SteamOS on the Horizon

SteamOS on the Horizon

Steam is looking to break into the living room PC market with a new OS, new machine, and new controllers.

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The OS

The Valve Corporation launched Steam more than ten years ago to much acclaim (and grumbling as well) as a digital distribution service that provides a convenient and accessible location to purchase, install, and play PC games. Throughout the years the amount of users grew, as well as the games that were offered, then Mac and Linux systems received functionality. With more than 54 million active users, it’s safe to say that Steam is almost a requirement on any computer player’s system.

Now Steam has announced a new venture in the near future: SteamOS.

Focusing on the ability to bring games and other media to players, SteamOS will be offered as a free download (for forever) for use in living room gaming machines. What this means for a lot of those that like to play their games on a large TV, sitting comfortably on a couch amongst friends, is that the experience has just been made a lot easier to do.

The SteamOS will first and foremost retain everything that users enjoyed about Steam, such as being able to interact with the community with game groups, clans, in-game chat, and Game Hubs. SteamOS users will also benefit from the cross-platform cloud service to pick up their games where they left off after switching machines as well as saving their preferences.

SteamOS on living room PCs will see performance increases in graphics processing with audio performance and input latency next on the list. In short, SteamOS bypasses having to run a Windows or Mac operating system to play your games on the TV from a living room PC through Steam – with SteamOS all the performance is passed onto the game.

One of the biggest draws to SteamOS that’s been announced is “Family Sharing”, where users can share their games amongst family members to take turns playing one’s game, complete with individual saved games and Steam Achievements. This will also be available for the regular Steam client in the future as well.

Other features for SteamOS and Steam later on is streaming gaming from another location within your home. Steam is also working with media services to bring movies, music, and even TV shows to both clients. SteamOS will also offer the ability for families to have their own libraries, along with controls to who can access what game in them.  

Sounds like quite a bit to take in isn’t it? Don’t worry, there’s time. Right now there’s no announced release date outside of “Downloadable soon” on the website. However one would guess that it would be around the same time the Steam Machine (see below) arrives.

The Machines

Of course having just a SteamOS isn’t just enough to announce for Valve. They’re going extra yards with what will be known as the Steam Machines. Note the plural version of machine – there will be a variety of Steam Machines to choose from to use for gaming. Don’t feel that having a Steam Machine will be mandatory to run SteamOS, Valve has mentioned that SteamOS will still be able to be used on any PC gaming setup forever.

Currently they’re still working with multiple vendors to provide the parts for the Steam Machine, and they’ll be available via different manufacturers. In the very near future, Steam will be providing only 300 beta testers (chosen from applicants on Steam) with a prototype to test the Steam Machine. On top of that, Steam will be allowing these testers to share their experience freely.

Those that buy a Steam Machine will also be happy to know that they can hack the box, change the OS, change the hardware inside of it, install their own software – pretty much as if it was a store-bought or personally-built computer. A question was asked about using a Steam Machine to build a robot. The response? A simple “Sure.”

So when can we expect to see these machines? According to Steam, that will be as soon as the beginning of 2014. Not much longer!

The Controller

So there’s going to be a new OS and a new machine for and by Steam. What do you round it off with? How about a new controller?

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This is the Steam Controller. At first glance it looks like it might be the reverse side, or that there are speakers on the front of it. What you see there are two track pads – no joysticks.

Designed to work with all games on Steam (old, new, everything), the new controller is able to fool the older games to think it’s a keyboard and mouse while at the same time advanced enough to play latest releases with ease. The dual trackpads are touted to be high-resolution, allowing for better input than joysticks.

Most users of modern controllers are used to it rumbling and shaking when you’re hit by a rocket, driving on a rough road, or near a clue. The Steam Controller will be using something completely different called haptic feedback.  Haptic feedback uses dual linear resonant actuators (that’s a mouthful) to bring a more refined and wide range of force and vibration to the controller to give feedback on speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, and more. Remember how we said it might look like those trackpads are speakers? Well it’s possible for them to play audio waveforms and function as such.

Adding onto the features, the Steam Controller has at its center a high-resolution touch screen. It also functions as one giant button – in fact the whole screen clicks as one input. Developers and programmers can get at the API to use it however they please, be it a map, a dial, anything they want. And like the Steam Machine, the Steam Controller is designed to be hackable by anyone.

The Steam Controller will luckily not be tied to just the Steam Machine, it can be used on any other PC, Mac, or Linux system that has the game running through Steam. The Steam Controller is also not required to use a Steam Machine; you can use a mouse and keyboard just fine.

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