PC gaming on your big telly was CES’s hottest property, but will Valve’s souped-up fun boxes of all shapes and specs catch fire?
Valve’s next-gen gaming PCs are coming! Built to play nice with your telly, will they make a serious play for the living room?
“The PC is successful because we’re all benefiting from competition with each other.” That’s the belief of Gabe Newell, co-founder and managing director of PC gaming behemoth Valve Corporation, the US firm behind Half-life, Portal, the Steam digital gaming service and, now, the nextgen console-bothering Steam Machines. Following his declaration at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Newell lifted the lid on the first wave of 13 Machines, with more on the way; that’s a whole lot of friendly competition.
Steam Machines, for the uninitiated, are custom PCs running Valve’s new Linux-based SteamOS, a bespoke gaming hub that puts a plethora of PC games on your living-room telly; like an open-source version of those old Windows Media Centers but altogether more gamey. At present, there are just 250 compatible titles, but that’s sure to grow.
While each Steam Machine follows minimum spec guidelines laid down by Valve, any PC manufacturer can attempt to make one. The four we’ve selected (right) span the price gamut from US $499 to US $6,000, depending on how much grunt you want under the hood; as you can see, there’s plenty of space for individuality, both in specification and style.
The biggest name in the stable so far is Alienware and the US firm’s prototype pays design lip-service to the PS4 and Xbox One, even with no specs on show. Other brands have been more forthcoming, with the Falcon Northwest leading the pack when it comes to firepower. Targeted towards high-end gamers, it has a familiar PC tower look and a spec that can be customised up to a whopping US $6,000. On the more affordable, less intimidating front, the likes of the Cyberpower PC A Series and iBuyPower will sit pretty under your telly, but with just Core i5 processors in tow, there’s less palpable reason to shun next-gen consoles.
Along with a shared OS (see box, top), Valve is also trying to revolutionise PC gaming controls. All Steam Machines are compatible with – but don’t necessarily include – the dedicated Steam Controller (previous page). It marries a console-like design with dual haptic touchpads replacing analogue sticks, attempting to closer emulate the PC’s killer keyboard and mouse combo.
Yet Steam Machines have a difficult task ahead of them as they begin to roll out. Valve may have 65 million registered Steam accounts, but that falls to seven million regular users. How many will want to overhaul their entire PC setup in one go? And will the myriad options confuse the casual consumer? Either way, a gamer’s choice just got a lot wider. steampowered.com, steam machines from US$499 out tbc, steam os free beta out now
The specs may be top secret and the design just a prototype, but this Machine looks to be most closely aping next-gen console aesthetics. Big performance and price tag expected.
Alienware is one of many PC brands building set-tops for Valve’s big idea