CES starts next Tuesday, and I'm excited. CES week is like a holiday for a gadget nerd like me and I can't wait to see what new toys we'll see.
Last year thirteen companies were showing off Steam Machines: PCs running Valve Software's SteamOS and intended for the living room. There was just one problem. Valve was still working on both the operating system and the unique Steam Controller that was meant to replace mouse, keyboard and classic game controller.
And in fact Valve is still working on all this stuff and aside from some beta units that the company sent out to lucky testers a year or so ago, no Steam Machines have shipped at this point. Valve hasn't been talking much but every so often an image of the most recent version of the Steam Controller will pop up.
Valve has said it won't be attending CES (though in March they will be at the Game Developers Conference with Steam Machines in-hand) but I'm hoping some hardware manufacturers will show up with updated Steam Machine prototypes.
Originally I wasn't much interested in Steam Machines but lately I've changed my mind. I prefer gaming in the living room. As someone who works from a home office I spend enough hours sitting at my desk already. When work is done I need a change of scenery.
For the most part I game on consoles. I did buy an Alienware X51 a few years ago and hooked it up to the living room TV but it never felt quite right. Even using Steam's Big Picture Mode I still needed to keep a mouse and keyboard handy, which was just more junk in the living room. At the time controller support for PC games was kind of spotty and a lot of PC game interfaces weren't designed to be used from ten feet away. Finally, it was a Windows PC, which meant frequent updates and running virus scanners and encountering compatibility issues. All stuff I don't want to deal with once my work day is done.
But I really like the variety of games you can get on the PC, and I really like their prices too. And given all the problems Sony and Microsoft has with DDOS attacks over the holidays, I like that the PC is an open system. Plus there's the not insignificant detail that most of my friends are primarily PC gamers.
Also, last spring Steam introduced In-Home Streaming. That means I don't need an expensive machine in the living room. I can use my desktop machine up in the office and just stream to whatever I have hooked up to the TV.
So I'm hoping that we see Steam Machines at CES again this year. Specifically I'm hoping someone will introduce a $200-$300 machine that runs Steam just for the purpose of In-Home Streaming. And I hope that Valve finishes work on their Steam Controller and can give us a firm launch date at GDC. I don't want to have to have a keyboard and mouse for anything in the living room.
I know Alienware shipped the Alienware Alpha not long ago. It started life as a Steam Machine but when Valve didn't get their system ready, Alienware built their own overlay over Windows. I was tempted by the Alpha but really don't want to invest in a system that might be set aside once SteamOS is ready. (Lukewarm reviews of the Alpha, like this one at Engadget, helped with that decision.)
So that's what I'm hoping to see (or at least one of the things I'm hoping to see) from CES. I hope that Valve hasn't lost the interest of PC hardware manufacturers by delaying SteamOS, because I'm excited about accessing my large Steam gaming collection from the couch.