Hands on: SteamOS beta review

Is Valve's early-days living room interface worth a download?

What is a hands on review?
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Forget the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 - Valve's SteamOS is the biggest shake-up to the gaming industry yet, a free operating system that allows gamers to roll their own machines. It's still very much in the nascent stages of development, and the beta isn't exactly easy to use, but as a proof-of-concept it's intriguing and potentially monumental.

Store screen

We liked

There's a lot of programming and coding magic behind SteamOS's deceptively simple interface, and Valve has done a great job of building an entire operating system specifically for gaming. In Linux, tinkerers can go behind the scenes and alter settings as they wish, and, like Google's similarly open-source Android, it will only be made better by fervent fans.

Big Picture screen

While we wouldn't choose SteamOS as our operating system of choice at the moment, there's still a great deal of potential here. In-home streaming could deliver on a promise that has been made many times before, and multimedia services will put it on the same level as the consoles as the hub of a home entertainment centre.

We disliked

At the moment, installation requires a great deal of patience, moderate Linux skills and a narrowly defined PC setup - none of which most gamers have. If you're not into the intricate ins and outs of Debian distributions, we'd only recommend running it out of curiosity. You can experience a far more user-friendly version of Steam for Linux by sticking Ubuntu on your computer and installing it there.

Big Picture 2

We're not too sure about the future of Steam's huge games catalogue in Linux. This could improve in the future, and Valve is undoubtedly throwing incentives at developers to get their games onto the platform as we speak. But the fact that a Steam Machine will have to be tethered to a Windows PC to play the majority of games is a bit of a failure.

Store view

Early verdict

Even if Valve's SteamOS fails to take off - and we doubt very much that it will - it's still a big raised middle finger at Microsoft's PC gaming dominance, not to mention a warning to the consoles.

There is a lot of work to be done here, particularly in regards to the installation methods, but these are forgivable given its very early beta status. And since Steam Machines were just delayed to 2015, there's plenty more time for Valve to get SteamOS in fighting shape.

Additional reporting by Joe Osborne

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.