26 September 2013

Steam Box: Valve announces it’s relaunching the PC

The announcement we’ve all been anxiously awaiting for the better part of a year — the reveal of Valve’s Steam Box — has arrived. It turns out Valve’s purportedly revolutionary games console is, it would seem, a normal PC. Are you ready for a new era of gaming?

Earlier this week, Valve announced part one of its three-part Steam Box plan, the operating system. Dubbed SteamOS, it’d be a free-to-download, free-to-license modified Linux OS. It would run Steam for Linux games — in a way likely similar to (or exactly like) Big Picture mode — and incorporate everything you know and love (or hate) about Steam. The announcement of a new operating system that appears to just be Steam without the shackles of Windows wasn’t particularly exciting, and now, Valve followed suit with an even less exciting “announcement” of the Steam Box hardware.

Dubbed Steam Machines, at this moment it appears the Steam Box is more an initiative or idea than it is a games console. Valve stated it will be releasing a prototype sometime this year. No specs revealed yet, sorry. The company also said that any manufacturer can release their own version of a Steam Box, and gamers can build their own as well. Without knowing the actual specs and physical design of the hardware, all Valve appears to be saying is it’ll be releasing a standard gaming PC with a form factor that fits in a living room entertainment unit. These are things that currently exist, and have done so for a while. You can get a gaming PC right this second that’s smaller than an Xbox One, which is an enormous games console that is supposed to fit in a home entertainment unit.

Sometime in 2014, Steam Machines from multiple manufacturers will be available for purchase. Steam will remain the same, so if you aren’t hip to the Steam Machine jive, you can simply stick with your traditional gaming PC rig and not miss a beat. Valve will allow other manufacturers to have control over their own Steam Machine, optimizing for anything they see fit, such as cost, performance, size — you name it. Valve will also allow you to do whatever you want with the Steam Machine, such as change the OS and hardware, install your own software, or even use it in hobby projects (take that, Raspberry Pi). The Steam Machine and SteamOS, Valve mentioned, will work well with gamepads, as well as a standard keyboard and mouse combo. The company that Gaben built did, however, note that more information about Steam Machine input will be released soon — perhaps this Friday when the final part of the three-part announcement is revealed.

Valve will be releasing 300 prototype units — which you can sign up for via an opt-in beta – before the end of this year.

So, in summary, we still have no idea what a Steam Box is, except now we have to start calling it a Steam Machine (a name certain industry folk are quick to point out isn’t optimal). From the “details” Valve released today, the hardware sounds very much like a regular PC, but marketed as a games console. You can turn any PC into a Steam Machine right now, just consult the above GIF.

The Steam machine is a Linux box with a modified OS, except you can install whatever OS you want (and will probably want to install Windows in order to get the majority of Steam’s library running on your machine). You can change the hardware however and whenever you want, just like the tower sitting below your desk. It can come in any configuration a manufacturer desires, like every PC you’ve ever used.

Right now, it seems like Valve is excitedly walking onto the proverbial stage and announcing the invention of the personal computer.

Now read: Valve announces SteamOS, a free Linux-based OS for your Steam Box


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