Last week I talked about why I was hoping to see more Steam Machines at CES. Basically what I wanted was a slick way to stream PC games to my TV from the gaming rig in the office.
CES isn't over but so far I haven't seen a whole lot of talk about Steam Machines, but Razer brought something to the show that might be just what I'm looking for. It's called Forge TV and it's a micro-console that plays Android games (meh) but that also streams PC games from your Windows PC.
Of course Nvidia's Shield has been doing this for quite some time but only if you have an Nvidia GPU in your gaming system. Also both the Shield and the Shield Tablet feel like temporary ways to stream your games (since both are mobile devices). I want something I can set up and leave in place.
Forge TV looks a lot like the Apple TV, Roku or Fire TV; a small nondescript box that sits in your entertainment center. Inside is a quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor, an Adreno 420 GPU, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage. It runs Android TV so should function nicely as a replacement for other streaming boxes (it'll support Google Cast like a Chromecast does, and there'll be a variety of Android TV apps available), as well as running Android games.
What makes the Forge TV appealing to me, though, is something called Cortex Stream, a streaming system developed by Razer and available sometime this spring. Razer says that you can stream any DirectX 9 (or higher) game if you're running either an AMD or an Nvidia GPU (the respective minimum requirements are the AMD HD5000 series or the Nvidia GTX580). That's arguably better than a Steam Machine since it isn't limited to games in your Steam library, though if your favorite titles use OpenGL then you'll probably disagree.
Of course we're still faced with the issue of controlling your games. Razer is offering Serval, a game controller (with a fairly traditional control layout) that works with Forge TV. But what about games that require keyboard and mouse? If you've tried to do PC gaming in the living room you've probably either placed your keyboard and mouse on a coffee table, which kind of detracts from the whole 'lean back' comfort of couch gaming, or you've balanced a keyboard on your lap and set a magazine or something on the couch cushion next to you to mouse on. This works OK but the mouse tends to slide on its own since most cushions aren't level.
To address this problem Razer is offering Turret, a mouse and keyboard combo designed to be used on your lap. The left side of Turret is a small-ish keyboard (function and arrow keys are both half-size). The right side is a magnetized mouse surface that keeps the (included) mouse from sliding off. Turret comes with a charging station that holds the device between uses. The unit folds in half and stands vertically to take up less space (though I'd argue it'll be anything but unobtrusive in most living rooms) while charging. Turret certainly isn't as innovative as Valve's Steam Controller but on the other hand you won't have to re-train yourself to use it.
Assuming everything works as promised, there's just one downside: the cost. The Forge TV alone is $100. Bundled with the Serval controller it'll be $150. That's not too bad, but Turret is going to be another $130, which seems pretty steep. (Additional Serval controllers — Forge supports up to four — will be $70 which also seems high to me.)
As far as I can tell, you get Cortex Stream for free with either of the peripherals, or you can purchase it by itself for $40 and stream to any Android 5 (or higher) device. With a few manufacturers debuting Android TV powered televisions at CES this week, that opens up some additional possibilities though once again controls would become an issue.
Forge TV, the peripherals and Cortex Stream are all supposed to become available sometime in Q1 of this year.