Valve enters the home console business with Steam Machines

It’s finally happened: Valve announced a new line of home consoles Wednesday that will run the freshly unveiled SteamOS and launch in 2014. They’re known as Steam Machines, and multiple versions will exist with different prices, manufacturers, and hardware profiles. Valve won’t share the details on exactly what caliber of hardware we can expect the final products to be packing, but before the year is out, the company will send 300 prototypes to Steam users who qualify for the Steam Machines beta program.

If you want to join the pool of potential testers, you need to jump through a few hoops before October 25. Log into Steam and join the Steam Universe group, which as of this writing, is already well on its way to skyrocketing past 100,000 members. Next, you need to fill out the Steam Hardware Beta application form and agree to the terms and conditions spelled out therein, which include stipulations that any hardware Valve sends you remains the property of Valve and cannot be resold—eBay buyers, beware. Finally, you need to make it clear that you’re no rube when it comes to playing PC games in the living room by ensuring you have a public Steam Community profile, have at least ten people on your Steam friends list, and have at some point played a game with a gamepad in Steam’s Big Picture mode.

My favorite theoretical Steam Machine is the one shaped like a trapezoid.

Got all that? Good. Get ready to wait on the long, long list of people eager to test out the first 300 Steam Machines. Thirty of the machines will be sent to Steam users who are particularly active in the Steam community or who Valve feels have contributed significantly to previous beta tests; the rest will be sent to eligible Steam users chosen at random. You could try to create multiple Steam accounts and run them all through the beta program qualification process, though Valve is quick to claim that such a blatant trick won’t work.

As for what we expect to see in the first round of Steam Machines, well, here’s what we know so far: Valve’s prototype is built for people who prefer “the most control possible over their hardware,” but there will be other Steam Machines from different manufacturers that will be designed for people who care more about price, subtlety, or size. The Steam Machine is designed to run SteamOS, but you can modify it to run any operating system you please—though it’s probably smart to keep SteamOS installed on low-powered Steam Machines if you already own a beefy Windows gaming rig, since Valve’s operating system is capable of streaming games from another PC via Wi-Fi and as of this writing only a few hundred of the games on Steam run natively on the Linux-based SteamOS.

SteamOS
No matter what SteamOS ends up looking like, Valve has committed to releasing the source code, so you can (theoretically) customize it to eliminate potential annoyances like ads or Steam notifications.

Frankly, I think the most interesting part of this announcement is Valve’s confirmation that SteamOS is designed with gamepads in mind. Steam’s Big Picture mode does a damn fine job of making a complex PC application navigable with naught but a controller, and the prospect of running an entire PC with a gamepad is exciting enough to make me reconsider sliding a PC into my home entertainment center. Valve is promising to share one more big piece of news this Friday at 10 a.m. PT that has something to do with input devices, and sure enough, the original Steam Living Room site has been updated again with a final 48-hour countdown. My money’s on a new Steam controller built specifically for Steam Machines running SteamOS, but feel free to share your own speculation in the comments section.

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