(The Verge) Valve's Steam Machine and Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | November 4, 2013 - 03:36 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine, steam os, CES 2014

I guess The Verge, with its Steam Machine photos, prove all three next-gen consoles (trollolol) are designed to look like home theater devices. Of course you will never be able to purchase a Steam Machine from Valve but, since they are releasing their CAD files, I am sure at least one Steam Machine will be exactly to reference spec.

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Image Source: The Verge

And, for the record, I think the reference enclosure is classy. Living room appliances suit a lot better than kitchen ones.

On a serious note: pictures of the internals. The beta Steam Machines will contain full desktop components aligned in such a way that each has its own sector to breathe from. The hottest parts intake and exhaust as far away from one another as possible. This makes the chassis relatively wide and short: a video card's length, in depth; about 3 expansion slots, tall; and about 3 PCIe cards height, wide. The actual measurements are 12" x 12" x 3" (W x D x H).

Steam-Machine-Open.jpg

Photo Credit: The Verge

This is mostly possible because the GeForce Titan GPU is mounted upside-down and parallel with the motherboard. I have never experienced a 90-degree PCIe extension slot but, according to Josh Walrath, this is a common accessory in servers (especially 1U and 2U racks). The Titan intakes downward into a relatively unoccupied section of the case and exhausts out the back.

The Verge also had some things to say about the Steam Controller. The design motivations are interesting but I will leave that discussion to the original article (this news post will be long enough when I'm done with it). There are two points that I would like to bring up, though:

The first is a clarification of the original Steam Controller announcement: Valve will produce and sell Steam Controller on its own. This was originally a big question mark as it could water down how "reference" Valve's controller actually is. With Valve taking all-the-reins, the hardware looks more set in stone.

Will Valve still allow OEMs to learn from their design? Who knows.

The second is also interesting.

What Valve left out of the Steam Controller is almost as intriguing as what went in. Though Valve co-founder Gabe Newell told us that the company wanted to put biometric sensors into game controllers, the team discovered that hands weren't a good source of biofeedback since they were always moving around. However, the team hinted to me — strongly — that an unannounced future VR headset might measure your body's reaction to games at the earlobe. Such a device could know when you’re scared or excited, for instance, and adjust the experience to match.

Seeing Google, Valve, and possibly Apple all approach content delivery, mobile, home theater, and wearable computing... simultaneously... felt like there was a heavy link between them. This only supports that gut feeling. I believe this is the first step in a long portfolio integrating each of these seemingly unrelated technologies together. We should really watch how these companies develop these technologies: especially in relation to their other products.

Stay tuned for CES 2014 in early January. This will be the stage for Valve's hardware and software partners to unbutton their lips and spill their guts. I'm sure Josh and Ryan will have no problems cleaning it all up.

Source: The Verge

Valve's Steam Controller Demonstration... 001... .avi?

Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 11, 2013 - 06:36 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine, Steam Controller

Jeff Bellinghausen, former Chief Technology Officer at Sixense, currently works for Valve with their hardware initiative. He will be provide the voice over for today's controller walkthrough video. Four very different games are shown with very input configurations.

As a little background, Sixense partnered with Valve and Razer to develop the Hydra motion controller. I had a strong feeling that this technology would form the basis of the Steam hardware experience when first rumors of "The Steam Box" circulated. Clearly, either I was wrong or Valve dumped the prototype for their current (slightly more standard) gamepad.

Yet at least one of the engineering minds behind it kept with Steam OS.

The first and third games shown are Portal 2 and CounterStrike: Global Offensive, respectively. Portal 2 is operating in keyboard and mouse "legacy mode" where sliding your right thumb emulates the movement of a mouse and the left thumb activates a virtual D-Pad. This input method seems to have some sort of throw velocity when you quickly swipe your thumb across the pad and release although I obviously have not directly experienced it.

On the other hand, CounterStrike does not require auto aim.

Civilization V has the left thumb pad bound to map scroll and the right thumb pad controlling mouse movement. While precise, I could see speed being a problem for a game such as Starcraft 2. It seems to be slightly slower than a mouse. I would like to see someone learn the controller and attempt to ladder for a relevant amount of time.

Speaking of speed to complement precision: Papers, Please blends both thumbs into a single mouse movement. This highlights what, at least I guess, is the entire point of the new controller: allow new schemes to be tested.

Certainly, there are a bunch of possibilities even before the design leaves Valve's hands.

Source: Valve

Thoughts on the unintended consequences of Mantle and SteamOS

Subject: General Tech | October 11, 2013 - 03:19 PM |
Tagged: amd, Mantle, gaming, valve

The Tech Report has been thinking on the upcoming release of SteamOS and AMD's Mantle and they see some problems that could come about because of them.  Fragmentation has always been a problem for PCs, be it that the hardware between systems never matches or the wide variety of APIs and game engines on the software side.  It can de daunting to begin developing a game and determining if optimizing for AMD, NVIDIA or Intel is worth considering as well as the choice between Direct3D or OpenGL or trying to make them both work.  Mantle is now a choice, BF4 will actually be releasing a version that is natively Mantle shortly after they launch the first version of the game.  Valve has also hinted that several AAA titles will be released on SteamOS, not necessarily Windows or Linux.  What effect could this have on PC gaming as these new choices arrive at the same time the next generation consoles are released?  Read on and see.

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"Valve's SteamOS and AMD's Mantle API have the potential to do great things for PC gaming. However, they also threaten to fragment the platform at a critical time, when next-gen consoles are about to reduce the PC's performance and image quality lead by a long shot."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Steam Machine Specifications Revealed...?

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Cases and Cooling, Systems | October 4, 2013 - 07:19 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine

Well, that did not take long.

Valve announced the Steam Machines barely over a week ago and could not provide hardware specifications. While none of these will be available for purchase, the honor of taking money reserved for system builders and OEMs, Valve has announced hardware specifications for their beta device.

Rather, they announced a few of them?

steam-os-machines.png

The raw specifications, or range of them, are:

  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce Titan through GeForce GTX660 (780 and 760 possible)
  • CPU: Intel i7-4770 or i5-4570, or i3-something
  • RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU), 3GB GDDR5 (GPU)
  • Storage: 1TB/8GB Hybrid SSHD
  • Power Supply: 450W
  • Dimensions: approx. 12" x 12.4" x 2.9"

Really the only reason I could see for the spread of performance is to not pressure developers into targeting a single reference design. This is odd, since every reference design contains an NVIDIA GPU which (you would expect) a company who wants to encourage an open mind would not have such a glaring omission. I could speculate about driver compatibility with SteamOS and media streaming but even that feels far-fetched.

On the geeky side of things: the potential for a GeForce Titan is fairly awesome and, along with the minimum GeForce 660, is the first sign that I might be wrong about this whole media center extender thing. My expectation was that Valve would acknowledge some developers might want a streaming-focused device.

Above all, I somewhat hope Valve is a bit more clear to consumers with their intent... especially if their intent is to be unclear with OEMs for some reason.

Podcast #270 - AMDs new GPU lineup, SteamOS, the Steam Box, and more!

Subject: General Tech | September 26, 2013 - 02:41 PM |
Tagged: video, valve, SteamOS, Steam Box, steam, razer, R9 290X, R9, R7, podcast, Naga, corsair, amd

PC Perspective Podcast #270 - 09/26/2013

Join us this week as we discuss AMDs new GPU lineup, SteamOS, the Steam Box, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Morry Teitelman

 
Program length: 57:42
  1. Week in Review:
  2. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
    1. Ryan: A pair of coconuts supporting a beautiful
    2. Jeremy: Portable OS
    3. Allyn: Remote Mouse
    4. Morry: AT&T U-Verse
  3. 1-888-38-PCPER or podcast@pcper.com
  4. Closing/outro

 

Valve Hardware Pt. 1: SteamOS Announced

Subject: General Tech, Systems | September 23, 2013 - 02:20 PM |
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?

steam-os.png

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

Half Life: Source Beta for Linux (... and OSX)

Subject: General Tech | September 14, 2013 - 08:11 PM |
Tagged: valve

Valve continues to port their back catalogue to Linux even as its market share on Steam declines. It might be easy to declare gaming on Linux dead, or something like that, but the platform has not yet been pushed for gaming. It is entirely possible, albeit increasingly unlikely (and that is bad), that Microsoft will continue to support an open PC gaming experience. If it continues to sink then Valve might see more appreciation for their work.

half-life.jpg

Linux gamers of today, however, can access a beta build of Half Life: Source. If this seems oddly familiar then you are probably thinking of Half Life which, itself, was ported to Mac and Linux last January. The Half Life: Source beta announcement came on September 12th.

Not only has Valve kept their 15-year-old game up to date with current hardware and alternative operating systems, they are actively keeping multiple versions of that 15-year-old game up to date with current hardware and alternative operating systems. This is the classic PC gaming mentality also seen in Blizzard and, until a few years ago, Epic Games.

This beta release is not just limited to Linux and Mac, however. Valve encourages users, of all platforms, to test the product and reports bugs to their GitHub.

Source: Valve

Steam Family Sharing Is Different From Xbox One

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | September 11, 2013 - 08:31 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, valve, steam

I know there will be some comparison between the recent Steam Family Sharing announcement and what Microsoft proposed, to a flock of airborne tomatoes I might add, for the Xbox One. Steam integrates some level of copy discouragement by accounts which identify a catalog of content with an individual. This account, user name and password, tends to be more precious to the licensee than a physical disk or a nondescript blob of bits.

The point is not to prevent unauthorized copying, however; the point is to increase sales.

SteamRequestingAccess.jpg

Account information is used, not just for authentication, but to add value to the service. If you log in to your account from a friend's computer, you have access to your content and it can be installed to their machine. This is slightly more convenient, given a fast internet connection, than carrying a DRM-free game on physical storage (unless, of course, paid licenses are revoked or something). Soon, authorized friends will also be able to borrow your library when you are not using it if their devices are authorized by your account.

Microsoft has a similar authentication system through Xbox Live. The Xbox One also proposed a sharing feature with the caveat that all devices would need a small, few kilobyte, internet connection once every 24 hours.

The general public went mental.

The debate (debacle?) between online sharing and online restrictions saw fans of the idea point to the PC platform and how Steam has similar restrictions. Sure, Steam has an offline mode, but it is otherwise just as restrictive; Valve gets away with it, Microsoft should too!

It is true, Microsoft has a more difficult time with public relations than Valve does with Steam. However, like EA and their troubles with Origin, they have shown themselves to be less reliable than Valve over time. When a purchase is made on Steam, it has been kept available to the best of their abilities. Microsoft, on the other hand, bricked the multiplayer and online features of each and every original Xbox title. Microsoft did a terrible job explaining how the policy benefits customers, and that is declared reason for the backlash, but had they acquired trust from their customers over the years then this might have just blown over. Even still, I find Steam Family Sharing to be a completely different situation from what we just experienced in the console space.

So then, apart from banked good faith, what is the actual difference?

Steam is not the only place to get PC games!

Games could be purchased at retail or competing online services such as GoG.com. Customers who disagree with the Xbox One license have nowhere else to go. In the event that a game is available only with restrictive DRM, which many are, the publisher and/or developer holds responsibility. There is little stopping a game from being released, like The Witcher 3, DRM-free at launch and trusting the user to be ethical with their bits.

Unfortunately for Xbox Division, controlling the point of sale is how they expect to recover the subsidized hardware. Their certification and retail policies cannot be circumvented because that is their business model: lose some money acquiring customers who then have no choice but to give you money in return.

This is not the case on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It is easy to confuse Steam with "PC Gaming", however, due to how common it is. They were early, they were compelling, but most of all they were consistent. Their trust was earned and, moreover, is not even required to enjoy the PC platform.

Source: Steam

SDL 2.0 Released!

Subject: General Tech | August 18, 2013 - 05:48 PM |
Tagged: valve, SDL

Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL), a library for game developers primarily, has finally released version 2.0.0 a few short days ago. Originally developed by Sam Latinga, former lead software engineer at Blizzard and current employee of Valve Software, SDL handles complicated functions such as input devices, video, threading, networking, fonts, and so forth. It complements OpenGL, which is not designed for any of the aforementioned tasks. You can see it used in games such as Telltale's The Walking Dead and Frictional's Amnesia: The Dark Descent

A simple way of understanding it is: as Direct3D gets help from DirectX, OpenGL gets help from SDL.

Sdl-logo.png

SDL Logo, Image Credit: Wikipedia

SDL is not a Khronos standard. Prior to the current release, it was licensed under LGPL which required any source code modifications to be shared. Version 2 has been re-licensed under zlib which removes this copyleft requirement. This is advantageous for game developers who wish to modify API while maintaining their secret sauce, increasing adoption, at the expense of potentially fewer contributions.

Latinga's employer, Valve, has interest in a simple and cross platform complement to OpenGL. Valve has been taking Linux and Mac seriously recently. A strong and more permissive SDL helps software portability. SDL is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD, iOS, and Android.

The removal of copyleft would also help Valve maintain their own fork of the library without the requirement to share and share alike. Valve was likely not the cause of the switch to zlib, however, as the change was announced during development of SDL 1.3, quite a while before he was hired.

SDL 2.0 was announced the same day as he was hired to Valve Software. This however, at least I expect, was not a coincidence. SDL is available at the project website.

Source: SDL Project

Microsoft Hires Jason Holtman (ex-Valve) for PC Gaming.

Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2013 - 08:09 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, valve, xbox, pc gaming

A half of a year, almost to the day, passed since Valve removed two dozen employees. Jason Holtman, then Director of Business for Valve, was among those released. Despite the flat-by-design corporate structure, with even game credits listed alphabetically versus title and department, Holtman is considered key to the success of Steam.

And now Microsoft acquired him.

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Games for Windows has not been a success. Microsoft Game Studios, and even Microsoft Hardware, had high respect in the PC gaming industry with extremely popular franchises and lines of peripherals. Their image has since regressed far enough for Microsoft to give up, two years ago, and roll Games for Windows into the Xbox brand.

As Microsoft fell, Valve climbed. Steam, largely credited to efforts by Jason Holtman, distributes games for basically every major publisher. It has a respected position on the hard drive of gamers which is an enviable feat. The Windows Store has not received any uptake. Microsoft feels the need to change that and, it would seem by accepting the job, Holtman believes he can accomplish that.

I do wonder how Microsoft will be influenced by this hire. The major concern with Windows Store is its certification process and I doubt anything will change on that front. I expect the hope is his contributions to publisher relationships but he might also, on the side, induce change in visible ways.

Source: VR-Zone