At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, there were a lot of things to be interested in. For fans of PC gaming, hearing the co-founder of Valve, Gabe Newell, talk about the piece of hardware Valve is unofficially working on to run its PC gaming platform, Steam, would undoubtedly make the list of highlights. Rumors about this so-called “Steam Box” concept have been circulating for ages, but CES gave us some concrete information about how Valve intends to put Steam into a console-like piece of hardware. This is a huge development as Steam is one of the largest of the many existing platforms for PC gaming; the idea of a machine that serves neither as a full PC nor as a locked-down gaming console, but rather takes both the convenience of a console and the versatility of a PC, is one that many corporate players in the PC gaming industry are interested in. Here are a couple of Steam Box style product options that will soon be readily available:
Valve’s Steam Box:
At CES, Valve said that the version of the “Steam Box” it will develop and release would run Linux but also support Windows; it would be closed, in that the hardware would be configured with a customized operating system during manufacturing, but the locked down system would still be able to perform many of the functions of a normal Windows or Linux PC. The machine would be optimized to run Valve’s Steam platform in their full-screen/TV Big Picture mode, and to run full-screen games on a TV screen, using only a controller to play, just like a console. Valve was also very clear about the fact that it doesn’t intend for its machine to be the only piece of hardware of its kind; Valve intends its Steam Box to be just one of many such products capable of running Steam developed by many companies. Unfortunately, Valve has yet to release many details about the specs and hardware of their Steam Box; they haven’t even given it an official name yet.
Piston, by Xi3:
Another piece of hardware based off the same “Steam Box” concept and capable of running Steam itself was actually at CES: Piston, developed by Xi3. Piston is more of a PC made portable in a box that is designed for performance and to be plugged into a TV. Xi3’s box allows for more hardware customization than Valve’s; the Piston can be opened and some components upgraded or customized, allowing for more versatility and tweaking of performance. The unit also fully supports any PC software; instead of being locked down to Steam and specific applications, Piston works for the most part like a desktop computer. However, Piston is also not designed to work as a plug-and-play console; some experience with PC hardware is required to make good use of the unit.