Steam Invades the Living Room

steam os

Valve has made three separate announcements this week all pertaining to steam, the living room and a more gaming centered focused computer. The first announcement, Valve is developing a Steam Operating System (denotes SteamOS). The second, is that the forever rumored steam boxes are on their way in 2014 and this year for 300 beta testers. Finally, today Valve announced a brand new controller for this interface to tie everything together. All of these things makes up a cohesive, tantalizing play for the living room like no computer has made for a long time.

I don’t think it’s a secret that this has been coming. For multiple years steam has paved the way in making PC gaming more accessible for the console and casual gamer. Many PC gamers didn’t really join in the days of DOS or even early windows gaming until after the platform had established itself until the days of Half Life and Counter Strike. The announcement of a new PC platform, based of Linux, that will be highly customizable while at the same time being easy to understand is very tantalizing to the hardcore gamer and casual console gamer alike.

One of the main reasons consoles are so popular is because historically they have been less complicated than a PC. The PC can be full of problems and issues when playing games that haven’t been a part of console gaming. Plug in the cartridge or put in the disk and play. Hopefully, with the history of how much easier Steam has made PC gaming, this will transfer over to the Steam Box, operating system and controller.

The operating system will basically be a stripped down version of Linux that will offer many different options. Want to upgrade the software or hardware you see fit? Then SteamOS will allow you to do that, like the PC, but with the simplicity of a console. It will also allow streaming of video games from a PC or Mac in the household over a home network. This means that hardcore PC gamers that have a souped-up rig will be able to play their favorite games in front of their TV without having to move the tower in the computer room. The operating system is suposadly going to feature also a wide range of media features essentially making it a direct competitor to something like a smart TV or apple TV.

Furthermore the operating system will be free to download, free to license and will be available from many different partners making Steam Machines. These machines will have a couple of different flavors with Valve talking about a good, better and best options. For those people looking for a streaming machine, a stripped down version will be available while the hardcore may want more power. All of this sounds good and will be coming in 2014. For those who want to try to get into the beta process, check out the steam page describing how to get qualified.

The last thing that Vale announced today, and probably the most exciting to me, is a new controller to tie everything together. For a long time console gamers have been looking for a controller that is as precise, if not more precise, than a mouse. While it’s true the PS4 and the Xbox One have made real strides to make controllers the best they possibly can be it is still impossible to match the accuracy of a mouse with annalog sticks. This new controller seems like it might be a revolution in gamepad technology.

The controller uses two haptic trackpads that are supposed to simulate, and innovate, what the annalog stick does. Each trackpad has magnates and other things in it, that well, I have no real understanding of, but here is a quote from the Steam Controller Page with a picture to describe how it may work.

Trackpads, by their nature, are less physical than thumbsticks. By themselves, they are “light touch” devices and don’t offer the kind of visceral feedback that players get from pushing joysticks around. As we investigated trackpad-based input devices, it became clear through testing that we had to find ways to add more physicality to the experience. It also became clear that “rumble”, as it has been traditionally implemented (a lopsided weight spun around a single axis), was not going to be enough. Not even close.

The Steam Controller is built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small, strong, weighted electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads. They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement.

This haptic capability provides a vital channel of information to the player – delivering in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations, or any other events about which game designers want players to be aware. It is a higher-bandwidth haptic information channel than exists in any other consumer product that we know of. As a parlour trick they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers. – Steam Controller Page

All of these things together, the SteamOS, Steam Machines and the new Steam Controller sends a strong message. Steam is coming to the living room and that may be a game changer. We still don’t quite know everything about the system, how well it will be supported or how the controller even really works out for games. One thing is for sure though, Valve has some serious good faith in their fans and people are excited about the possibilities. Also, anything that is focusing on input lag at the operating system level has to get technofiles excited.

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