Valve Steam Machine preview

UPDATED 04/02/14: Valve reveals Steam Music: play your tunes while you're gaming. Landing soon on SteamOS and Steam Big Picture Mode

The Xbox One and PS4 are right around the corner, and the entire gaming world is champing at the bit to dive into the glorious world of next-gen gaming goodness.

Well, almost. The self-proclaimed PC master race still looks on at the console battle with great disdain. "Our glorious gaming machines are already far more powerful" they cry. "The next-gen consoles are already outdated" they'll tell you. "Join us" they'll chant…

The thing is, they're not wrong. Both on paper and on-screen, a PC that's marginally higher in price than the Xbox One will walk over both consoles, pumping out shinier graphics at higher resolutions. Sounds good, right? 

The trouble is, many mainstream console gamers see PCs as big, loud, scary machines which only veteran geeks with soldering irons are able to put together and use.

In essence, though, the PS4 and Xbox One are PCs themselves. Processors, RAM, graphics cards, floating points, power supply – they have the whole lot.

Despite that though, the confusion around PC gaming remains – but Valve hopes to rectify the situation with its upcoming Steam Machine and Steam OS. And here's how…

What exactly is a Steam Machine?

Valve Steam Machine - What exactly is a Steam Machine? 2Valve Steam Machine - What exactly is a Steam Machine? 3

A Steam Machine is a PC with components that meet Valve's minimal performance requirements to run Steam OS – Valve's open source Linux-based operating system that's designed and optimised for gaming.

In essence, there's nothing separating a Steam Machine from a regular PC; you could install Windows on it if you wanted to and still access Valve's packed games library on the excellent Steam store. Valve has already released an update which optimises Steam for the big screen, and Steam OS will take this experience much further.

The only thing that makes a Steam Machine a Steam Machine, then, is the sticker of approval that Valve slaps on it – indicating that it meets their minimum requirements.

While those exact requirements remain a mystery, Valve has released the specs of various low, mid and high-range Steam Machines, which it will send out to 300 lucky beta testers.

The full specs below feature processors and graphics cards which vary in power, and the price and performance differences between them can be massive.

The least powerful graphics card – the GTX 660 – will set you back $349 and is a close equivalent to the graphics cards found within the next-gen consoles.

Compare that to the Nvidia GTX Titan with its $1,599 price tag and ability to play games at above-full HD resolutions on multiple monitors, and you begin to get an idea of the degree of variation and power that PC gaming (and therefore, Steam Machines) have to offer. 

Unlike the PS4 and Xbox One, Steam Machines will vary in appearance, as manufacturers will naturally imbue their machines with their own design preferences.

Valve's own reference Steam Machine lacks an optical drive, for example, but there's nothing stopping another manufacturer from installing an optical drive into its own Steam Machine, or swapping out a hard drive for a faster SSD.

Valve will even release CAD files for its Steam Machine cases, just in case you want to make your own from scratch.

UPDATE: Valve has spoken with Forbes and has confirmed that AMD and Intel will also be providing graphics hardware for Steam Machines next year.

Update 26/11/13: iBuyPower has revealed a prototype of its very own steam machine. The white rectangular device comes complete with an ominous red glow (though the colour is cusotmisable) and sits between the size of a PS4 and an Xbox One.

Update 05/12/13 Pixxl has revealed the Jetpack, a SteamOS gaming PC that fits onto the back of your TV. Designed for TVs between 32in and 70in, the Jetpack packs in Core i7 processors and an Nvidia Titan graphics card, along with 1TB of SSD storage. It's available from 1st January, priced £612 (S$1253).

Specs-wise it offers a multicore AMD CPU and a dedicated AMD Radeon R9270 graphics card (which is worth US$180 on its own), along with a 500GB hard drive and Steam OS pre-installed. All that for US$500.

The lack of Windows means that you'll be limited to Linux-compatible games only, but there's no reason why you couldn't install it yourself for full compatibility with all PC games.

Update 20/1/14: Valve's very own Gabe Newell has revealed in a Reddit AMA that he would have no problem with loading EA's Origin service onto Steam Machines. This would open up the Linux-based OS to even more titles, which can only be beneficial to gamers.

Valve employee Anna Sweet also confirmed that the company wants to add music, movies and TV services to Steam OS before Steam Machines hit shelves.

If Microsoft and Sony weren't already scared of Valve's upcoming PC army before, they certainly should be now.

Update 21/01/14: Valve has released a newer SteamOS beta which addresses numerous issues dedicated testers had with the first iteration.

Setting up a dual-boot option should now be far less of a hassle than it was in the first iteration of the beta, and partition, recovery and DVD install support is also now included.

Click here to take it for spin yourself. Happy gaming.

Music Steaming

While SteamOS is still very much in beta, that hasn't stopped Valve from announcing Steam Music.

Steam Music takes the locally stored music on your PC and lets you play it directly in the Steam UI (or Steam's Big Picture Mode if you don't have a Steam Machine).

Selected beta members will get access to the service soon, and a desktop version of the player is incoming.

At the moment, you're unable to purchase or subscribe to music in the same way you can with subscription services like Google Play and Spotify, but this is definitely an exciting step in the right direction.


Valve Steam Machine - A CLOSER LOOK 2Valve Steam Machine - A CLOSER LOOK 3Valve Steam Machine - A CLOSER LOOK 4

Images of the Steam Machine console have trickled out online from some of the 300 lucky beta testers who have received their units.

Reddit user colbehr has kindly shared shots of everything from the packaging and instruction leaflet to the Steam Machine itself, and it's looking very sexy indeed.

Smaller than a hulking gaming rig and littered with connections, this particular Steam Machine packs quite the gaming punch, with an Intel i5-4570 processor, 16GB of RAM and a beastly Nvidia GTX 780 graphics card with 3GB of video memory. Take that, next-gen consoles.

Sadly there's no pricing information available for this setup, but seeing as the GTX 780 wil run you back £400 (S$819) alone, it'll be well outside the console price territory.

Meet the Steam Machines

The first third-party Steam machines have officially been unveiled at CES, and they're going to arrive in a smattering of shapes and sizes. Here are some of the highlights:

Valve Steam Machine

Alienware's Steam Machine is probably the best-looking of the bunch, with its glowing angular corner and stealth black looks. Shame there's no pricing or spec information at this stage.

Digital Storm Bolt II
The Bolt II packs in a Core i7 4770K processor, 16GB RAM and a GTX 780 TI graphis card, with a cavernous 1TB hard drive and a 120GB SSD. No wonder it costs US$2585 (S$3290).

Update 20/04/13: Dell has confirmed that the Alienware Steam Machine will be released in September, hopefully with multiple configurations and different price points supported right off the bat.

In an interview with Trusted Reviews, Alienware's General Manager also stated that the company is planning to release a new Steam Machine every year.

Although he suggested that gamers could customise options like processors and amount of RAM at launch, swapping out components like the graphics card later down the line will not be possible. Boo, hiss.

Falcon Northwest Tiki

Valve Steam Machine

Falcon Northwest's Tiki comes in a perfectly hideous/stylish (depending on your taste) airbrushed case, and is the most expensive of the lot – starting at US$1800 (S$2290) and going all the way up to US$6000 (S$7635), depending on how you configure it. Yikes.

The spec list includes a Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan graphics card, up to 6TB storage and between 8 and 16GB RAM. In other words, it'll make mincemeat out of the Xbox One and PS4 when specced up to its full potential

In the much more affordable camp, we have iBuypower's offering. US$500 (S$640) will net you an Intel or AMD quad-core processor, 8GB RAM, Radeon GCN Graphics and 500GB of storage.


More after the break...

Origin PC's Chronos 
The Chronos will land in various configurations, starting with a Core i7 4770K, up to 32GB RAM, 2 6GB Nvidia Geforce GTX Titans and up to 14TB of storage. The price has yet to be confirmed, but with a fully-kitted out spec sheet, it'll likely be in sell-your-second-car territory.

The Steam Controller

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Valve's new controller is a mix between a traditional console gamepad and a laptop trackpad.

It has two large clickable circular trackpads which Valve believes offers greater fidelity than traditional joysticks. There's also a clickable touchscreen nestled in the centre which can also display actions and additional controls.

With 16 buttons in total, as well as the ability to reconfigure controls (useful for lefties), the open sourced hackable controller has certainly sparked our curiosity, and compatibility with existing Windows PCs is a plus too.

UPDATE: Valve has released a video showing the Steam controller in action, with first person shooters and a real time strategy game being used to demonstrate the level of control offered by both trackpads.

Check out our Steam controller hands-on preview

Update 16/01/14: Valve has revealed that it's planning to tweak the design of the Steam controller.

While the dual trackpads will remain put, Valve is ditching the touchscreen as it believes it's redundant and distracting.

Instead, Valve is implementing a feature called Ghost Mode. In essence, when you move your thumb over the Steam controller's touchpad, you'll see a 'ghostly image' of your thum on-screen, allowing you to press the virtual buttons displayed there.

Not only that, but Valve is also re-shuffling the ABXY buttons into a more familiar diamond shape which will make it easier for people to adjust to from the existing Xbox 360 controller.

A directional pad might also be in the works, and Valve confirmed that it will run on standard AA batteries, though we hope there's an Xbox-like Play and Charge Kit in the works too.

Lastly, Valve revealed that up to 16 controllers can be supported at once.

We're going to need a bigger couch.

[Image source - @TheIneQuation]

Virtual whispers

The Steam Machine could, at some point, also support virtual reality hardware similar to that of the Oculus Rift headset pictured above.

While it sounds like a rumour fuelled by the wishful thinking of gamers, Valve itself has fanned the flames by announcing that it will show off a prototype of what it thinks affordable virtual reality hardware will be capable of at its Developer Days conference next January

Two virtual reality sessions called "What VR Could, Should, and Almost Certainly Will Be within Two Years" and "Virtual Reality and Steam" have been scheduled for the conference, which strongly suggests that virtual reality is, at the very least an area which Valve is dipping its toes in, if it hasn't already changed into its trunks and jumped in behind closed doors already.

Valve also stated that it will demonstrate Steam VR overlay software alongside its prototype, as well as specific changes to the Steam store to accommodate the new VR interface.

Will the Steam Machine launch with a VR headset? It's too early to say, but it's definitely more than just wishful thinking at this stage. We guess the Oculus Rift will have to keep us busy until we find out more info.

Update 14/01/14 Valve has launched the SteamVR beta - an Oculus Rift-optimised version of Steam that's designed to take advantage of the Rift's virtual reality magic.

Oculus Rift owners can try out the mode right now by starting Steam with "-vr" on the command line, followed by pressing the Big Picture button to enter the made-for-VR version of Steam's Big Picture mode.

Once that's done you'll be treated to a large curved virtual display, which you can navigate with your head movements.

Stay tuned for more news from Valve's Steam Dev Days event, where more will be revealed.

Check out our Oculus Rift Crystal Cove hands-on review from CES

Price and release date

Valve is a notoriously secretive company (just try asking them when Half-Life 3 will be out), and it's keeping its lips tightly sealed regarding release dates and prices for the various Steam Machines. We'll be updating this preview with new information as and when we get it, so stay tuned.

Update 12/12/13: Valve has announced that gamers will be able to download Steam OS from 13 December. That's also the date when 300 lucky US beta testers will be receiving their Steam Machines ahead of the general 2014 launch, which still hasn't received a solid date.

Update 07/01/14: Valve has revealed a host of third-party Steam Machines at CES 2014


Valve Steam Machine

Valve Steam Machine
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