Valve has just revealed the second of three announcements it’s going to be making this week, and like the first, it’s worth getting excited over. On Monday, the company announced “SteamOS”, a Linux-based operating system that’s designed to deliver the ultimate Steam experience on the ‘big screen’. It’s expected that in addition to being able to offer compelling gaming experiences, other common services will be featured on the platform, such as Netflix, Hulu, and of course, YouTube. If done right, SteamOS could be the ultimate TV experience, period – not just the ultimate Steam-on-TV experience.
As has been widely anticipated, this second announcement has to do with hardware, dubbed a rather humorous ‘Steam Machines’. Valve is quick to point out that “Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world.“, so unlike the other consoles (you know the ones), SteamOS = choice. While the company is working intently with vendors to produce SteamOS-based boxes, Valve has prototype models to send out to 300 lucky beta-testing folk. Want your chance at one? You’ll need a bit of luck, and to follow these rules:
THE HARDWARE BETA ELIGIBILITY QUEST:
Before October 25, log in to Steam and then visit your quest page to track your current status towards beta test eligibility
1. Join the Steam Universe community group
2. Agree to the Steam Hardware Beta Terms and Conditions
3. Make 10 Steam friends (if you haven’t already)
4. Create a public Steam Community profile (if you haven’t already)
5. Play a game using a gamepad in Big Picture mode
Not much is being said about the prototypes that Valve is sending out, and I’m not sure it’s safe to speculate as to whether it’d be considered low-end, mainstream or higher-end hardware. What we do know, though, that Valve has designed StemaOS to support all varieties of setups, and while you’ll be able to simply buy a pre-built machine, you’ll also have the ability to build your own and install SteamOS to enjoy your fine-tuned experience. Imagine if you could do that with the Xbox or PlayStation!
One important thing is mentioned in the FAQ: SteamOS will be completely open-source: “You will be able to download it (including the source code, if you’re into that) but not yet.” Also, while Valve acknowledges that there are over 3,000 games available on Steam, it mentions that “hundreds are already running natively on the SteamOS, with more to come“, while going on to state that “the rest will work seamlessly via in-home streaming“.
Is it just me, or is everything surrounding SteamOS really exciting?
On a related note, NVIDIA has just published a blog post that gives its take on SteamOS. As expected, the company is serious about working with Valve to make the Steam experience in the livingroom – and on Linux in general – the best it can be. NVIDIA’s Mark Smith writes, “NVIDIA engineers embedded at Valve collaborated on improving driver performance for OpenGL; optimizing performance on NVIDIA GPUs; and helping to port Valve’s award-winning content library to SteamOS; and tuning SteamOS to lower latency, or lag, between the controller and onscreen action.“
It doesn’t look like the collaboration between Valve and NVIDIA is set to expire anytime soon, and it’s a good thing, because improved driver support is going to be highly appreciated for a platform like the one SteamOS is creating. Admittedly, NVIDIA’s drivers are already very good on Linux, so what I hope to see in the future is finer control added so that it comes closer to the Windows version. For starters, advanced built-in multi-monitor support would be nice, as would per-game optimization settings. If Linux gaming becomes as big as Valve (and Linux fans, of course!) would like it to be, it goes without saying that hardware and peripheral support on the gaming side of things is sure to improve all-around.