On Wednesday Valve Software revealed the second part of its invasion into the living room: the Steam Machines program for hardware vendors, and a prototype that will be shipped to 300 Steam users this year, all powered by the SteamOS platform revealed on Monday. The company also launched the Steam Universe community group that plays a big part in the beta test eligibility.
"Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world. We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS," Valve states.
Previous talk indicated that Valve was heading in that direction so that gamers can easily upgrade the components when needed instead of locking into a complete hardware set for nearly a decade (that's an exaggeration, I know). The Xi3 Piston box showcased during CES 2013 back in January seemingly indicated that this would be the flagship model thanks to the way users can pull and insert component boards on the fly. This form factor may still be on the Steam Machines list.
As for beta testing the prototype, Valve hasn't spilled the beans on the hardware. Potential candidates must join the Steam Universe community group, agree to the Steam Hardware Beta Terms and Conditions, make 10 Steam friends, create a public Steam Community profile, and play a game using a gamepad in Big Picture mode. Users can log into Steam before October 25 to track their current status towards beta test eligibility.
"While these products are still in development, we need your help," Valve states. "As always, we believe the best way to ensure that the right products are getting made is to let people try them out and then make changes as we go. We have designed a high-performance prototype that’s optimized for gaming, for the living room, and for Steam. Of course, it’s also completely upgradable and open."
A small number of users (30 or less) will be chosen based on their past community contributions and beta participation. The remainder will be chosen at random from the eligible pool, the company said. Valve also promised that additional information about the prototype specs will be available soon, but keep in mind that there will be several boxes to choose from, with an array of specifications, price and performance.
"You can complete the steps in any order. Once you’ve completed all of the steps, you’ll be awarded a special badge, and you’ll officially be among the pool of people from whom we’ll choose beta participants / hardware recipients," Valve states. "On October 25th, the list will be locked. So complete the quest before then! Your help is critical to our design process. Your feedback will shape both the new OS version of Steam and the new category of gaming machines that will run it."
A brief FAQ reveals that prototype testers will be allowed to share info about their experience with the beta units, and post pictures and opinions online. "That really is the whole point," Valve states. "The input from testers should come in many forms: bug reports, forum posts, concept art, 3D prints, haikus, and also very publicly stated opinions."
Valve claims that nearly 3,000 games will be available to play on the prototype boxes, hundreds of which are already running natively on the SteamOS platform, with more to come. The rest will work seamlessly via in-home streaming, the company said.
For more information about the Steam Machines program, and to enter the beta program, head here. Part three of Valve's living room assault will be made on Friday.
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AMD A10 6800k CPU(using the built in Radeon Graphics)
8GB DDR3 2133
500GB Hard Drive
System about the size of the current Xbox 360
Asus K-Mesa 303
Intel Core i5 4430
16GB DDR3 2133
Radeon R8-270x (next Radeon 7870 replacement)
1TB Hard Drive
Box Shaped, small enough to fit in an entertainment center, but big enough to upgrade the GPU/CPU yourself
Alienware Aperture Level 1
Intel i7 4770k
16GB DD3 2400
2TB Hard Drive (with space to add another)
256GB SSD for the main OS
2x Geforce GTX 760 in SLI
About the size of a tiny Micro-ATX PC on it's side.
Systems built on SteamOS will be locked to it in the same way that ChromeOS is locked to Chromebooks. You can install other Linux Distros but Windows installs will not be possible. These are the three main Beta units that Valve will be shipping/offering to 300 Beta-testers.
I do have some reservations about the Steam Machine though due to it's open nature. If it's designed for gamepad use but mouse/keyboard is allowed, mouse/keyboard players will have a distinct advantage in competitive shooters. There's also the similar problem of people with higher spec Steam Machine's being able to turn on higher FOV, giving them an advantage in competitive shooters. If Steam can find some way to add in matchmaking options that allow you to be grouped with other gamepad players and players with similar FOV, they should be able to solve those problems. I also want them to add some value to achievements, like Sony and Microsoft have. And of course there's the problem of Steam OS being Linux based and Valve not yet announcing which games are being ported to SteamOS.
What's your source?
The current Steam Machine page (http://store.steampowered.com/livingroom/SteamMachines/) says:
"Can I hack this box? Run another OS? Change the hardware? Install my own software? Use it to build a robot?Sure."
Doesn't seem like these machines will be lock down at all.
I wonder about the competitive price thing since most consoles were sold at a loss - at least initially.
Are steam machine manufacturers going to be willing to take the hit that MS or Sony might?
Yeah, that's the problem really. I priced my own Steam Box in an HTPC case a few months back when the Xbox One was first announced because I was trying to decide if I should switch to PC this generation. It came out to $650 or 700, and the specs I picked may still be too low to match the PS4 and Xbox One due to optimization on consoles. If none of these Steam Machine manufacturers are willing to sell at a loss, I don't think they will be able to match the consoles on price/performance ratio.
The only way to make up the price/performance difference may be the streaming functionality that is offered in steam OS, but unless steam will host its own streaming service, that still depends on have in nice GPU sitting in another, more expensive PC.
Overall the whole concept is interesting but I'm not sold just yet.