive for Singapore, said that the telco is moving into the video-game business because it wants to be a multimedia company. And that means more than providing just music and TV content, he said.
Another reason is that more SingTel customers are playing games at home and on the go, said Mr Lew.
With ESC, SingTel plans to capture 20 per cent of the game software market here, worth more than $50 million annually, based on the telco's research. He added that ESC's main target audience is casual gamers.
SingTel could be one of the first in Asia to launch a cloud- gaming service. Other providers of these services include OnLive and Gaikai in the United States and Japanese firm G-cluster.
Mr Gerard Tan, regional account director for IT, office and entertainment at research firm GfK Asia, said consumers here could be attracted to cloud gaming because of its low pricing. "I don't expect any huge learning curves for consumers to enter cloud gaming," he said.
Meanwhile, the Sony Ericsson PlayStation phone, dubbed the Xperia Play, will hit stores on Friday, and will be exclusive to SingTel. Depending on contract plans, the phone will be sold at no cost or at up to $348.
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