Yesterday Valve Software dropped
bomb firecracker number two (of 3) for the week. You'll remember that on Monday they announced SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system designed for bringing gaming into the living room.
Announcement #2 was, as expected, about hardware, but it was so vague that I'm not sure why they built it up so much. Probably the biggest 'news' was that we're no longer calling them Steam Boxes. Henceforth they shall be referred to as Steam Machines, which admittedly is a much cooler name.
Valve will be making one (which we suspected) and so will a number of partners (which we already knew). They're coming sometime in 2014. Who are the partners? We don't know. Specs of the machines? We don't know, but expect a variety there. Valve says their own machine will focus on being upgradeable ("designed for users who want the most control possible over their hardware" is how they phrased it) while other manufacturers will have their own goals: most affordable, smallest, quietest, etc. What will they look like? Again, expect a variety of sizes, shapes and designs, but we haven't seen any examples yet.
The one bit of news you do need to know is that Valve is running a hardware beta and as part of the beta they'll be handing out 300 machines to end users, this year. Details on how to apply can be found on the Steam Machines page.
If you don't get into beta, it's possible you'll be able to build your own box at or around the same time. Valve has said they'll be releasing SteamOS for free, but they haven't said when. Hopefully soon.
And that's pretty much it. The announcement is mostly a rehash of what Valve has been saying since CES, although now we have a very broad date range to work with.
Once again I'm feeling rather skeptical. You can buy a box with upgradeable hardware from Valve, or you can go buy a Steam Machine in any of a number of configurations from other manufacturers (and I'm sure at least some of them will be upgradeable). Or you can build your own. Once again this is just sounding like a PC to me. I'm not sure how this will help developers overcome the number one hassle of developing PC games: dealing with a wide variety of hardware and machines speeds.
We've got one more announcement, on Friday. On the Steam Machines page Valve says "Stay tuned, though - we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input." and in the past they've hinted that they're working on some kind of unique controller, so maybe that's what they'll talk about on Friday.
A unique controller could wind up being the most exciting announcement from this week.
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