As predicted, Valve Software revealed on Monday a new Linux-based platform called SteamOS. The new operating system is designed for the TV and the living room, and will be made available to download for free. Valve said that although the company has been working on bringing Steam to the living room with elements such as Big Picture, the only way to offer the best environment would be to simply develop an entire operating system.
"In SteamOS, we have achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing, and we’re now targeting audio performance and reductions in input latency at the operating system level," the company said. "Game developers are already taking advantage of these gains as they target SteamOS for their new releases."
SteamOS will also enable game streaming, seemingly taking a stab at Nvidia's setup between Keplar GPUs and its new Shield handheld. Users simply turn on Steam on their existing PC or Mac system, and then the SteamOS machine can stream those titles over the home network. Even more, the OS launch signal's the company's official entry into the mainstream digital entertainment business, as Valve states that it's currently working with media services for accessing music, movies and TV shows.
Naturally the new OS supports family sharing, allowing gamers to lend their games library to family and friends. "The living-room is family territory," the company said. "That’s great, but you don’t want to see your parents’ games in your library. Soon, families will have more control over what titles get seen by whom, and more features to allow everyone in the house to get the most out of their Steam libraries."
While rumors of a Steam Box have been around for some time, the company has hinted that it wouldn't be a complete "console" like platform, but a branding of sorts for multiple solutions from participating partners. The company has also hinted that the platform would be easily upgradeable, unlike the hardware sets offered by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.
For a brief period, we believed that the Steam Box flagship would be the Xi3 Piston, but the relationship reportedly fizzled during CES 2013 back in January. Yet that specific form factor may be what Valve is shooting for with its Steam Box setup: a super small, simple device packed with lots of power. Having a dedicated SteamOS just makes total sense.
Valve hasn't officially stated that SteamOS is based on Linux, but the platform will be free to download and use, and will be a freely licensable operating system for manufacturers. The next announcement will likely surround hardware partners, followed by possible Steam-branded peripherals.
As of this writing, the next announcement will be made in 46 hours, so stay tuned.