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What's the deal with the Steam boxes?

3 years ago

1 expert and 2 parents have answered

Tom Baker writer
Tom Baker Staff Writer Derby, UK
They've been teasing it for a while, but now it's finally (nearly) here: PC gaming giants Valve have unveiled details of 'Steam machines', games consoles that let you play any game from their online Steam store, complete with funky controller. It might even be the future of gaming! And there's a whole bunch of family-friendly titles on offer. So what're the deets?
The bargains
Each of the prototype Steam machines are made by third parties, and have differing specs and performance levels. If they're able to play Steam titles, though, they're all gonna be pretty decent. The CybepowerPC will be $499 and up, and looks a bit like a digital alarm clock. The iBuyPower is a little prettier, for the same price, stealing a bit of the Xbox One's style. Finally the Zotac, for $599, has yet to unevil its specs but resembles an outdated wireless router.
The less-than-bargains
Whilst those three are aimed at the 'casual gamers' – who would perhaps otherwise buy a different console – the other Steam boxes seem very much aimed at hardcore PC gamers who are used to paying top dollar for top performance. Thus the $1339 Alternate and $1098 (which both look like subwoofers) and the $2584 Digital Storm and $1799-$6000 (!!!) Falcon Northwest (which both look like PCs to boot). Maybe not for us.
The mysteries
Then there's the few that kept schtum on price and/or specs. It's probably safe to assume Alienware's set-top box looking entry won't be cheap, and the most intriguing is the Maingear Steam machine, which is small enough to be portable, powerful enough for decent play, and looks like the only true microconsole – and so, a threat to the 'big' consoles – of the lot. Keep an eye on it. That's if we'll need consoles at all, at least. 
2 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
Matthew Day
Matthew Day A geek London, GB

Looks like an opportunity missed, and a ridiculous approach.

Either the more expensive an featured systems are vastly over specified, or the lower end ones will fail to deliver to the standard expected.

I can see it leading to a confusing situation, where you never know if the hardware will be adequate, compared to the unified experience of other consoles.

2 Reply ( 4 ) Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
James Brodie expert
James Brodie Test Director Birmingham, GB
Technologist expert

I have been following this with interest as I wanted to see whether the market can support a fourth main stream console. I have purchased most of Valves products and by and large they have been innovators within their field and produce games to a good standard. The steam platform for those who are uninitiated is a digital delivery platform. You purchase games online which you then download to your PC. Basically if you play games on your PC there is a good chance you will have Steam on your system. What is interesting with the Valve console is that at the same time they are using their own propriety operating system which they will be making available to people who don't wish to purchase the console. This has mainly be down to a backlash against Windows 8. Windows 8 has generally been seen as a disaster and it angered companies such as Valve who feel that Microsoft have been locking down their operating system and making more difficult for digital delivery companies to operate.

Now then down to the boxes themselves. Originally I thought that Valve would be making the consoles themselves or using a single chosen vendor to produce the machines, so that you would have a standardised system architecture. Why is that important? Well if you know all the machines are going to have the same hardware, then you don't need to support a number of different configurations and it brings down the price of development.

The beta kits have gone out to people in the US only for now and there are a number of variants of the standard kits. The prices of the final machines will vary wildly depending on which version of the console you go for. There are the basic models around the £500 mark, but there are extreme gaming versions which go into the thousands of pounds. Companies such as Alienware/Dell are already preparing their branded models and it looks like they will work very much in the same way that they sell their laptops and desktops online.

I have spoken to a couple of people who have the beta boxes and early feedback is good. A big plus for the console is their controller which which is getting great reviews although it takes some while to get use to. However here is my single biggest criticsm of the concept. What you are doing it taking a PC gaming stalwart which provides games for your PC to play. Then you are going to pay PC money to play a console and lose the functionality of what you can do on your PC.

I love playing games and building PCs. I love the customisation and I can see they are trying to attract that sort of market but for me they are diluting a single solution and that will confuse the consumer. Why don't I just buy the controller as my PC can run everything that the console can run because it a PC at heart.

For this to work, they are going to need to bring out some big hitters. Where are the Halos etc. Well of course the ace in the hole could be a new Half Life game in the works. There are plenty of rumours but nothing concrete. I have my PC, my Xbox One. I will probably purchase a PS4 next year, but I don't see any killer apps on it, and really for me I don't see any point to the console. Why resell my PC back to me?

That being said, I would love to be proven wrong and I hope it is a great success. If nothing else it will keep the console manufacturers on their toes!

2 Reply ( 1 ) Share:
Experience 3 years ago

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