Rumor has it that Valve’s “Steam Box” is set to be fully revealed sometime this year, likely at either March’s Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) or June’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Nevertheless, a torrent of “Steam Box” information has come from the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, which runs through Friday, January 11th.
For starters, the prototype “Piston” hardware, a modular mini-PC produced by Xi3 and designed to take advantage of Steam’s Big Picture Mode, made its debut at the show. Following that revelation, Valve CEO Gabe Newell commented on his company’s forthcoming hardware, including its operating system and controller.
According to Valve, “Piston” is just one of several “Steam Box” prototypes currently in development. Newell’s company fully intends to release its own version of the hardware, and as rumored, it’s set to run Linux. The surprise, given Newell’s outspoken disapproval of Microsoft’s Windows 8 and his admission that Valve’s hardware will be “a very controlled environment,” is that “Steam Box” won’t be restricted to the open-source OS. In a lengthy and wide ranging interview with The Verge, Newell confirmed that Windows will, in fact, run on “Steam Box,” for users who want it to.
“We’ll come out with our own and we’ll sell it to consumers by ourselves. That’ll be a Linux box, [and] if you want to install Windows you can. We’re not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination.”
“Steam Box” won’t be limited to a single operating system, and it won’t be restricted to a single screen or player, either. According to Newell, multiple gamers will eventually be able to play, each on individual screens, using just a single system.
“The Steam Box will also be a server. Any PC can serve multiple monitors, so over time, the next-generation (post-Kepler) you can have one GPU that’s serving up eight simultaeneous game calls. So you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it.”
About those controllers, which may turn out to feature “user swappable control components.” Newell has been talking about biometric controllers for years, and they continue to figure into his company’s plans for “Steam Box.” Newell isn’t alone in pursuing the technology. In 2011, Sony applied for a patent a on biometric controllers that can detect sweat, heart rhythm and muscle movements. Presumably, Valve’s controllers will measure those factors as well, but it’s “gaze tracking” that Newell is most excited about.
“I think you’ll see controllers coming from us that use a lot of biometric data.”
“Biometrics… is essentially adding more communication bandwidth between the game and the person playing it, especially in ways the player isn’t necessarily conscious of. Biometrics gives us more visibility. Also, gaze tracking. We think gaze tracking is going to turn out to be super important.”
All together, it’s a tantalizing glimpse at what could very well be the most important hardware announced this year, regardless of what happens with PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720. Granted, price is sure to be an issue, as it always is with new hardware. Xi3’s “performance level” X7A, on which “Piston” is based, runs $999 – hardly a console-gamer-friendly price. Still, the promise of Valve’s forthcoming system is impossible to ignore. Fingers crossed that GDC 2013 (March 25-March 29) brings more info.
Ranters, how interested in “Steam Box” are you? Could you see yourselves choosing Valve’s system over the PS4 or Xbox 720? Let us know in the comments below.
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