Forget xbox and playstation: here comes the steam machines

Clint A. Mize

Today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2014), online game retailer Valve revealed a number of “Steam Machines,” stand-alone units that bridge the gap between personal computer and video game console. Basically, it’s a way of bringing all-you-can-eat video games to the living room in a similar way to how Netflix boxes do the same for movies. Here’s everything you need to know about the new systems:

Invading The Living Room
The big draw nowadays is conquering that Limbo space of the family living room, with both Sony and Microsoft jamming features that bring all your video media in one place. Consoles are basically closed PCs so it stands to reason that anything they can do, Steam Machines can do better. Netflix, Amazon Video, anything that already runs on your family computer will be able to run on Steam machines as well. The form factor is also living room friendly, as manufacturers are choosing tight, smart cases that fit nicely on your entertainment stand.

The iTunes of Gaming
Steam is the largest digital seller of PC gaming, amassing a whopping 75% of the market share according to Forbes. In a nutshell, Steam is the iTunes of PC gaming. Most, if not all games, eventually make their way onto the platform, including critically acclaimed indie titles you can’t get anywhere else. There are also seasonal sales offering massive discounts for all sorts of games both large and small.

On top of that, Steam employs a Greenlight system for upcoming games that can be voted on for approval, as well as several games allowing early access during alpha and beta stages making you a part of the development process. No need to choose Xbox or Playstation: with a huge online community, indie backing, strong gaming lineup, and deals galore, console makers might be shaking in their boots.

Choose Your Price
One of the biggest hurdles for many crossing from consoles to PC gaming can be the entry price for new systems. Valve has approved a variety of PC builds that should meet practically any budget. Starting around $499, the sky is the limit with how powerful these pre-built units can become. Of course this will be a linear increase: more money equals better graphics. But most gamers should get outstanding performance at any price. The most expensive unit rockets to a wallet-shredding $6,000, but it’s stuffed to the gills with power.

Controller or Box: Your Choice
Basically, a Steam Machine boils down to two parts: the box, and the controller. And that’s it. The thing that elevates a Steam Machine over an Xbox or Playstation is that you can buy the controller separately, install SteamOS on your home computer, and be ready to go. The box provides easy access to the operating system, and a handy place to store all your games. But even that isn’t necessary. The idea here is flexibility, and Steam has it in spades.

Valve’s Steam Machines should be available for purchase this year.