Valve Hardware Pt. 1: SteamOS Announced

Subject: General Tech, Systems | September 23, 2013 - 11:20 AM |
Tagged: valve, SteamOS, Steam Box, big picture mode

SteamOS is the first announcement, of three, in Valve's attempt to install a PC into your living room. The operating system is unsurprisingly built from Linux and optimized for the living room. Still no announcement of hardware although the second part is less than 48 hours away. The key features of SteamOS will also be ported to the Steam client on Windows, OSX, and Linux. Are you seeing... the big picture?

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The four main features are: in-home streaming, media services, family sharing, and family options.

In-home streaming allows users to, by leaving their Steam client running on their PC or Mac, use their network to transmit video and controller input to SteamOS. The concept is very similar to OnLive and Gaikai. Latency is barely an issue, however, as the server is located on your local network. As the user owns the server, also known as their home computer, there is less concern of the service removing the title from their library. Graphics performance would be dictated by that high-end PC, and not the gaming consoles.

As a side note: Gabe Newell, last year at CES, mentioned plans by NVIDIA to allow virtualized GPUs with Maxwell (AMD is probably working on a similar feature, too). Combined with in-home streaming, this means that two or more Steam boxes could play games from the same desktop even while someone else uses it.

SteamOS will have music, movie, and TV functionality. Very little details on this one but I would assume Netflix is a possibility. The Steam distribution platform can physically handle video and audio streaming, especially with their updates a couple of years ago, but their silence about content deals leads me to assume they are talking about third-party services... for now, at least. We do know, from LinuxCon, that Gabe Newell is a firm believer in one library of content regardless of device.

We have already discussed Steam Family Sharing, but this is obviously aimed at Steam Box. One library for all content includes games.

Lastly, Steam will be updated for family control options. Individual users can be restricted or hidden from certain titles in other users' libraries. This helps keep them at-or-above parity with the gaming consoles for concerned parents.

Valve also believes in user control.

Steam is not a one-way content broadcast channel, it’s a collaborative many-to-many entertainment platform, in which each participant is a multiplier of the experience for everyone else. With SteamOS, “openness” means that the hardware industry can iterate in the living room at a much faster pace than they’ve been able to. Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want. Gamers are empowered to join in the creation of the games they love. SteamOS will continue to evolve, but will remain an environment designed to foster these kinds of innovation.

SteamOS will be free, forever, to everyone. Both users and system builders (including OEMs) can download the operating system and install it on their machines. No release date, yet, but it will be available soon... Valve Time?

The second announcement will occur at 1PM EDT this Wednesday, September 25, 2013. According to their iconography, we can now assume SteamOS will be the circle. The next announcement is circle in square brackets: SteamOS in a box? If you come on over to find out (please do! : D), stick around an extra couple of hours (minus the time it takes to write the article) for our AMD Hawaii Live Stream at 3PM EDT also on September 25th.

Source: Steam

Steam Box Prototypes Will Reach Developers Within The Next Four Months

Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2013 - 02:26 AM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Box, steam, pc gaming, gaming, console, big picture mode

In talking with the BBC, Valve CEO Gabe Newell revealed several details regarding the company’s upcoming Steam Box gaming PC. The console competitor will go up against Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 successor. So far we know that the Steam Box will utilize Valve’s Steam distribution service and its Big Picture Mode user interface. Valve will be manufacturing its own reference design, but third parties will also be allowed to construct Steam Boxes that will tap into Valve’s gaming library. Xi3 in particular looks to be at least one of the likely Steam Box partners to produce hardware.

Newell indicated that Valve would be sending prototype devices to customers within “the next three to four months.” The designs are not yet finalized, however, as evidenced by Newell’s statement that the prototypes would be used to gather feedback, and Valve is still working on balancing heat, noise, and performance.

“We're working with partners trying to nail down how fast we can make it.” - Gabe Newell in an interview with BBC before receiving an award for Portal 2.

Further, Valve has not yet determined exactly what it wants the controller to be. It will reportedly be shipping several different prototype controllers along with the Steam Box PCs. One area that Newell is particularly interesting in is in gathering bio-metric data -- such as heart rate -- and using that data to change the game experience for the gamer. This would be one area that Valve could focus on and have an advantage over other consoles. As a fully-fledged PC, the Steam Box could tap into existing bio-metrics technology and easily have the horsepower to effectively parse the bio-feedback. I can only think of a few situations in which such data would be useful (horror games, party/dancing/exercise games), but I do see it as being at least as beneficial as the Kinect was/is to the Xbox.

With that said, we still do not know much about the Steam Box. Much like the PS4, we still do not know what the actual hardware will look like (though we have at least been shown the PS4 controller). Pricing is also one of the major unknowns, and BBC reporter Leo Kelion quoted an industry analyst Lewis Ward (IDC) as noting that Valve will likely not be able to subsidize the hardware nearly as much as the other major console players (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) are able to. The Steam Box is inevitably going to be priced more in like with PCs than with consoles, as a result. On the other hand, gamers that buy a Steam Box can look forward to getting games that are much cheaper than the console equivalents. Give Steam Box gamers a couple of Steam holiday sales and they will easily make up the price difference!

What do you expect the Steam Box to be, and will it finally take PC gaming to the masses?

Source: BBC

Valve and Gabe Newell Confirm Steam Box for Living Room PC Gaming

Subject: General Tech | December 11, 2012 - 10:47 AM |
Tagged: valve, steambox, Steam Box, steam, htpc, gaben, Gabe Newell, big picture mode

Well it finally happened this week - Gabe Newell confirmed what we all assumed was going to happen - a Valve software branded and controlled PC for gaming and computing in the living room.  We first started grumbling about the "Steam Box" back in March at GDC when Valve announced the Big Picture Mode for Steam and rumors of the hardware platform first began.   The next moth, Valve's Doug Lombardi denied the rumors but fell short of saying it wouldn't happen in the future.  In September the Big Picture Mode for Steam went into beta bringing the Steam interface into the world of TVs and 10-ft design, followed this year with the full release. 

And let's not forget the Linux client beta currently on-going as well as the capability to buy non-gaming software on Steam.  Valve has been a busy PC company.

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Big Picture Mode was the first necessary step

Based on an interview with Gabe at Kotaku, there are a surprising amount of details about the hardware goals that Valve will set for the "Steam Box" in addition to the simple confirmation that it is a currently running project. 

He also expects companies to start selling PC packages for living rooms next year—setups that could consist of computers designed to be hooked up to your TV and run Steam right out of the gate.

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HTPC builders have been making "Steam Box" computers for some time...

Interestingly, Valve is saying its contribution will be more tightly controlled than we might have thought:

"Well certainly our hardware will be a very controlled environment," he said. "If you want more flexibility, you can always buy a more general purpose PC. For people who want a more turnkey solution, that's what some people are really gonna want for their living room.

No time tables were discussed and we are left once again with just a hint of what is to come.  I think its pretty obvious based on the direction Valve is going that we are going to see a Linux-based small form factor PC with Steam pre-installed available for consumers in 2013.  If Valve starts pushing Linux support as hard as we expect it could mean quite a bit of trauma is ahead for Microsoft in the enthusiast community, one that is already reeling from the problems with Windows 8.

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If you were to potentially add to the "Steam Box" a pre-configuration tool like NVIDIA's GeForce Experience that sets game options based on your hardware for you, the PC could easily turn into a solution that is nearly as simple as the console for gamers.  And because Steam is already accepting non-games, it won't take much for there to be Netflix and Amazon apps in addition to anything else you currently have running on HTPCs or tablets. 

Source: Kotaku

Steam Officially Releases Big Picture Mode

Subject: General Tech | December 4, 2012 - 12:29 PM |
Tagged: valve, steam, living room gaming, controller support, big picture mode

Valve took the beta wraps off of Steam’s Big Picture Mode yesterday, ushering in a new 10-foot interface for PC gamers wanting to game on the TV from the couch.

While the feature was still in beta, I tried it out with both a mouse and keyboard and an Xbox 360 controller. You can find the full article along with screenshots of the various interface features on PC Perspective. Now that Big Picture Mode is officially out of beta, I took a look at it again. In general, it seems like Valve has mostly made under the hood performance and stability tweaks rather than UI changes in the interim. On the plus side, Big Picture Mode no longer crashes on me and you can purchase games from within the overlay rather than needing to drop out to the traditional steam interface to complete transactions. With that said, there are some odd delays on certain interface buttons that were not present in the beta (and that will hopefully be fixed soon).

Steam Big Picture Mode_All Games.jpg

All in all though, I do think that it is a neat interface for couch gaming or just relaxing at your desk with a controller and Dirt 3.

Big Picture Mode Celebration Sale.jpg

Interestingly, along with Big Picture Mode, Valve is running a new wave of sales on games that include controller support. If you missed some titles over the previous holiday sales, now is a good time to pick them up. L4D2 is $4.99 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive is only $7.49, for example. The full list of games is available in the Big Picture Mode store or on the steampowered website.

Have you tried Big Picture Mode yet?

Source: Steam

Valve Releases Big Picture Mode Beta for Steam

Subject: General Tech | September 11, 2012 - 06:48 AM |
Tagged: valve, steambox, steam, big picture mode

Valve's popular Steam client has been a PC platform since its inception, but the company is slowing moving to the living room. The first step in that transition is a living room TV-friendly user interface because, as Ryan noted in a recent editorial, the traditional Steam client (especially the text) is not optimized for viewing from far away or on high resolution displays.

Enter the long-rumored and awaited Big Picture Mode. The new user interface is designed to be comfortably used from the couch in the living room, and controllable by keyboard/mouse or a game controller. It has been a long time coming, but is finally official, and available to the public as part of a beta Steam update.

Steam Big Picture Mode_Main Screen.jpg

Still very much a beta product, the Big Picture Mode allows you to do just about everything you can with the "normal" Steam client from your couch (or PC even, if you are into full screen apps). You have access to the Store, your games Library, friends list, downloads, settings, and the Steam browser among other features.

The Store is just what you would expect, a way for you to browse and purchase new games. The interface is sort-of like the Xbox UI in that you scroll through items horizontally rather than vertically like the PS3's cross media bar. The same games that are featured in the slider on the main page are displayed by default on the main Big Picture Mode's Store page.

Steam Big Picture Mode_Store Page.jpg

From there you can also access the New Releases, Special Offers, Genres, and other categories to drill down to the games you want. As an example, if you move down from the featured games and select Genres you get the following screen that allows you see all the games in a specific genre.

Steam Big Picture Mode_Genres.jpg

Once you drill down to an individual game, you are presented with the details page that takes some of the elements from the traditional client and makes them easier to read from further away.

Steam Big Picture Mode_Game Details.jpg

There does not appear to be an option to purchase titles from within Big Picture Mode yet, but I would not be surprised to see it by the time the feature comes out of beta status.

Beyond the store, you can access your own game library, including a list of recently played games and your entire library on a separate page.

Steam Big Picture Mode_recently played games.jpg

Recently played Steam games. Saints Row: The Third is always fun.

Steam Big Picture Mode_All Games.jpg

Your entire games library, most of which I have yet to play...

From there, you can start up your games and get to playing! Alternatively, you can monitor downloads, access your friends list, and browse the web. The friends list shows images of your friends with text underneath with their Steam usernames. You scroll left to right to highlight them, and can interact just as you normally would.

Steam Big Picture Mode_Friends List.jpg

Speaking of friends lists, be sure to join our PC Perspective Steam Group!

The downloads section can be accessed by navigating to the top left corner and selecting the icon to the right of your name. In the downloads screen, you can resume and pause ongoing downloads just like the normal steam client. For some reason, Witcher is stuck in a ever-paused update no matter how many times I hit resume (in the normal client). And Big Picture Mode seems to suffer from the same issue...

Steam Big Picture Mode_Downloads.jpg

The web browser is an improvement over the one in the normal Steam client's overlay in speed and the large mouse cursor should help you navigate around with a controller as easily as possible. I don't foresee web browsing being painless as most sites simply are not designed to work from far away and with controller input, but it seems serviceable for the few times you would need to check something on the web without leaving the Steam client on your living room PC.

Steam Big Picture Mode_Browser.jpg

Continue reading to see more Big Picture Mode screenshots!

Source: Valve