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Steam Machines: Valve’s PC-like game consoles explained



What are Steam Machines?

Once upon a time, PC gaming was at the desk, console gaming was in the living room and never the two shall meet. That gaming fairytale is supposed to end now, as Valve has brought Steam to your HDTV, thanks to the Steam Machine.

If you’re unfamiliar with “Steam”, think of it as iTunes for PC games, with a buddy list and chat for joining your friend’s games. It started off on Windows, but now has a healthy number of titles for Mac, too. Not to mention Linux, which we’ll touch on further in a moment.

Valve’s Steam Machines are aimed to shake up tradition, bringing PC gaming to the living room TV. None of them are actually built by Valve – partnering manufacturers have put together their own boxes – but Valve has injected them with SteamOS, its new Linux-based operating system (OS).

Cut to the chase

  • What are they? Home theater-ready gaming PCs with Valve’s SteamOS loaded
  • When are they out? You can buy one now from various gaming PC makers
  • How much do they cost? They generally start at $549 (about £384)

Valve already took a big step into the living room with Steam’s Big Picture mode years ago, but that still required a desktop PC in your entertainment center – or a really long HDMI cable. Perhaps because of that, a lot of Valve’s phrasing regarding SteamOS treats Steam (the service) and the new OS interchangeably.

Steam Machines

Still, Valve’s goals with Steam Machines and SteamOS are clear: bestow upon PC gaming the ease and accessibility that console jockeys already enjoy – in a way that lets PC hardware makers continue to compete.

And that puts Steam right at the center of it all, ready to vacuum up its cut of games sold on Steam Machines like it’s the Steam summer sale all year long.

Read more: SteamOS: what you need to know

The journey from announcement to launch has been long and a tad messy. But, at GDC 2015, Valve revealed the final details of its living room plans, which included Machines, the revised controller and its Vive virtual reality headset. Since then, a few smaller events and announcements kept things going into the 2015 holiday launch and beyond.

Losing steam already

After a false start or two, Valve went on to finally launch its Steam Machines back in November 2015 to little fanfare. While there are some 15 Steam Machines available today, Valve publicly endorses but a few makes, namely Alienware, Maingear, Materiel.net, Scan, Syber and Zotac.

Each of these Steam Machines are essentially gaming PCs inside home theater-friendly cases that run on the Linux-based SteamOS and come with one Steam Controller. Unfortunately, it’s even more difficult to peg which box is best for the kind of games that you want to play, as they all offer multiple configurations.

In the few reviews of Steam Machine candidates that we’ve published, we have run up against the same conundrum: do Steam Machines really make PC gaming that much simpler?

It seems as if we’re not alone in asking that question, as PC World reports that a scant 1% of Steam users play their games on Linux or SteamOS.

Steam Machines

Who are Steam Machines for?

The easiest way to answer this one is to say “console gamers that have been put off by the complexity and prohibitive hardware pricing of PC gaming.” However, while that may be the case, that hasn’t turned out to be the result so far.

Console gamers might find Steam Machines far easier to set up than gaming PCs, but that still doesn’t solve the problem that PC games are often developed for a wide range of hardware. Sometimes, PC game makers want to develop for the highest-end systems, which most Steam Machines certainly aren’t.

This causes problems that you can probably already foresee. For instance, what if someone who bought a Steam Machine for the next big Fallout game release? She will still have to see whether the parts inside her Steam Machine can run the game well, much less whether Valve’s proprietary SteamOS is even supported by the game. That’s not at all how consoles work.

Read our hands on SteamOS review

So, when you ask who Steam Machines are for, it’s almost easier to answer who they aren’t for, and that’s discerning hardcore gamers. Folks in this category can either put up with complexity for the sake of a great gaming experience on PC or know enough to avoid it altogether with a console.

Steam Machine

The silver lining: Steam Controller and Steam Link

Every Steam Machine comes packaged with might be the best product of Valve’s big coup for the living room, the Steam Controller. Sold separately for $49 (about £35), the Steam Controller primarily uses haptic feedback touchpads for input, a first for modern PC gaming.

The controller is affordable, beautifully designed and infinitely customizable. In fact, Steam now offers a fully-fledged community of Steam users that share uploadable controller profiles that can change everything from button mapping to the intensity of the haptic feedback motors.

Then there’s the Steam Link, which doesn’t solve the problem that Valve claims to be tackling with Steam Machines, but does one better. This $99 (about £69) set-top box allows you to stream games played on your PC via Steam to whatever HDTV the Link is connected to.

Streaming happens over your local network, and essentially allows you to play PC games in front of your TV without the need for a complicated HDMI setup or other methods. Steam Machines, running on SteamOS, offer this capability, too. But why spend 500-plus dollars for that feature when you can spend 100?

Steam Machines

Where do Steam Machines go from here?

The future of Valve’s living room project is largely unknown, as there hasn’t been much said of future Steam Machine releases from neither their creator nor its partners. At that rate, Steam Link has a better chance of fulfilling Valve’s couch-ridden dreams than any Steam Machine does.

That said, with the 2016 Game Developers Conference, or GDC 2016, around the corner, it would be silly not to expect Valve to have more to say on the matter of Steam Machines. Who knows, perhaps it will issue special Steam Machines for its SteamVR headset, the HTC Vive.

Article originally contributed by Alex Roth

Source: techradar.com


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50 Comments

  1. Stevie Gutkowski March 7, 2016 10:36 pm Reply

    You can just use any keyboard and mouse of your choice though? It's a PC, basically!

  2. Prof. Kristoffer Leannon DVM March 7, 2016 11:15 pm Reply

    no you're not, people are acting like these steam machines are novel in their idea, in fact I love how the article states before you'd have to put a computer in you entertainment center…umm…hello steam machine is a computer just instead of windows is linux os, anyone who knows how to build a computer which is most pc players, can build one and if want one sleek and shiny looking like a console they just buy 1 of the many console like cases out there. I'll stick w/ my windows as its more compatible with hardware and software than linux is. All Valve has done is add in yet another version into the masses of linux builds.

    Still dont' understand the point of Valves move on this when they are providing SteamOS for free anyways so if I wanted to have the headache of linux I can just setup a duel boot and boot into it if and when I wanted and not buy a "steam machine". Controller idea I like, VR i like, Steam OS/Steam machines dumbest idea but they are pushing it b/c they sunk a lot of money behind glNext.

    in the end I'll stick with Windows, simpler, more compatible, as capable, and is designed and maintained with a clear vision of what product is and needs to do, unlike linux which imo falls into the whole "to many cooks in the kitchen" problem. Linux is and always will be a niche product unless Microsoft literally just decides to close up shop.

  3. Prof. Dustin Keeling March 8, 2016 1:41 am Reply

    "…. if you take away that then theres no reason to side with one console over the other"

    This statement only makes his argument stronger even if that obviously wasn't your intention.

  4. Romaine Champlin PhD March 8, 2016 2:54 am Reply

    Is Steam Link coming out in Europe?

  5. Ollie Rippin March 8, 2016 9:39 am Reply

    bigpicture*

  6. Aryanna Keebler March 8, 2016 10:23 am Reply

    You can just use any keyboard and mouse of your choice though? It's a PC, basically!

  7. Miss Kiara Kovacek March 8, 2016 12:11 pm Reply

    "Is the conquest of the living room destined to be a three-way fight once more?" Sure, between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, whilst this irrelevant device goes the way of the Ouya.

  8. Camylle Feil March 8, 2016 12:41 pm Reply

    i'm not defending bc i agree with you, i was looking for 'official' (as opposed to beta) release of steamos… BUT this article does provide release of steam machines (which include steamos, obviously) in october and november. the question is, will the steam machines come with beta or official.

  9. Jeremie Kub March 8, 2016 1:28 pm Reply

    That would be awesome. Xbox would go out of business.

  10. Alayna Bogan March 8, 2016 1:54 pm Reply

    Effing liars, clickbaitars, give me my time back – NO RELEASE DATE in the article.

  11. Dr. Reuben Terry PhD March 8, 2016 2:36 pm Reply

    the OS is free not the hardware

  12. Dr. Jaren Casper March 8, 2016 3:13 pm Reply

    The point of the steam machine is to get non-pc gamers to play games that are on steam. You're thinking about it through the eyes of a pc gamer that built their own pc when you should be thinking about it through the average joe's eyes. Most people would rather just buy a console that they know will play the games than have to build their own.

  13. Prof. Westley Dietrich March 8, 2016 5:20 pm Reply

    It's primarily designed for people who can't afford to invest in PC builds, those who don't want to worry about where they've built something powerful enough to run the latest games at their best settings.

  14. Candace Reichert March 8, 2016 6:36 pm Reply

    Cmon Gabe. Save gaming again and lower the price!!!

  15. Prof. Terry Senger Jr. March 8, 2016 7:38 pm Reply

    Hate to say it but this venture probably wont end well for steam.

  16. Violette Cronin March 8, 2016 9:37 pm Reply

    But steam doesn't have movies, WTF, they could license a neftlix/hulu app maybe.

  17. Mr. Easton Stamm March 8, 2016 10:12 pm Reply

    just download steamOS, you don't have to buy a steam machine, and you still won't be able to just d/l any game w/o worrying if it will play or not, as one you have to hope the game even gets released on linux, and secondly if your hardware is up to the task and drivers are there for the hardware. A steam machine is nothing more than PC simply running SteamOS which is just their altered version of the Linux base.

  18. Prof. Braulio Watsica III March 8, 2016 11:45 pm Reply

    Steam knows what its doing though why would they make a console that doesn't even support its own library?

  19. Clarissa Lueilwitz March 9, 2016 12:23 am Reply

    It's primarily designed for people who can't afford to invest in PC builds, those who don't want to worry about where they've built something powerful enough to run the latest games at their best settings.

  20. Stephanie Farrell March 9, 2016 12:40 am Reply

    "Is the conquest of the living room destined to be a three-way fight once more?" Sure, between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, whilst this irrelevant device goes the way of the Ouya.

  21. Dr. Raven Schimmel I March 9, 2016 2:05 am Reply

    Well it's on your tv, and is made by valve

  22. Karli Bechtelar March 9, 2016 2:59 am Reply

    I do not understand why people are so amazed at these steam machines, like seriously wtf. They are PCs like you'd buy from dell, alienware (in fact mentioned in article), or build yourself. The only difference is they have the SteamOS(linux) vs Windows. In fact unless Steam has changed policy that I'm unaware you can d/l SteamOS for free to run on your computer you already own. Its not a console its not got locked hardware or anything, its quite literally just a computer w/ different OS, thats unproven in terms of gaming; by which I mean whether or not devs will now actually make games for linux.

    This isn't good news for PC gaming, this is bad news as now its created two different platforms inside a platform for devs to have to worry about publishing on. My prediction this whole SteamOS/steam machine goes nowhere fast.

  23. Ms. Alia Oberbrunner March 9, 2016 4:52 am Reply

    indeed, november (when the steam machines will be released… with official): https://steamcommunity.com/gro

  24. Libby Hartmann March 9, 2016 5:09 am Reply

    ha checck out the lastest and greatest at zombie-pc.Works with Xbox 360 Controllers for Gaming.

    Smaller than an Xbox 360, Xbox One and PS4.

    Hooks to a monitor or your TV for Media playback and Gaming (Steam Box)

    Or is perfect for a stand alone desktop

  25. Miss Myriam Beer I March 9, 2016 5:57 am Reply

    More like 25-40% But that was before greenlight. They just need to make a triple A category and an indie category.

  26. Dominique Stroman March 9, 2016 11:49 am Reply

    The point of a Steam Box is to play PC games on your TV the same way you'd play console games. It's mostly for people who don't play PC games already and don't have gaming PCs.

    Steam Link is a different for people who already have gaming PCs to let them stream from their PCs to the TV without an expensive hardware upgrade.

  27. Leonora Hettinger March 9, 2016 12:47 pm Reply

    Source?

  28. Prof. Ubaldo Stanton March 9, 2016 2:11 pm Reply

    Well it's on your tv, and is made by valve

  29. Phyllis Zulauf MD March 9, 2016 3:56 pm Reply

    More like 25-40% But that was before greenlight. They just need to make a triple A category and an indie category.

  30. Lenora Howell March 9, 2016 4:56 pm Reply

    I'm banning "Techradar" from my future google results for this.

  31. Mr. Brady Doyle March 10, 2016 5:12 am Reply

    I'm banning "Techradar" from my future google results for this.

  32. Reyna Hansen March 10, 2016 10:09 pm Reply

    The point of the steam machine is to get non-pc gamers to play games that are on steam. You're thinking about it through the eyes of a pc gamer that built their own pc when you should be thinking about it through the average joe's eyes. Most people would rather just buy a console that they know will play the games than have to build their own.

  33. Dr. Annabell Schiller IV March 11, 2016 12:50 am Reply

    "…. if you take away that then theres no reason to side with one console over the other"

    This statement only makes his argument stronger even if that obviously wasn't your intention.

  34. Mrs. Rosalyn Klein March 11, 2016 7:29 am Reply

    Steam knows what its doing though why would they make a console that doesn't even support its own library?

  35. Claire Stoltenberg March 11, 2016 12:05 pm Reply

    Hate to say it but this venture probably wont end well for steam.

  36. Edna Barton March 12, 2016 2:55 am Reply

    The point of a Steam Box is to play PC games on your TV the same way you'd play console games. It's mostly for people who don't play PC games already and don't have gaming PCs.

    Steam Link is a different for people who already have gaming PCs to let them stream from their PCs to the TV without an expensive hardware upgrade.

  37. Colten Mante II March 12, 2016 11:35 am Reply

    ha checck out the lastest and greatest at zombie-pc.Works with Xbox 360 Controllers for Gaming.

    Smaller than an Xbox 360, Xbox One and PS4.

    Hooks to a monitor or your TV for Media playback and Gaming (Steam Box)

    Or is perfect for a stand alone desktop

  38. Dr. Craig Bednar March 12, 2016 11:58 pm Reply

    But steam doesn't have movies, WTF, they could license a neftlix/hulu app maybe.

  39. Miss Nyasia Mayert March 13, 2016 6:51 am Reply

    Is Steam Link coming out in Europe?

  40. Mrs. Neoma Mayer March 13, 2016 8:53 am Reply

    the OS is free not the hardware

  41. Dr. Keyon Schaden IV March 13, 2016 10:59 am Reply

    i'm not defending bc i agree with you, i was looking for 'official' (as opposed to beta) release of steamos… BUT this article does provide release of steam machines (which include steamos, obviously) in october and november. the question is, will the steam machines come with beta or official.

  42. Sanford Larkin March 13, 2016 3:04 pm Reply

    bigpicture*

  43. Yasmeen Lehner MD March 13, 2016 7:51 pm Reply

    Source?

  44. Jacquelyn Yundt March 14, 2016 2:29 am Reply

    That would be awesome. Xbox would go out of business.

  45. Dr. Dalton Hartmann March 14, 2016 9:28 am Reply

    no you're not, people are acting like these steam machines are novel in their idea, in fact I love how the article states before you'd have to put a computer in you entertainment center…umm…hello steam machine is a computer just instead of windows is linux os, anyone who knows how to build a computer which is most pc players, can build one and if want one sleek and shiny looking like a console they just buy 1 of the many console like cases out there. I'll stick w/ my windows as its more compatible with hardware and software than linux is. All Valve has done is add in yet another version into the masses of linux builds.

    Still dont' understand the point of Valves move on this when they are providing SteamOS for free anyways so if I wanted to have the headache of linux I can just setup a duel boot and boot into it if and when I wanted and not buy a "steam machine". Controller idea I like, VR i like, Steam OS/Steam machines dumbest idea but they are pushing it b/c they sunk a lot of money behind glNext.

    in the end I'll stick with Windows, simpler, more compatible, as capable, and is designed and maintained with a clear vision of what product is and needs to do, unlike linux which imo falls into the whole "to many cooks in the kitchen" problem. Linux is and always will be a niche product unless Microsoft literally just decides to close up shop.

  46. Clemmie Schinner March 14, 2016 3:50 pm Reply

    I do not understand why people are so amazed at these steam machines, like seriously wtf. They are PCs like you'd buy from dell, alienware (in fact mentioned in article), or build yourself. The only difference is they have the SteamOS(linux) vs Windows. In fact unless Steam has changed policy that I'm unaware you can d/l SteamOS for free to run on your computer you already own. Its not a console its not got locked hardware or anything, its quite literally just a computer w/ different OS, thats unproven in terms of gaming; by which I mean whether or not devs will now actually make games for linux.

    This isn't good news for PC gaming, this is bad news as now its created two different platforms inside a platform for devs to have to worry about publishing on. My prediction this whole SteamOS/steam machine goes nowhere fast.

  47. Percy Yost March 15, 2016 10:36 am Reply

    Effing liars, clickbaitars, give me my time back – NO RELEASE DATE in the article.

  48. Rebekah Schaefer I March 15, 2016 12:35 pm Reply

    just download steamOS, you don't have to buy a steam machine, and you still won't be able to just d/l any game w/o worrying if it will play or not, as one you have to hope the game even gets released on linux, and secondly if your hardware is up to the task and drivers are there for the hardware. A steam machine is nothing more than PC simply running SteamOS which is just their altered version of the Linux base.

  49. Dr. Johann Lueilwitz March 16, 2016 12:18 am Reply

    indeed, november (when the steam machines will be released… with official): https://steamcommunity.com/gro

  50. Amelia Stehr March 16, 2016 4:45 am Reply

    Cmon Gabe. Save gaming again and lower the price!!!

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