Update: Valve and its Steam Machine hardware partners unveiled a ton of new details at CES 2014. We've since gone hands on with prototypes as well as Valve's official controller. We've updated this article to reflect to the current state of Steam Box affairs.
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.
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
Hands on with Valve's Steam Controller
CES was also a chance to try out Valve's in-house Steam Controller. We say in-house because while Valve has not committed to producing its own Steam Box, it will be making a controller.
Third-party Steam Controllers are not out of the question, but manufacturers will have their work cut out for them when it comes to matching the precision and flexibility of Valve's design. And even Valve hasn't figured out how to make it work for every game, especially fast paced competitive titles like DOTA 2.