Gabe Newell speaketh, and he commands that the PC will take over the living room in three tiers.
After sparring on stage with director / producer J.J. Abrams on Wednesday at the DICE 2013 summit, Valve Software bossman Gabe Newell presented the Day 2 keynote entitled "A View on Next Steps". He said that PC-to-TV streaming will become standard on future TV sets and will even pave the way to cheap, high-quality PC gaming in the living room.
Newell predicted that the PC infiltration will come in three tiers. For starters, there's the "good" tier comprising of a traditional PC dedicated to in-home streaming. It would be good enough to pump streaming video to any HDTV in the house without any latency or hiccups, and should cost around $100 at first then eventually drop down to zero.
"This will just become a standard feature of every television, the latency is basically nonexistent, so we really believe it's a very low-cost pathway [to PC games in the living room] and a very high-quality path," he said, seemingly describing a PC-based high-powered TV accessory in a standalone HTPC-like form factor that can't be modified.
The next tier, AKA "better", was described as a PC crammed into a console form factor and sold at a console price. That in itself seemed to be a Steam Box reference, even adding that there won't be anything magical about the hardware and consequently making it an affordable investment for the living room. Indeed the Steam Box aka "Piston" will reportedly have a console price, but will be modular and allow users to easily upgrade the device with new components.
He hinted that this particular tier may be threatened by Apple, a fear that has spread throughout the gaming sector for years. "Apple has this huge unit advantage," he said. "Smartphones and tablets are really getting into these huge numbers and Apple has a much more natural progression into the living room with fundamentally industry-to-industry competitive advantages that I think are more threatening to the PC moving into the living room than anything that would be happening on the console side."
He also pointed out that Apple's upgrade cycle isn't quite as "lumpy" given that company releases newer models each year and offers consumers and developers a smooth progression from one iPhone model to the next rather than telling them to throw everything away and start over. Though this is clearly beneficial to both consumers and developers, it presents a serious challenge to those who work in the PC/console gaming industry.
He moved on to describe the "best" scenario which was essentially a standalone gaming desktop that user's can upgrade as usual. "PCs have always scaled really well," he added. "If a customer wants more 3D performance, they can get it. If they want more storage for video, they can get it. So the sky is the limit. If you want a $4000 living room box, I'm sure there are lots of PC vendors who are going to send that to you."
Finally he discusses the difference between in-home game streaming and cloud gaming, the latter of which he admits to being skeptical about. His full reasoning can be seen in the 35 minute presentation below.