Update: We've scored some more hands on time with Alienware's Steam Machine, now known as the Alpha. Scroll on down to see our impressions and new photos!
Once there was a world where PC gaming was at the desk, console gaming was in the living room and never the two shall meet. That's all coming to a close now, as Valve prepares to bring Steam to your HDTV thanks to the Steam Box.
If you're unfamiliar with Steam, think of it as iTunes for video games, with a buddy list and chat for joining your friend's games. It started off on Windows PCs, but now has a healthy number of titles for Mac, too.
Valve's rumored Steam Box is a bit more ethereal. It's still unclear whether Valve, the Washington-based gaming mogul behind game series like Half-Life and Portal, will be designing the hardware, or simply create the means via software and let third-parties do the assembling and hawking of physical tech.
A point of clarification: Valve seems to prefer the term Steam Machine, while manufacturers keep calling their products Steam Boxes. We'll be using the two terms interchangeably in this article until we learn of a distinction between the two.
Theories now lean toward the latter as Valve has unveiled plans for the SteamOS. As the name suggests, SteamOS will be a sort of operating system for running Steam, and it will be based on Linux. This is all detailed on Valve's official SteamOS page.
- Read more: SteamOS: what you need to know
Valve already took a big step into the living room with Steam's Big Picture mode, but that still required putting a computer in your entertainment center, or running a really long HDMI cable, at the very least.
Perhaps because of that, a lot of the phrasing in Valve's SteamOS reveal treats Steam and the upcoming OS interchangeably. Therefore it's unclear which features will be integrated into Steam as we now know it, and which will be part of an upcoming release.
Still, Valve's goals with Steam Box and SteamOS are clear. Give PC gaming the ease and accessibility that console jockeys already enjoy, and do so in a way that lets OEMs make the hardware and compete. And put Steam right at the center of it, ready to vacuum up the cash like it's the Steam summer sale all year long.
2015: The new year of the Steam Machine
That's right. Valve has gone back to the drawing board with the Steam Controller. Again. As a result, we won't see any Steam Boxes this year. Valve played the bearer of bad news in a blog post, citing the amount of feedback it's received regarding the latest version of its unique take on the game pad.
"It's generating a ton of useful feedback, and it means we'll be able to make the Controller a lot better," Valve's blog post read. Making sure the controller is absolutely spot-on seems to be a huge priority for Valve, and rightfully so. That it keeps that much farther away from release is a bummer, but good things come to those who wait.
Hands on with Alienware's Steam Machine
Alienware went through eight revisions over two years in collaboration with Valve before it came to its final Steam Machine. That's how serious Alienware claims to be about Valve's hardware initiative.
Now it seems the Steam Machine with the alien head logo could be one of the first to hit the market. Dell plans on releasing the Alienware Alpha regardless of whether the Steam Machine program goes live this year. And at E3 2014, we got some extra hands on time with the device, now known as Alpha and with finalized specs. Here's an excerpt from associate editor Lily Prasuethsut's take on the updated device's proprietary interface:
"The Alienware UI I saw was simple, straightforward and branded with the company's familiar logo. The rep said it was set up to be "console-like" and "easy to navigate" which it definitely was."
"It also reminded me of a semi-dynamic Blu-Ray movie menu where you can scroll left or right to pick an option. The background changed with each choice - which Alienware reps said could be changed to whatever image you want much like a desktop background."
- Read her full take in our updated, hands on Alienware Steam Machine review
The Steam Box is coming. Half-Life 3 confirmed?
Actually, yes! At least that's what Counter Strike co-creator Minh Le said in an interview with goRGNtv. "I think it's kind of public knowledge, that people know that it is being worked on," Le said. "And so if I were to say that yeah, I've seen some images, like some concept art of it, that wouldn't be big news to be honest."
"I guess I could say that I did see something that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe," said Le.
Will Half-Life 3 launch alongside the first wave of Steam Machines. Who knows, but if you ask me, that's incredibly likely.
Hands on with Valve's Steam Controller at GDC 2014
Valve has almost entirely transformed the face of its Steam Box controller since we last saw it at CES 2014. Now, the company is set on getting the input device to market by holiday 2014, so it can be bundled with every make and model of Steam Box, and sold separately at a "competitive" price point. That said, a few planned features have been put on the back burner, if not tossed out entirely. Regardless, it's still a novel and functional method of control.
While it's disappointing to see Valve ditch a unique feature like the controller's touchscreen, the company has a history of going back to the drawing board to much success. When the controller and Steam Machines come out this holiday season, it won't be prying the keyboard and mouse from fingers, it'll be joining them.
We go even more in depth on the new changes to Valve's divisive input device in text form. Read all about them in our updated hands on Steam Controller review.
Steam Box hardware partners unveiled at CES
CES 2014 wasn't really a gaming show, but thanks to the Steam Machines, games dominated the headlines this year. Well, games and Michael Bay's Samsung implosion.
Before introducing the world to its thirteen official hardware partners, Valve's head honcho Gabe Newell addressed the crowd. It was an informal chat, Newell fielded questions from the crowd and teased that 3 million Xbox One sales still puts Microsoft's console behind Steam's install base.
Newell: Dota 2 is "bigger than Monday night football."
Then came the prototypes, from behind a literal curtain. PC building moguls such as Alienware, Origin, Maingear, Gigabyte and more were represented. See them all on display in the video below.
All the Steam Boxes from CES 2014