Valve gives press a peek at Steam Machine prototypes

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Source: Steam

Back in September Valve unveiled its new SteamOS operating system, its Steam Controller, and talked about Steam Machines. During that week they invited gamers to sign up for a hardware beta test. Some users would get prototype Steam Machines and controllers, others would get just the Steam Controllers. The company also said they'd be making SteamOS available in the months to come.

Yesterday coverage of the prototype Steam Machine — one of the machines that'll go to beta testers, presumably — cropped up across a couple of blogs. I saw coverage on Engadget and The Verge. It sounds like the editors were invited to visit Valve's offices to play around with the hardware. If you're seriously interested in what Valve is doing you should click through and read the full coverage, but here are the highlights.

The hardware being shown was fairly powerful (an i7 CPU and a GTX 780 graphics card) but it was just one example of what a Steam Machine might be, and this one won't ever be for sale to consumers. It's just a reference machine Valve created to send out to testers.

You'll learn about Steam Machines you can buy during CES when a number of Valve's partners will reveal machines at a variety of price (and power) points. As for when they'll actually go on sale or what those prices will be...well we don't know yet. Some time in mid-2014 is as precise a date as Valve is giving.

As for SteamOS itself, Engadget pointed out what I thought was obvious: this isn't a general purpose OS. It's intended to run Steam in Big Picture Mode. There's no direct access to the file structure, for example. Right now it sounds like there are games, there's a web browser, and that's about it. Of course it won't be long before Linux programmers start creating work-arounds for these limitations.

The Steam Controller also won't be available until sometime in 2014. Engadget did a separate post on the controller if you want to learn more about it, but what they seemed to take away is that the Steam Controller is a good keyboard and mouse replacement, but games that already work with a traditional gamepad should still be played with a traditional gamepad. Again, click through it you want all the details.

Microsoft and Sony are both probably happy to hear that Valve's Steam Machines won't be ready until sometime in 2014; that means the Playstation 4 and Xbox One have one less competitor on store shelves this holiday season.

I still wonder who Steam Machines are for. The coverage I've read suggests that Valve is going after PC gamers; I'm just not sure what the advantage is of running SteamOS instead of running Steam in Big Picture Mode on a Windows or Ubuntu machine that offers much more flexibility. I suppose it'll come down to pricing. It seems to me the bigger potential market for Valve is getting Xbox, Playstation and Wii fans to give up their consoles and embrace the Steam ecosystem for their future gaming libraries.

I've got an Alienware X51 sitting under the TV collecting dust (it's a nice system I just honestly prefer consoles to PC when I'm playing on a big screen) and as soon as Valve releases SteamOS into the wild I'm planning on installing it on that system. I can't wait to get some hands-on time with it.

What about you? Are you excited about Steam Machines and if so, do you consider yourself a PC or console gamer currently?

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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