Steam's Big Picture mode leaves beta; Valve runs a sale to commemorate the occasion.

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If you're underwhelmed by the Nintendo Wii U and too impatient to wait for next generation consoles from Sony or Microsoft, Valve might have the perfect solution for you. Yesterday they announced that Steam's Big Picture mode is now out of beta.

Just to get us all on the same page, Steam is Valve's digital distribution system for PC games and software. It is probably the best known of these services and is famous for having big sales offering games at huge discounts a few times a year. There's a running joke among Steam users who claim that these sales are 'evil' because they're so tempting, and many of us wind up with more games than we have time to play.

Now Steam's Big Picture mode is a system that's supposed to help bring PC gaming to the living room TV. You connect your PC to a TV via HDMI cable, plug in a wireless gamepad, run Steam in Big Picture Mode and the theory is you can do everything you need to do via the gamepad, no keyboard or mouse needed. That's assuming the game you want to play is controller-enabled. Obviously not all the games on sale on Steam are.

To commemorate the launch of this new mode and help you jumpstart your "living room PC gaming" collection, Steam has put a bunch of controller-enabled games on sale from now through December 10th. Just what we needed, another sale between the Fall sale that happened during Thanksgiving and the upcoming Holiday sale!

Oh no! Another Steam sale to try to resist.

Source: Valve

I've been running Big Picture mode since it hit beta (I have an Alienware X51 in the living room) and my experience has been generally good. I do keep a wireless keyboard and mouse stashed in the coffee table for games that have 'partial controller support.' Steam is pretty conservative about placing games in these two buckets. For instance XCOM: Enemy Unknown is listed as having "partial controller support" but as far as I recall, the only thing I needed a keyboard for was if I wanted to rename one of my units.

And just to be clear, you can use Big Picture mode to launch traditional mouse and keyboard games as well. For me the limiting factor generally as to whether a game was living-room friendly or not revolved around the UI; some strategy games that have a lot of information to convey have on-screen text that's a bit too small for comfortable reading from across the room. Even if you don't mind mouse and keyboard on the coffee table these games can be tough to play.

Of course you can use Big Picture mode and a controller on any computer, too. Some people I know prefer this mode even if they are sitting at a desk with mouse and keyboard at their fingertips.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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