Valve has been making some pretty big announcements recently in regards to Steam. They’re rolling out three major announcements every two days and dropping subtle hints as to what they could be in order to drum up hype (like they need to drum up hype with the #1 digital distribution platform for PC gaming…).
SteamOS will be an entire operating system based on Linux that will allow gamers to build their own gaming machine minus things like a costly Windows license. It will be aimed primarily at gaming but they’re working with many of the media services you already know and love and that they will soon be bringing them to Steam and SteamOS, allowing you to access your favorite music and video. A number of Steam games run natively in Linux so these games will have no issue being played on the PC running SteamOS – but there are a number of machines that aren’t compatible with Linux. Valve says this is no biggie because you can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too. Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have – then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV using the new Family Sharing feature that was announced not too long ago. Input lag should be reasonably low as the Wii U and others have shown that wireless LAN is perfectly acceptable in terms of ping and latency for gaming. The best part about it is that it will be 100% free. Announcement Link
2. Steam Machines
Steam is partnering up with several hardware manufacturers to bring several Steam Machines to market. A Steam Machine is a purpose built PC with SteamOS included – and most likely targeted towards the living room. This means that there will be competition and choices when it comes to what Steam Machine you want to buy. You’ll likely be able to choose between a quieter or faster machine, a cheaper or more expensive machine, etc. Release date of these machines is sometime “beginning in 2014,” and they will begin sending out beta machines built by Valve themselves soon and promote discussion, photos, etc of the boxes. They are being fairly open about the Steam Machines saying that they’re ok with you hacking, changing, and even swapping operating systems on them. Most likely we’ll see existing gaming hardware giants like Nvidia, AMD, Asus, and others putting out their versions of the Steam Machine sometime in 2014. It most likely won’t be much cheaper (if at all) than building your own gaming PC and slapping SteamOS on it – but it will establish a standard for PC gaming and will bring more gaming hardware support to Linux which desperately needs it. Announcement Link
3. Steam Controller
If you guessed a gamepad – you were correct. The third announcement was the Steam Controller. It’s a wireless gamepad with two circular trackpads in place of joysticks or the traditional “d-pad”. They’re clicky too so you can press down to click – and if you’ve ever tried to click down with a joystick while at the same time moving it around, you’ll know how unnatural and difficult it can be. If feedback or lack thereof in the trackpads is your concern, fear not. The trackpads are built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small, strong, weighted electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads. They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement.
In the center of the controller is another touch-enabled surface, this one backed by a high-resolution screen. The whole screen itself is also clickable, like a large single button. So actions are not invoked by a simple touch, they instead require a click. This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want. There are also loads of buttons and they’re promoting hacking, disassembling, and repurposing the controller for whatever you want to use it for – just like SteamOS and the Steam Machines. Announcement Link
There are lots of bets on what the next announcement will be and we will edit this space when the announcement is made. The most reasonable guess is a Steam controller. While somewhat anti-climactic after the Steam Machines announcement, the very last bit of info on the Steam Machines announcements page says: Q: Am I going to be using a mouse and a keyboard in the living-room?
A: If you want. But Steam and SteamOS work well with gamepads, too. Stay tuned, though – we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input.
What’s your guess? The first hint was just “O” and that ended up being SteamOS, the second was “[O ]” and that ended up being the Steam Machine. The third is “O+O” and seems like it’d be some sort of sharing or connectivity hint… but stay tuned because 45 hours from the time of this post we will know for sure!