While most of us were busy with the next-gen console war between; Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, a company named Valve was busy engineering their vision for the next-gen living room. The existence of Valves project was far from secret, but what exactly they intended to accomplish was less well known, for good reason.
Let us first start to understand who Valve is. Valve is a company that got started out making great video games. They have distinguished themselves as a top quality studio that does not just stamp out the annual AAA title like some studios (are you listening EA?). If you are not familiar with some of their work, then I highly recommend you play their highly successful and now legendary series that started back in 1998. A fantastic and genre defining game called Half-Life. Seriously, if you have not played it, go do so now! If you can't handle the dated graphics, take a look at what Black Mesa’s Team, a Half-Life 2 mod, managed when they set out to recreate the first game in high resolution.
Now back to more recent days, over the last few years Valve has been hinting at development of a console-esque product. This product would end up being their answer to the console market. Instead of taking on large scale hardware development, Valve was actually developing Steam OS. Steam OS was created to be their own operating system, with the purpose of being a living room gaming platform.
So what is a Steam Machine?
A Steam Machine is a Linux based PC that is designed to be compact and living room friendly. While some might be confused, Steam has built a machine of their own, but it was strictly for developers and beta testing purposes. Value confirmed that there is no “official” Steam Machine, but fear not. Several manufacturers have already announced they will release their own Steam Machine.
Manufacturers such as; Alienware, CyberPowerPC, Digital Storm, Falcon NW, GigaGyte, iBuyPower, and Origin PC, just to name some of them. Pricing ranges drastically from $500 - $5000+, limited really only by what you want to spend. The machines are going to be customizable, in most cases, allowing consumers to really pick what they want inside on their budgets.
When determining the value of the Steam Machine, when compared to the Consoles and standard Gaming PC’s, one must explore all of the angles. Ultimately people everywhere will not agree what is better, but our common ground we can all stand on is that we agree that gaming does belong in the living room. My goal here is to take a look at how these options will fit into the living room and what people want from them.
Let us start with looking into the Consoles. For obvious reasons the PS4 and Xbox One have a clear cut advantage, their older brothers have soldiered on for decades in this space, they were made for this! Gaming PC’s, on the other hand, have been for years been making trips into the living room to only be shuffled back into their cove under your desk where they are most comfortable. Valve had set to change that with their “Big Picture” mode for their gaming marketplace/platform “Steam”.
With Big Picture, Steam was bridging that gap between the console and the PC, fairly successfully too! For years gamers have been able to play their favorite games in higher resolutions with even the same gamepad as their buddies on the consoles, and now they can do so in their living room.
The problem that people noticed though, especially Valve, was that people did not want to leave their gaming PC in the living room. Gaming PC’s are generally large, loud, clunky things. On top of that they were people’s primary PC, and let’s face it… doing everyday computing tasks on your 60” screen sounds cool, but in reality is not realistic. That is why Valve set out to make a compact, “affordable”, and powerful living room machine.
I can say that PC’s are capable of producing higher qualify gaming, and will probably always be true. The issue I have here is that to the regular Joe gamer, does not have the $2000+ to build/buy their way into console beating performance ranges.
So if hardware is not the difference what makes the Steam Machine marketable? Well as I have mentioned, it is all about size and being the dedicated gaming machine. Steam OS and the Steam Machines are all about bringing PC gaming to your living room. They are solely designed just for gaming.
So how does the Steam Machine Stack up against the Next-gen Console and the Gaming PC?
Console Pros and Cons
(+) Generally less expensive ($300 - $500 New Prices)
(+) Size is decreasing and is generally smaller than the Steam Machines and PC’s
(+) Next-Gen machines are more quiet in comparison to gaming PC’s (unsure about the Steam Machines)
(-)“Console Wars” and the “Battle for Exclusives” have created a divided and fragmented market for consoles
(-) Console games generally cost more than PC/Steam versions
(-) Your friends might purchase a different console!
PC Pros and Cons
(+) Most games have a PC release
(+) Games can run in higher resolutions
(+) Game Mods galore!
(-) Noisy, Large, and Expensive!
(-) Did I say HUGE!
(-) Cannot use your computer while watching TV… without a secondary display
Steam Machines Pros and Cons
(+) Small in Size
(+) Game Library should be large… (should be)
(+) Valve is behind the idea…
(+/-) They can be cheap, or EXPENSIVE!
(-) Linux based Steam OS (currently many games are not compatible)
(-) New Kid on the block, these guys are just starting out so I predict there will be some growing pains for the 1st generation of machines
In summary, I cannot say that the Steam Machines are the answer to bringing a cohesive living room friendly gaming experience, but that is their goal. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all of your gaming buddies on the same platform? Imagine every gamer in the world owned a Steam Machine instead of the console they have now. You could load up any game and play online without first having to determine what games each other has for the respective console. I know that it is a dream for a perfect world, but it would be terrific wouldn’t it?
Leave your feedback below. Let us know what you think about the Steam Machines? Would you buy one?