Subject: General Tech, Displays | March 28, 2014 - 04:21 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: VR, valve, Oculus, facebook
Today, Oculus VR issued a statement which claims that Michael Abrash has joined their ranks as Chief Scientist. Abrash was hired by Valve in 2011 where he led, and apparently came up with the idea for, their wearable computing initiatives. For a time, he and Jeri Ellsworth were conducting similar projects until she, and many others, were forced out of the company for undisclosed reasons (she was allowed to take her project with her which ultimately became CastAR). While I have yet to see an official announcement claim that Abrash has left Valve, I have serious doubts that he would be employed in both places for any reasonable period of time. With both gone, I wonder about Valve's wearable initaitive going forward.
Abrash at Steam Dev Days
This press statement comes just three days after Facebook announced "definitive" plans to acquire Oculus VR for an equivalent of $2 billion USD (it is twice the company Instragram was). Apparently, the financial stability of Facebook (... deep breath before continuing...) was the catalyst for this decision. VR research is expensive. Abrash is now comfortable working with them, gleefully expending R&D funds, advancing the project without sinking the ship.
And then there's Valve.
On last night's This Week in Computer Hardware (#260), Patrick Norton and I were discussing the Oculus VR acquisition. He claimed that he had serious doubts about whether Valve ever intended to ship a product. So far, the only product available that uses Valve's research is the Oculus Rift DK2. Honestly, while I have not really thought about it until now, it would not be surprising for Valve to contribute to the PC platform itself.
And, hey, at least someone is not afraid of Facebook's ownership.
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Shows and Expos | March 15, 2014 - 01:44 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: GDC, gdc 14, valve, Steam Controller
Two months ago, Valve presented a new prototype of their Steam Controller with a significantly changed button layout. While the overall shape and two thumbpads remained constant, the touchscreen disappeared and the face buttons more closely resembled something from an Xbox or PlayStation. Another prototype image has been released, ahead of GDC, without many changes.
Valve is still in the iteration process for its controller, however. Ten controllers will be available at GDC, each handmade. This version has been tested internally for some undisclosed amount of time, but this will be the first time that others will give their feedback since the design that was shown at CES. The big unknown is: to what level are they going to respond to feedback? Are we at the stage where it is about button sizing? Or, will it change radically - like to a two-slice toaster case with buttons inside the slots.
GDC is taking place March 17th through the 21st. The expo floor opens on the 19th.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | March 11, 2014 - 10:15 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, opengl, DirectX
Late yesterday night, Valve released source code from their "ToGL" transition layer. This bundle of code sits between "[a] limited subset of Direct3D 9.0c" and OpenGL to translate engines which are designed in the former, into the latter. It was pulled out of the DOTA 2 source tree and published standalone... mostly. Basically, it is completely unsupported and probably will not even build without some other chunks of the Source engine.
Still, Valve did not need to release this code, but they did. How a lot of open-source projects work is that someone dumps a starting blob, and if sufficient, the community pokes and prods it to mold it into a self-sustaining entity. The real question is whether the code that Valve provided is sufficient. As often is the case, time will tell. Either way, this is a good thing that other companies really should embrace: giving out your old code to further the collective. We are just not sure how good.
ToGL is available now at Valve's GitHub page under the permissive, non-copyleft MIT license.
Subject: General Tech | February 28, 2014 - 06:36 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: steam, valve
Today, Valve announced that its Steam Family Sharing program is available for all users. This initiative allows Steam accounts to authorize devices to access their library on other accounts. The intention is for each family member to have their own account while being able to borrow games from one another. This can also extend to "their guests". It does not include titles which use third-party DRM, accounts, or subscriptions - Valve obviously does not have direct control over them.
There are other rules and restrictions, of course, but the account and device limits are quite high: 5 accounts across 10 devices. This does not get around region locks and a game which is VAC-banned cannot be shared. Ultimately, be careful sharing your games with your kids if they are jerks.
To setup Family Library Sharing in the Steam Client, go to View > Settings > Family and start to authorize and manage other computers. Just do not allow Cheating Charlie. For more information, check out Valve's promotional site and FAQ.
Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2014 - 02:01 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: linux, debian, valve, free
Valve has an obvious favourite flavour of Linux as revealed by the free games they will be showering Debian developers with. Any and all Valve published games, past or future, will be made available to developers for free. This makes sense as SteamOS is branched from Debian 7.1 "Wheezy", making it very worth Valve's time and money to make friends with developers for Debian. Maybe it is time to update your coding skills and become a developer; The Register didn't specify that Half Life 3 will be out first on Linux but do you really want to run that risk?
"Games vendor Valve has offered a surprise present to the Debian Linux community, in the form of subscriptions that give Debian project members free, unlimited access to all Valve game titles – past, present, and future – forever."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- The TR Podcast 149: Kaveri ain't just a river in India
- Microsoft slices Azure prices just days after Amazon's cloud shave @ The Register
- Samsung firmware update borks third-party accessories @ The Inquirer
- A look at the Raspberry Pi @ Kitguru
- Open-Source NVIDIA Driver Is Still Sour For Some GPUs @ Phoronix
- Cisco quietly slips out new all-flash arrays – perhaps it doesn't want EMC, NetApp to notice @ The Register
- A Collection of Secret Linux Humor @ Linux.com
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 22, 2014 - 01:27 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, SteamOS
When Valve launched SteamOS, it was definitely a beta product. Its installer prompted Ryan to make a troubleshooting video on our Youtube channel. It also apparently required a computer equipped with a UEFI which only became common about two or three years ago. It is also very difficult to install as a dual-boot configuration which complicates its coexistence with Windows (because Microsoft will certainly not support it from their end).
Thankfully, most or all of these issues are being addressed in the latest beta SteamOS ISO... at your own risk. They are very careful to highlight that this beta has not been properly tested. Given that their initial release could nuke a random hard drive full of data, I would take that warning seriously.
These changes come from the project, "Ye Old SteamOSe". I am not sure that it solves the USB overwrite issue that we experienced (unless it was already fixed at some point) but I would expect that custom partitions and dual-boot would be impossible if that bug still existed. The highlighted features, according to the announcement's comments, are:
- Non-EFI support
- DVD install support
- Custom partitions in Expert mode (cannot resize NTFS partitions).
- Dual-boot in Expert mode.
If you would like to give SteamOS installation another shot, on a machine that you feel comfortable testing software with, then check out the Steam Universe thread.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | January 20, 2014 - 11:35 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, virtual reality
Steam Dev Days was last week. At it, Valve announced a redesign of their Steam Controller and the removal of Steam Greenlight, among other notables. This was a press-free event, officially. Of course, due to Twitter and other social media platforms, everyone can decide to be a journalist on a whim. Things are going to leak out.
Other things are going to be officially released, too.
Michael Abrash held a speech at the event discussing his virtual reality initiative within Valve. Both it and the Steam Machine project was in question when the company released Jeri Ellsworth and several other employees. After SteamOS was announced and castAR, Jeri's project at Valve, had its Kickstarter, it was assumed that Valve gave up on augmented reality. Despite this, they still kept Michael Abrash on their staff.
I would speculate, completely from an outside position, that two virtual reality groups existed at one point (at least to some extent). The project seems to have been sliced into two parts, one leaving with Jeri and one continuing with Michael. I seriously doubt this had anything to do with the "High School Cliques" that Jeri was referring to, however. She said it was "longtime staff" (Michael was newly hired around the end of Portal 2's development) and not within her hardware team.
These are the specs that Valve has developed prototypes to.
1K x 1K per eye is about 100x less than they would like, however.
Ooo... 100 megapixels per eye.
I just believe it all shook out to an unfortunate fork in the project.
Politics aside, Michael Abrash sees virtual reality affecting "the entire entertainment industry" and will be well supported by Steam. I hope this would mean that Valve will finally drop the hammer on music and movie distribution. I have been expecting this ever since the Steam infrastructure was upgraded back in July 2011. Of course, neither server or software will solve content availability but I am still expecting them to take a shot at it. Remember that Valve is creating movies, could they have plans for virtual reality content?
The latest prototype of the Oculus Rift uses camera tracking for low-latency visibility.
This looks like Valve's solution.
The PDF slide deck is publicly available and each page includes the script he heavily followed. Basically, reading this is like being there, just less fun.
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Shows and Expos | January 16, 2014 - 03:19 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Steam Dev Days, Steam Controller, CES 2014, CES
Valve has always been a company based on experimentation and it looks like the Steam Controller is not the lighthouse which guides SteamOS through the fog. Just a week after presenting the prototype at CES, a 3D mockup of a new one makes not-insignificant changes. Gone is the touchscreen and the first revealed button placement. Frankly, just about the only things untouched on the front face are the twin touchpads and the palm grips.
Image Credit: Leszek Godlewski (Twitter)
To fully understand the breadth of the changes, the announcement image is included below. There is basically no discussion about the back so that aspect might be untouched.
The changes were apparently made to assist compatibility with games ported from more traditional input schemes. Looking at the original prototype, there was no obvious mapping from a Sony or Microsoft-based controller to those buttons spread out for both the left and right thumbs to access. The new setup is the typical four face buttons on the right and four more buttons on the left as a surrogate directional pad. If they continue to iterate down this path I hope that the directional pad is more effective than most from the last two generations. It looks like the four directions are separated from one another which does not inspire confidence.
There are two stories which entangle on this one. The first is that Valve is willing to perform rapid iteration until they achieve what they consider a maximum. That is the method to quickest success especially since it allows cross-pollination between designs.
The second is that it also makes the public a little bit nervous.
Subject: General Tech, Networking | January 15, 2014 - 02:27 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, SteamOS, pc game streaming
In-Home Streaming could be the feature most likely to kick-off SteamOS adoption. This functionality brings existing PCs to televisions without requiring the user to actually bring the box to their living room. Likewise, to justify purchasing a SteamOS behemoth, it seems likely to me that Valve will allow streaming back to Steam client from Steam Machines.
Video Credit: Devin Watson (Youtube)
Obviously the catalog of Windows games is the most obvious usage for In-Home Streaming but, in some years, maintaining just one high-end computer might dominate.
We will soon find out more about how it works. Valve has just allowed the first wave of development partners (and apparently many others) to the In-Home Streaming closed beta. Youtube videos are already beginning to leak out, or not-leak out depending on the NDA if one exists, which show it in action. The video, embedded above, is of a Lenovo T410 with an Intel Core i5 and integrated graphics streaming DayZ over Wireless-G. It looks pretty good at, they claim, without any noticeable lag.
The floodgates are open. Now, we wait with our umbrellas.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 9, 2014 - 02:21 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: CES 2014, CES, valve, Steam Controller
Valve has garnered a lot of hype leading up to this CES. This event was the launch of Steam Machines from their OEM partners. The line-up for their keynote speech was intense, Ryan tweeting in the crowd a whole half of an hour before the speech. Finally, at 7:59 pm EST, Gabe begun to speak... and taking questions by 8:02. Included below is a dramatization of the event.
Yes, I know, "Simpsons did it..."
... South Park probably did it too.
As previously reported, thirteen OEM designs were presented and available to discuss their product. Steam controllers came up during the question period and brought out a pretty big detail: while Valve will be making the Steam Controller, other manufacturers will be allowed to make their own. Currently release date and expected price are still unknown.
Some journalists actually got their hands on the official Steam Controller and they, naturally, shared their thoughts. Kyle Orland of Ars Technica was one of them and his opinion was quite literally split down the middle. On the one hand, pun fully intended, aiming felt about as comfortable and effective as a mouse. On the other hand, movement in legacy mode was aggravating without any tactile feedback signaling where any of the eight directions (up, down, left, right, and the diagonals) start and end.
Again, this opinion only stands for shooter-style games in "Legacy Mode". Developers can use the controller more effectively when they design their title for the actual API. Legacy mode maps controller input to mouse and keyboard events and signals.
He also had other comments (positive and negative) about the button layout and other aspects of the controller. It might be worth checking out if you keep in mind: it is early times and he only had a few minutes to base his opinion.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!