The Steam Box controller
Try as you might with wireless peripherals, the mouse and keyboard just aren't suited to couch gaming. Valve has recognized this, and thus unveiled a controller for use with any and all games on Steam.
That's right. First-person shooters, simulation games, even precise point-and-click tactical titles will be controllable with this gamepad, according to Valve. They even claim to have, "fooled those older games into thinking they're being played with a keyboard and mouse."
Touchpads instead of thumbsticks
The general shape of the Steam controller is familiar. Based on the renders on Valve's controller site, it looks a bit bulbous, like an Xbox 360 or (shudder) an Ouya controller.
There are some major differences though. First of all, it has dual circular touchpads rather than thumbsticks. You'll pilot them with your thumbs and they're even clickable, but Valve says they're more precise than physical movable sticks.
The trackpads will also give haptic feedback. These are the touch vibrations you know from phones like the Galaxy S4. According to Valve, this isn't just for rumble feedback, but it will actually help make controls more precise. How exactly that will work is unclear, but anyone who played StarCraft on the Nintendo 64 knows that controllers need all the help they can get with certain genres.
Dead center on the gamepad you'll also have a touchscreen, which seems more advanced than the touchpad on the PS4 or Ouya controller. There's a ton of potential here, giving game designers a space to place a map, inventory screen or even shifting contextual controls.
But do I have to use this thing?!
Nope, not at all. Valve's site says that you'll be able to use the regular old mouse and keyboard on Steam and the Steam Box, should you want to.
Of course, it conceivable that someone could make a game just for the Valve controller, but it doesn't look like there are plans to lock out any traditional input devices.
But what will be in the(se) Steam Box(es)?
It's hard to say. Because Valve plans to be open with the SteamOS, companies can slap together any sort of compatible configuration they like and put it to market. It will be a lot like Android, where you have devices of varying sizes, internal power and price. Some people theorize that Valve will produce a Nexus-style Steam Box of its own.
We expect to see two, maybe three types of Steam Box. First, a high-end beefy machine capable of running games locally. The second would be a less expensive configuration that relies entirely on streaming for gaming. A third would be somewhere in the middle.
Valve has confirmed that, at least for the beta, installing your own OS will be totally copacetic.
Music and movies on the Steam Box
Now, it looks like these are the sorts of features that are next on the list for the Steam app on Windows. Steam Database has caught some new updates snuck into the latest beta release for the game and software store, largely enabling a host of new application IDs, including films, TV series, videos, plugins and music.
Watching football and Netflix are a part of the console experience, and not something that Valve will be leaving out of its Steam Box. On the SteamOS site it says, "We're working with many of the media services you know an love. Soon we will begin bringing them online, allowing you to access your favorite music and video with Steam and SteamOS."
Valve doesn't name any names, but we expect the usual suspects to assemble. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, basically anything you can get at right now on your Xbox 360 right now is almost guaranteed. NFL Sunday Ticket and cable apps like Xfinity seem like a remote possibility, as cable companies and traditional media conglomerates tend to move slowly and cautiously. iTunes is right out, since it never shows up on a device without an Apple logo.
The Steam Box will have family sharing and account controls
Placing a machine in the living room means everyone in the house is welcome to it. This isn't a personal device like a cell phone or even a tablet; this is something everyone can log into. Of course, the Steam Box is guaranteed to be more nuanced than grandpa's VCR.
Valve has made that clear on its site, saying, " Soon, families will have more control over what titles get seen by whom, and more features to allow everyone in the house to get the most out of their Steam libraries."
It seems plans are in place for multiple users on a Steam Box. Whether or not those will all be linked to one Steam account is now the question that arises. Having it all on once account might be best, since that way everyone can share all the games the family has purchased, and mom and dad can keep little Johnny from playing GTA V by altering permissions, while still having it on tap for themselves.
Of course, moving games between multiple Steam accounts might not even be a big deal. Valve's SteamOS site details plans for a family sharing plan. Valve says, "Family Sharing allows you to take turns playing one another's games while earning your own Steam achievements and saving your individual game progress to the Steam cloud."
It's not terribly dissimilar to what Microsoft had planned for the Xbox One. Don't worry Xbox fans, that feature may actually make a comeback.
Article originally contributed by Alex Roth