January 09, 2013, 8:30 AM —
AT CES this week, Valve's "Steam Box" is more a concept than a product. The Steam Box, which has been so-named primarily by the gaming press, is thought to be a PC with standardized parts running Linux and intended to run Steam PC games on a television. The idea is that you'd get all the benefits of PC gaming and all the convenience of a console.
Nothing like that has been shown at CES but a few products are getting closer. First up was Xi3's "Piston." Xi3 says that Valve is a partner in this project but otherwise they were pretty tight-lipped about what's inside the small, roughly cube-shaped device. We do know it'll be upgradable, which is good, and it sounds as though it'll be based roughly on Xi3's X7A computer which sells for $999. Polygon has (a few) more details.
Scant details to be sure, but the story got traction everywhere. Clearly there is a lot of interest in this Steam Box idea. Valve is at the show but representative Tom Giardino told The Verge they were there to meet with partners rather than the press, and that they were meeting with 15-20 hardware manufacturers about potential 'Steam Box' systems. Valve fans will also want to read The Verge's interview with Gabe Newell.
The other product drawing a lot of attention is the Razer Edge, which we first saw last year as Project Fiona. This is a 'Steam Box' only in the loosest interpretation of the concept (it's a small computer that'll run modernPC games and can be hooked up to your TV) but it's still an interesting device.
Essentially the Razer Edge is a Windows 8 Pro tablet. It'll come in two models, a $999 standard model that has an Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia GT640M LE graphics, 4 GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD, and a $1,299 Pro model the bumps things up to an i7 CPU, 8 GB of RAM and either 128 or 256GB SSD. It has a 10.1" touchscreen that is regrettably only 1366x768. It weighs 2 lbs and is .8" thick. It has 1 USB 3 port and Bluetooth for connecting peripherals.
While a little thick, it sounds like a pretty nice tablet, and the price isn't too bad considering what's inside. But what about those crazy game-controller handles? Well they're an add-on now and they'll cost you $249, which just seems insane to me. Less crazy is a basic $99 dock that adds HDMI out, three more USB ports and audio out. Use that dock to hook the Edge to your TV, fire up Steam's Big Picture Mode and now it's a 'Steam Box' I guess. Following along a little later (Q3 2013, while the Edge and other accessories are targeting Q1 2013) is a $199 keyboard dock that transforms the Edge into something resembling an open laptop.
Aside from the fairly low resolution of the screen, the Edge shares a drawback with every other tablet; it isn't upgradeable. Of course the same could also be said for many gaming laptops and they seem to sell.
Valve claims we're going to be seeing a lot of boxes intended to bring PC gaming to the living room this year, and I think we're off to a good start. It's hard to weigh in on the Piston until we know more, but a 4" cube that can play PC games decently and be upgraded has a certain appeal. As for the Razer Edge, I have to say if I was shopping for a Windows tablet then this might be the one I'd get. Add the $100 dock and I could play on the run or at home on the TV. Of course I'm still very interested to see what Valve themselves come up with, but we may not see that device for a while.
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.