Valve, a colossal player in the video games industry, has recently announced of its intentions to release a radical new operating system, called SteamOS. With this in mind, we take a look at some of the purported features, and whether this could signal the arrival of the Steam Box on the horizon.
The notorious video games developer and publisher, Valve, is set to make one its boldest moves since the inception of Steam, originally released back in 2003 as a digital distribution platform for video game entertainment.
Quite excitingly, Valve are planning to launch an operating system, entitled SteamOS. This news is alleged to be the first in a series of announcements, due to be eked out at intervals throughout the week. Valve have proclaimed these imminent innovations to be the future of gaming.
The official website blurb opens with the following grandiose statement:
“Thousands of games, millions of users. Everything you love about Steam. Available soon as a free operating system designed for the TV and the living room.”
Valve specifies that, in attempting to bring Steam to the user’s living room, they believe that it was necessary to develop a Steam-centric operating system that was capable of delivering the best value to their customers. In order to achieve this, the new operating system will harness the power of Linux, an open-source OS; individuals and companies are able to modify and develop upon the existing foundations of the Linux source code to achieve their own ends.
SteamOS could be considered a natural evolution of Valve’s Big Picture mode, which was integrated into Steam during late 2012. Big Picture customized the platform to be used with media center PCs and high definition television sets. The new software looks to take this approach to an entirely new level.
Valve list a number of benefits and features of SteamOS, ranging from performance gains to an overall more streamlined experience. The four cornerstones of their OS, which are specifically designed to focus on usability within the living room environment, include the following:
- In-home streaming – the ability to play Windows and Mac games through the SteamOS-based machine
- Music, TV and movie streaming services
- Family Sharing – the ability to “take turns playing one another’s games”
- Family Options – greater customizability of the Steam games library, providing improved regulation over which titles can be seen by whom
In addition, Valve describes how SteamOS will improve graphical and audio performance processing, whilst “reducing input latency at the operating system level.”
But, one of the top features, capable of distinguishing hardware using SteamOS from the latest generation consoles, is the Steam Workshop. The Steam Workshop offers players a method by which they can get free, community-made content for their games, including additional levels/campaigns, graphical tweaks and custom characters, to name but a few.
Hardware manufacturers will be able to use SteamOS, completely free of charge, in compiling their gaming systems and, according to Valve, game developers are already in the process of targeting the OS for the release of their new titles.
The Steam Box
Back in March Gabe Newell, the head honcho over at Valve, was elaborating on the development of its hotly anticipated Steam Box. Rumors had been circulating over many of its features. During an interview with BBC News, Newell confirmed the project’s existence, stating he was working with partners in an attempt to “… nail down how fast we can make it.” He continued, “We’re also working hard on the input side to try to take a step forward in terms of the kinds of games you can play.”
The new device was also described to have the openness and flexibility of gaming PCs, but molded to work well within the setting of the average living room. Noise and heat issues were cited as being potential challenges that the team were working hard to resolve; Newell indicated that these were factors that needed to be addressed, whilst offering a powerful enough gaming experience to satiate the gaming masses.
When asked about whether the components would be based upon solid state technology, Gabe confirmed this to be true. “Anything that makes it generate less heat and less noise is a good thing,” Newell said of the technology.
Valve began looking for hardware and software engineers to design their new Steam Box back in September of last year. Although the world remained uncertain as to what was being conjured back at Valve HQ, it seemed that the company was toying with the idea of developing controllers that assimilated biometric data (e.g. motion control, gaze tracking).
With the introduction of SteamOS, it is possible that manufacturers may create third-party Steam Boxes. One of the previous hurdles to Valve’s planned Linux-based PCs was the lack of support for Microsoft DirectX, used by game developers to code for their titles. However, with the introduction of Valve’s In-Home Streaming service, this problem may have been resolved, at least in part.
Valve are planning to reveal their next surprises on Wednesday and Friday of this week. Many will question whether a Steam Box is on the horizon and, no doubt, fervent Gordon Freeman fans will speculate over when Half Life 3 will rear its elusive, crowbar-wielding head.
At the very least, SteamOS will remain on the radars of many an ardent gamer. However, as many Steam users have already specified, Valve may have missed a trick by not calling the new OS “GLaDOS.”
By: James Fenner