Every Steam Machine, and the latest Steam Controller
Once there was a world where PC gaming was at the desk, console gaming was in the living room and never the two shall meet. That’s all coming to a close now, as Valve prepares to bring Steam to your HDTV thanks to the Steam Box.
If you’re unfamiliar with Steam, think of it as iTunes for video games, with a buddy list and chat for joining your friend’s games. It started off on Windows PCs, but now has a healthy number of titles for Mac, too.
Valve’s Steam Machines are set to shake up tradition, bringing PC gaming to the living room TV. They won’t actually be built by Valve – third part manufacturers will be putting together their own boxes – but Valve will be injecting them with SteamOS, its currently-in-beta, Linux-based operating system.
Valve already took a big step into the living room with Steam’s Big Picture mode, but that still required putting a computer in your entertainment center, or running a really long HDMI cable, at the very least. Perhaps because of that, a lot of the phrasing in Valve’s SteamOS reveal treats Steam and the SteamOS interchangeably.
Still, Valve’s goals with Steam Machines and SteamOS are clear: give PC gaming the ease and accessibility that console jockeys already enjoy, and do so in a way that lets OEMs make the hardware and compete.
And put Steam right at the center of it, ready to vacuum up the cash like it’s the Steam summer sale all year long.
- Read more: SteamOS: what you need to know
The journey from announcement to launch has been long and a tad messy, but at GDC 2015 Valve revealed the final details of its living room plans, which included Machines, the revised controller and its Vive virtual reality headset.
Syber, one of Valve’s early Steam Machine partners (and a sub-division of CyberPowerPC), got in there early, announcing a slew of new Steam boxes that will be available later this year. That includes a number of different variants: Steam Machine-Mini, Steam Machine-Mercury and Steam Machine-Switch and Steam Machine-X. The Mini will cost you $450 (about £290, AU$575) while the high-end X comes in at $1,400 (about £910, AU$1,780).
But during a briefing with Valve we were able to see the full final lineup of Steam Machines that will be arriving in November. Zotac, Maingear, Digital Storm, Materiel.net and Scan Computers all have boxes in the roster, and you can get into more of the specifics of each here.
Meet the final Steam Controller.
A tricky part of the Steam Machines will be input, and Valve is trying to solve the problem with its own Steam Controller, which is part of the reason the Steam Machines are taking so damn long to arrive. Valve’s gamepad has undergone a number of iteration on its journey to launch, but we got to play with the final iteration of it at GDC 2015 – you can read our initial thoughts here.
Last year, Valve announced it has taken user feedback into account and decided to take the controller back to the drawing board.
"It’s generating a ton of useful feedback, and it means we’ll be able to make the Controller a lot better," Valve’s blog post read. Making sure the controller is absolutely spot-on seems to be a huge priority for Valve, and rightfully so.
Hands on with Alienware’s Steam Machine at E3
Since Lily Prasuethsut went hands on with the Alpha at E3 2014, she has seen its final user interface in screen shots. Check out here most recent impressions of the Alienware Steam Machine.
Alienware went through eight revisions over two years in collaboration with Valve before it came to its final Steam Machine. That’s how serious Alienware claims to be about Valve’s hardware initiative.
Now it seems the Steam Machine with the alien head logo could be one of the first to hit the market. Dell plans on releasing the Alienware Alpha regardless of whether the Steam Machine program goes live this year. And at E3 2014, we got some extra hands on time with the device, now known as Alpha and with finalized specs.
Hands on with Valve’s Steam Controller at GDC 2014
Valve has almost entirely transformed the face of its Steam Box controller since we last saw it at CES 2014. Now, the company is set on getting the input device to market by holiday 2014, so it can be bundled with every make and model of Steam Box, and sold separately at a "competitive" price point. That said, a few planned features have been put on the back burner, if not tossed out entirely. Regardless, it’s still a novel and functional method of control.
While it’s disappointing to see Valve ditch a unique feature like the controller’s touchscreen, the company has a history of going back to the drawing board to much success. When the controller and Steam Machines come out this holiday season, it won’t be prying the keyboard and mouse from fingers, it’ll be joining them.
We go even more in depth on the new changes to Valve’s divisive input device in text form. Read all about them in our updated hands on Steam Controller review.
The Steam Box is coming. Half-Life 3 confirmed?
Hmmm, maybe. At least that’s what Counter Strike co-creator Minh Le suggested in an interview with goRGNtv. "I think it’s kind of public knowledge, that people know that it is being worked on," Le said. "And so if I were to say that yeah, I’ve seen some images, like some concept art of it, that wouldn’t be big news to be honest."
"I guess I could say that I did see something that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe," said Le.
Will Half-Life 3 launch alongside the first wave of Steam Machines? Well it makes sense, though perhaps Portal 3 would be better suited to Valve’s virtual reality headset…
Steam Box hardware partners unveiled at CES 2014
CES 2014 wasn’t really a gaming show, but thanks to the Steam Machines, games dominated the headlines this year. Well, games and Michael Bay’s Samsung implosion.
Before introducing the world to its thirteen official hardware partners, Valve’s head honcho Gabe Newell addressed the crowd. It was an informal chat, Newell fielded questions from the crowd and teased that 3 million Xbox One sales still puts Microsoft’s console behind Steam’s install base.
Newell: Dota 2 is "bigger than Monday night football."
Then came the prototypes, from behind a literal curtain. PC building moguls such as Alienware, Origin, Maingear, Gigabyte and more were represented. See them all on display in the video below.
All the Steam Boxes from CES 2014
What Steam Machines were before and after CES
Here’s a look into the past at what Steam Machines were shaping up to be in early 2014. Enjoy the extra context of exactly how much the Steam Boxes have changed in the short time since their unveiling. Spoiler: they changed. A lot. (Especially that controller, seen below.)
Watch our hands on with Valve’s Steam Controller at CES 2014
And now that Valve’s Devdays are in full swing, pictures are coming in off Twitter of a controller with a newly redesigned layout, featuring two four-button clusters.
Steam Machines to debut at CES 2014
Or should we say Steam Boxes? Multiple manufacturers, including iBuyPower and Digital Storm, have given us glimpses of their designs, with the promise of more to come at the show in Vegas early next year.
Both manufacturers are well known in the gaming enthusiast space, and we’d be shocked if more companies that specialize in gaming didn’t reveal designs over their own. Valve’s idea behind making the SteamOS free and open source is to encourage multiple builds to let customers choose the machine that’s right for them. Expect serious competition as hardware manufacturers fight to convince the consumer where to spend their Steam Box dollar.
The original Steam Machine prototype
Valve’s Steam Box prototype
While Valve seems sets on producing the SteamOS and leaving it to third-party OEMs (original equipment manufacturer) to build the Steam Machines, that hasn’t stopped it from producing and distributing its own prototypes.
300 lucky Steam users have been selected as beta testers. They each received a nondescript wooden case housing the new gaming gear, and one of them was kind enough to produce an unboxing video that’s garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
Units are shipping with a variety of specifications, ranging from i7 to i3 builds, a variety of Nvidia Geforce graphics cards. This is inline with past comments by Valve CEO Gabe Newell, who has said Steam Machines will builds will go from "good, better, best," with some machines capable of playing games locally, while others will rely on streaming.
Steam Box prototypes shipped in 2014 to 300 lucky gamers
Valve has come out and said it. "This year we’re shipping just 300 of these boxes to Steam users, free of charge, for testing." There are instructions to opt into a beta Valve’s Steam Machine page. They’re rather simple, and seem designed to confirm that you’re active Steam user.
Valve has reiterated that while it is making these intial prototypes, multiple manufacturers will be making Steam Boxes of disparate configurations, saying that this will give users a choice, and not force them into a one size must fit all situation.
How open will this Steam Box beta be?
Very open, it would seem from the FAQ on Valve’s site. Questions like can I install another OS, post pictures of the thing online or change the hardware are all answered with a resounding yes.
It also goes on to say that users will be able to build their own Steam Boxes, and Valve will providing access to the SteamOS source code.
Wait, how will a Linux-based Steam Box play my Windows games?
Through streaming, of course! Valve released its in-home streaming service from beta and into the hands of the gamers, meaning you can go play with it right now.
The new feature lets you stream games from a Windows PC to either a Steam Machine or another Windows computer. Support for streaming from SteamOS, Linux and Max OSX is coming soon, says Valve.
The Nvidia Shield does just that, allowing you to stream a Windows game from your PC to an Android device.
Of course, having the Steam Box be dependent on the PC we assume you own is not without its faults. First off, it’s tying up that machine, so no one else can use it. Second, you’re still caught in the expensive upgrade cycle of PC gaming.
So there will be Steam Boxes, plural?
Yes. Valve’s open SteamOS will be available to whoever will have it, and they can create whatever sort of machine they like to run. At least Valve hasn’t publicized any planned restrictions.
It won’t be like the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, where you have the Sony system and the Microsoft system with their own libraries. Multiple configurations mean competition, which will hopefully drive innovation and keep things affordable.
It will also means a lot of different models all claiming to be the best Steam Box for your money, so picking one won’t be as simple as deciding if you like Uncharted better than Halo.
Hopefully you’ll check back with us for some Steam Box reviews when deciding on which model to go for. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
The first-ever Steam Controller and Valve’s vision
The Steam Box controller
Try as you might with wireless peripherals, the mouse and keyboard just aren’t suited to couch gaming. Valve has recognized this, and thus unveiled a controller for use with any and all games on Steam.
That’s right. First-person shooters, simulation games, even precise point-and-click tactical titles will be controllable with this gamepad, according to Valve. They even claim to have, "fooled those older games into thinking they’re being played with a keyboard and mouse."
Touchpads instead of thumbsticks
The general shape of the Steam controller is familiar. Based on the renders on Valve’s controller site, it looks a bit bulbous, like an Xbox 360 or (shudder) an Ouya controller.
There are some major differences though. First of all, it has dual circular touchpads rather than thumbsticks. You’ll pilot them with your thumbs and they’re even clickable, but Valve says they’re more precise than physical movable sticks.
The trackpads will also give haptic feedback. These are the touch vibrations you know from phones like the Galaxy S4. According to Valve, this isn’t just for rumble feedback, but it will actually help make controls more precise. How exactly that will work is unclear, but anyone who played StarCraft on the Nintendo 64 knows that controllers need all the help they can get with certain genres.
Dead center on the gamepad you’ll also have a touchscreen, which seems more advanced than the touchpad on the PS4 or Ouya controller. There’s a ton of potential here, giving game designers a space to place a map, inventory screen or even shifting contextual controls.
But do I have to use this thing?!
Nope, not at all. Valve’s site says that you’ll be able to use the regular old mouse and keyboard on Steam and the Steam Box, should you want to.
Of course, it conceivable that someone could make a game just for the Valve controller, but it doesn’t look like there are plans to lock out any traditional input devices.
But what will be in the(se) Steam Box(es)?
It’s hard to say. Because Valve plans to be open with the SteamOS, companies can slap together any sort of compatible configuration they like and put it to market. It will be a lot like Android, where you have devices of varying sizes, internal power and price. Some people theorize that Valve will produce a Nexus-style Steam Box of its own.
We expect to see two, maybe three types of Steam Box. First, a high-end beefy machine capable of running games locally. The second would be a less expensive configuration that relies entirely on streaming for gaming. A third would be somewhere in the middle.
Valve has confirmed that, at least for the beta, installing your own OS will be totally copacetic.
Music and movies on the Steam Box
Now, it looks like these are the sorts of features that are next on the list for the Steam app on Windows. Steam Database has caught some new updates snuck into the latest beta release for the game and software store, largely enabling a host of new application IDs, including films, TV series, videos, plugins and music.
Watching football and Netflix are a part of the console experience, and not something that Valve will be leaving out of its Steam Box. On the SteamOS site it says, "We’re working with many of the media services you know an love. Soon we will begin bringing them online, allowing you to access your favorite music and video with Steam and SteamOS."
Valve doesn’t name any names, but we expect the usual suspects to assemble. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, basically anything you can get at right now on your Xbox 360 right now is almost guaranteed. NFL Sunday Ticket and cable apps like Xfinity seem like a remote possibility, as cable companies and traditional media conglomerates tend to move slowly and cautiously. iTunes is right out, since it never shows up on a device without an Apple logo.
The Steam Box will have family sharing and account controls
Placing a machine in the living room means everyone in the house is welcome to it. This isn’t a personal device like a cell phone or even a tablet; this is something everyone can log into. Of course, the Steam Box is guaranteed to be more nuanced than grandpa’s VCR.
Valve has made that clear on its site, saying, " Soon, families will have more control over what titles get seen by whom, and more features to allow everyone in the house to get the most out of their Steam libraries."
It seems plans are in place for multiple users on a Steam Box. Whether or not those will all be linked to one Steam account is now the question that arises. Having it all on once account might be best, since that way everyone can share all the games the family has purchased, and mom and dad can keep little Johnny from playing GTA V by altering permissions, while still having it on tap for themselves.
Of course, moving games between multiple Steam accounts might not even be a big deal. Valve’s SteamOS site details plans for a family sharing plan. Valve says, "Family Sharing allows you to take turns playing one another’s games while earning your own Steam achievements and saving your individual game progress to the Steam cloud."
It’s not terribly dissimilar to what Microsoft had planned for the Xbox One. Don’t worry Xbox fans, that feature may actually make a comeback.
Article originally contributed by Alex Roth