Steam, Valves own digital game distribution social network sharing card game fleamarket service, has a big week. On Monday they announced their very own gaming operating system, called SteamOS. Today they´ll have the second announcement, another one following in all likelihood on Friday. I was pretty excited already from the first.
The first announcement was SteamOS. Neat. Valve just announced their very own Linux distribution, aimed squarely at gamers in the living room. Users of SteamOS are supposed to build a little living room PC, attach it to their TV and have it run SteamOS all day every day. Via that box they´ll access their Steam libraries and play on the big screen. SteamOS is supposed to be better performing then Windows when playing games natively. According to Valve their own Linux version of Left 4 Dead 2 is the fastest running on all platforms.
It´ll also allow you to stream games from your gaming to PC to a the device connected to the TV. Valve must be pretty confident that they tackled all latency issues; they must be aware that their core audience will not stand any input delay at all. Lets see how that works out in real life, but I´m carefully optimistic. Most of the living room games are played with gamepad anyway, with which the latency issue is not as pressing as with precise mouse & keyboard FPS games.
Finally Valve also announced that they´re “working with many of the media services you know and love”. That can only mean that established music and video streaming services are already onboard.
The second announcement is due today. If the circle represents the SteamOS, then the box around should most likely point to a SteamBox. Given that installing a linux operating system on a media PC is not exactly the most unnerdy, mainstreamy thing to do, it makes sense to provide a plug&play solution for the mass market. One might be able to purchase a SteamBox of the shelves in 2014, just connect it to Wifi and TV, log into ones Steam account and get going. One thing that puzzles me is the actual hardware of the SteamBox. At one hand that thing needs to compete with Apple TV at a 100$ price point. It actually is “only” a streaming box with the usual suspects of online services. For the whole game streaming one already needs a pretty capable gaming computer somewhere that is beefy enough to actually render high res games at 60FPS. If you only get the full use out of SteamBox if you combine it with a dedicated gaming PC, then the Box itself better be dirt cheap.
At the other hand Valve promises that its possible to play games natively from SteamOS and therefore most likely from the SteamBox. Even if SteamOS is way more performance effective then Windows, I can´t imagine that this will allow them to use baseline hardware to compete with a high end gaming PC. And if my games don´t run better natively on SteamBox, why even bother with it? I don´t see myself buying a second “gaming machine” for the living room at the same price point as my gaming PC.
There have been quite specific rumors about a potential hardware for SteamBox. Valve is invested in Xi3 Corp. that showed the Piston. The Pistons specs really look nice:
I´m no expert, but at least for me this sounds totally competitive with anything that is on or coming to the market anytime soon. This nifty little thing seems to have more then enough Oomph! to play latest AAA games. Problem? The price point of 1000$. As stated above I can´t imagine that anyone who already has a great gaming PC would be willing to shell out that amount of money. At this price point that thing does not compete against PS4 or XBone, but against dedicated work horses that could so much more then “just play games”. Valve needs to be at or below 300$ to get any traction with SteamBox.
Which directly leads to the last announcement. What does that icon indicate? A box with two SteamOSes inside? That does not even make sense. I really like the idea of it representing goggles and therefore hint at some connection to the Oculus Rift, but this totally does not go well with the living room theme. Other valid rumors are pointing to a controller, but would that not be part of the SteamBox announcement? My bets are going into another direction:
Lets have a look at the Piston again. One of its strengths is the modularity of the whole thing. It looks like its quite easy to chain them together to amplify their power. Now lets assume that Valve created a lower spec version to get the price down to an Apple TV like point, say 150$. For 150$ you get a very capable media streaming machine for your TV that also plays great with your Steam library on your gaming PC. You already have that power horse and now you can utilize it for gaming in the living room.
Now more and more AAA titles are released natively for SteamOS. You learned about the performance increase, are amazed by the community and speed with which OS updates are implemented. And then the time comes to either buy a new graphic card for your gaming PC or…
…just buy another SteamBox. Maybe the SteamBox Accelerator for 200$. You just plug that into your existing SteamBox below your TV and suddenly you have a replacement for your gaming PC. Then you get that fancy new 4k TV. And one more Accelerator, suddenly 4k everything. Live raytracing. You name it.
Well, this is my bet. Now to just wait for friday…