Is the Steam Box here?
January 8, 2013 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Valve and Xi3 team up to bring the Piston to CES.
posted by Artw (112 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
okay, Gaben, just take all my money already, I wasn't really putting it to good use anyway, I was just paying for food and shelter
posted by mightygodking at 7:23 AM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


More RPS coverage, with a link inside to Eurogamer's coverage.
posted by griphus at 7:23 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a tiny Linux box that has perfectly supported hardware for gaming and lots of game ports coming to it. Well now, let me consider BEFORE I BUY ALL THE THINGS.

Assuming I can also at least dual boot to an OS with root.
posted by jaduncan at 7:24 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's an impressive piece of engineering. I have no idea how they're going build in the appendage that extrudes the vacuum pump towards my credit card, but I guess modern machining is pretty amazing.
posted by mhoye at 7:25 AM on January 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


Also, unfortunately the only way to get a Piston will be to submit an application with $100 entry fee to Valve, and then have your friends vote for you.
posted by griphus at 7:25 AM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


So, its a locked-down PC in a fancy box, to make PC gaming more like console gaming?
posted by memebake at 7:30 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's actually an ARG for Half Life Episode 3.
posted by Artw at 7:31 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


That is definitely in TAKE MY MONEY territory though I'd actually be happier running this crap on my RMB hardware because 1) it's fast as hell, and 2) I've already paid for it. Hrm.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:33 AM on January 8, 2013


How controversial, Valve working with a company with a 3 in their name.
posted by hellojed at 7:34 AM on January 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


So, its a locked-down PC in a fancy box, to make PC gaming more like console gaming?

Hard to know how locked down it will be; I'll note that Steam DRM is not insane in general.
posted by jaduncan at 7:34 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, its a locked-down PC in a fancy box, to make PC gaming more like console gaming?

There are a lot of benefits to developing for a standardized hardware configuration. Hardly anyone isn't distributing their games through Steam and if resource-intensive AAA games come with a preset that optimizes the game for the Piston's hardware, that can ensure a much smoother experience across the board. I recently got Saints Row: The Third for PC and Infamous 2 for the PS3, and I certainly did not have to spend twenty minute fiddling with video settings for the latter to get the optimal display.
posted by griphus at 7:36 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Get a life with this gamer's dream
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:37 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's apparently based on Xi3's X7A which runs 1000$ and is most notable for it's modular three piece motherboard - which is how they fit everything into the small cube shape. That modularity means that you can swap out components (much like a desktop pc*) but retain a tiny footprint.

Also neat: the X7A supports three monitors out of the box - which is only one short of finally being able to play GoldenEye as it was intended. Is that worth rent money? Yes, yes it is.

The hardware is pretty trick but well see if the whole package is sweet enough to overcome the mighty challenge of : "You want what? For the TV? To play games on? You allready have that!"

*of course these modular parts will only be available from Xi3, which is decidedly NOT like how a PC goes together.
posted by zenon at 7:40 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


If this comes out first is it going to crush the Ouya?
posted by Aizkolari at 7:44 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, its a locked-down PC in a fancy box, to make PC gaming more like console gaming?
No.
posted by Evernix at 7:45 AM on January 8, 2013


The Ouya is shooting for a completely different market. It's an $99 Android device that will almost certainly be aimed at casual gamers. This is a straight-up gaming rig in a small box.
posted by griphus at 7:46 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't the proper name for it a kettle?
posted by stx23 at 7:46 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pictures of the actual Xi3 Piston device at Endgadget, and it is interesting to note that particular unit was made in the US.
posted by zenon at 7:47 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can't sell gamers a machine named Kettle. Penis is a much better name.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:49 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


griphus, thanks, that makes sense. So this device would be up closer to the $1000 mark?
posted by Aizkolari at 7:49 AM on January 8, 2013


$1000? So: over priced and under powered. Even the Alienware "console" x51 is a better value and much more upgradable. Plus that comes with Windows so it will play the 95% of Stream titles that aren't yet Linux compatible.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:50 AM on January 8, 2013


I would love to have the power and control of PC gaming without having to pay the "Microsoft tax" for Windows. I kinda suspect the sort of PC games I like are heavily reliant on Windows-specific tech though. Cautiously optimistic about this, and Ouya.

Also been hoping that the tech driving streaming game access will be refined soon so it's more feasible, because nobody enjoys updating video drivers. Poor OnLive.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:52 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Catalog of future Steam products
posted by localroger at 7:54 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Was out of date video drivers really OnLive's problem?
posted by pharm at 7:56 AM on January 8, 2013


Per Engadget:
And it's somewhat future-proof, too, with a modular motherboard that lets you swap out components when newer tech becomes available.
So eventually the Piston's going to be almost as non-standardized as gaming PCs? Fantastic.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:56 AM on January 8, 2013


So this device would be up closer to the $1000 mark?

Yeah, Eurogamer is saying it'll start at $1100.
posted by griphus at 7:58 AM on January 8, 2013


You miss the point, though. Even if there's swappable parts, the fact that there are a limited number of them, and that they'd be part of a standard manifest, means that software can trivially autoconfigure itself to run at its best on the hardware available. Somewhat like the way iOS games do dynamic reconfiguration based on screen size and CPU/GPU power of the device they've been installed on. It's painless for the end user, and very low grief for the developer.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:59 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Alot of people eager to shit on this.
posted by Evernix at 8:00 AM on January 8, 2013


Xi3 ran an unsuccessful Kickstarter for the X3A/X7A platforms a few months back. You can see the preliminary spec sheet for the X7A here, which Piston is based on.

The GPUs are all notebook devices, which is unsurprising due to the form factor. It seems this is basically an expensive laptop. Not sure I see the appeal.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 8:01 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ben Kuchera has published his take, now.
posted by gilrain at 8:06 AM on January 8, 2013


I'm seeing less of a problem with autoconfiguration than with what happens when you only meet some of a game's minimum specs - which is not a problem in iOS because the hardware upgrades go along a single straight line. There's no such thing as an iPhone 5 with the 3GS's graphics chip in it. Imagine, for instance, I've got the newest graphics hardware but my CPU is two generations out of date and I've never touched the sound system. I can rune Bloodfest 7 without surround-sound but Puzzle Agent Omega won't even start, because even though it's way less graphically intensive it has to be able to simulate 7,308 simultaneous games of chess and that would melt my processor.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:07 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Alot of people eager to shit on this.

I admire Valve's independent spirit (and exotic management stucture), but assuming the rumoured price of $1000 is accurate, then you've got to ask - who is this for? Console gamers are used to paying, what, $200 or $300 for a machine. PC gamers perhaps pay more, but get a fully flexible PC as part of the bargain. To get the price down they'd have to make millions and sell them at a loss - thats the sort of thing Microsoft can do, but not smaller companies.

So it looks like Valve rescued a failed kickstarter campaign and these cool little boxes are going to be an expensive and low volume prestige item.
posted by memebake at 8:11 AM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


What I find exciting about the idea is that Windows may not be a part of it. (I don't know if this is actually true. I sincerely hope it would be true.) I'd really, REALLY, like to stop considering giving Microsoft money for their shitty OS just so I can play one of the three or four games I care about that aren't available on PS3 or Mac. That would be so lovely. So lovely.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:12 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Long-awaited HL2ep3 to be announced as a Piston-exclusive title in 3... 2...
posted by sourcequench at 8:14 AM on January 8, 2013


memebake: "So, its a locked-down PC in a fancy box, to make PC gaming more like console gaming?"

As far as I can tell, the key selling point is that it's a console that's made by a company that doesn't hate its users or independent developers.

Also, the market is ripe for a decent hackable STB (or at least one that can run apps and has a large enough user-base to attract developers). The platform fragmentation going on in the Smart TV market right now is pretty astonishing. Google dropped the ball, Apple's system is completely proprietary, Roku is underpowered, and proprietary linux-based the platforms from Samsung and LG feel like they were hacked together over the course of a few weeks.

This is a big opportunity for Valve. Let's hope they don't blow it.
posted by schmod at 8:15 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's between a $500 PS4 Sony branded, Sony owned console that I am little more than renting (seriously, Sony keeps fucking us over by changing our products after we spent money on them) and a $1000 linux-based Valve endorsed Big Screen capable PC, I will have -0- problem paying the extra simoleons to make that choice. I buy consoles because the content is there, if the content I wanted was also available on a much more flexible platform, there would be -0- reason to own the console.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:16 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean right now if I'm searching right there are 38 games available on Steam for Linux. And a quarter of them appear to be total garbage. What am I missing?
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:17 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


memebake: "assuming the rumoured price of $1000 is accurate"

I get that the base X7A device is $1000, but I'm not sure that price will be the Piston's price. Not sure why -- Valve might be pursuing a loss leader, the part pricing may change with Valve's backing, parts could be different. On the other hand, there's good precedent for Valve getting involved with weird hardware products.

Current Mood: Wait and see.
posted by boo_radley at 8:19 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sidebar: The Kickstarter Ouyu console has been shipping dev units recently. I can't link right now, but most of the developers are pretty satisfied with it (It runs the Unity engine pretty well, which is a sticking point for me) but it's kind of a "If this works then it'll be great but it might not" deal. Still, $99 for an indie console would be pretty nice.
posted by hellojed at 8:20 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


You miss the point, though. Even if there's swappable parts, the fact that there are a limited number of them, and that they'd be part of a standard manifest, means that software can trivially autoconfigure itself to run at its best on the hardware available. Somewhat like the way iOS games do dynamic reconfiguration based on screen size and CPU/GPU power of the device they've been installed on. It's painless for the end user, and very low grief for the developer.

Every other time I've seen something like this, the old hardware becomes pretty much obsolete as soon as new hardware comes out, which happens quickly. The community and support naturally shifts from the old to the new as people move to the new hardware. The console game hardware cycle is extremely slow, so that the same Xbox 360 hardware that came out in 2005 can still run AAA titles that come out today. I would be willing to bet that a $1000 Xi3 box bought in 2013 is not going to be considered a big priority to support when developers are releasing AAA titles in 2021. If it's like any of the similar weird gadgets I've bought, it will probably be completely abandoned by the manufacturer by then.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:27 AM on January 8, 2013


Evernix: "Alot of people eager to shit on this."

You can put together a pretty good gaming PC to hook up to your HD TV for under $500 so I'm not sure why I'd want a $1000 Steam box over that. If it's priced more like a console there's potential if they can get the games.
posted by the_artificer at 8:27 AM on January 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


You can put together a pretty good gaming PC to hook up to your HD TV for under $500 so I'm not sure why I'd want a $1000 Steam box over that.

Not everyone has the time or the inclination to build a PC.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:34 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


And that's why $200-$300 consoles exist? The Steam Box is going to have to thread the needle of people who think $1,000 is a perfectly fine price for a limited gaming system, but for some reason don't like the 360 or PS3 (or both, for half the price!) and can't be arsed to build their own machine. I just don't get it.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:39 AM on January 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Economies of scale would ensure that the price is well below 1000 - and I would expect the ideal to be somewhere around where the PS3 is priced, because that is the device's primary competitor. The game market has been steadily splitting into casual and hardcore, and this device and system are firmly aimed at the hardcore gamers.

Of course, the hardcore are also more than a little silly and often relish in spending extra to have the latest in greatest in hardware so they might charge a fistfull of cash up front while ramping up production to whatever level the market can sustain.

Also worth noting: there is a sizable population of hardcore gamers that are NOT interested in having any sort of PC hassle in their living room - which only serves to emphasis Steam's need for an excellent OS environment. I think that is where Steam will really win or lose this - not on the "consoles" hardware specs (which they've somewhat future proofed) but on if they can become the Apple of the game industry.
posted by zenon at 8:41 AM on January 8, 2013


So hey, again: The Xi3's X7A had a $1,000 price, which the gaming reporting industry is using to deduce a price for this Piston box. Let's not go nuts taking this broad brush rush-to-the-wire price as gospel.
posted by boo_radley at 8:42 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree that $1000 is far too much to pay for this gaming computer, which doesn't even have a discrete video card for heaven's sake. Point taken that the price of the X7A doesn't necessarily dictate the price of the eventual Steam Box itself, but it's worth asking what an acceptable price would be. I don't think I'd pay much more than a PS/3 or Xbox360, personally, and if Valve needs to swallow that difference in order to launch the thing they'll have a pretty big job ahead of them.
posted by whir at 8:53 AM on January 8, 2013


The marginal value of a "console" that works with PC peripherals (keyboard and mouse for FPS? Why thank you!), works with my existing PC library, the lion's share of which is on Steam already, and can buy games at Steam Sale prices is not zero. But it's also not $500, so it depends on where Valve decides to come down within that range.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:58 AM on January 8, 2013


I'm trying to think of what the whole Steam Box "pseudo-open" console thing means. Does it mean BYO controller? You could obviously have a keyboard or mouse, but if I wanted to play a game with a PS3 controller, I could if I wanted? At the very least, not having to buy another 2-4 controllers shaves a good $50 to $100 on expenses.
posted by FJT at 9:01 AM on January 8, 2013


And that's why $200-$300 consoles exist?

Well, at some point fairly soon I'm going to have to upgrade as the PS4 and Xbox 720,000,000 come out if I want to keep playing modern games. Going on past experience, those machines are likely to cost $400-500.

Personally, I would pay around $500 for one of these in order to not have to deal with Microsoft or Sony during the next console cycle, but remain able to play games on the TV. I would not pay $1000, of course--for that price I could just buy a desktop--so I'd be surprised if it falls in that range.
posted by IjonTichy at 9:02 AM on January 8, 2013


The big thing for me is less the actual box and more the peripherals. A box that amounts to another console where I use console controllers to play games that are also available on consoles is not so interesting. Yeah, a fancier box would let me play Borderlands 2 at native 1080p with more eye-candy physics, but... eh. I'd bet that a PS4 will let me do that with B'lands 3 in a couple years.

But if they have a good-enough wireless keyboard/mouse -- something like the phantom lapboard but smaller and cheaper -- than I've got a box that I can play those games on, and that I can play proper CivTheLatestVersion on, and that I can dosbox the Gold Box games on, and that I can play FPS's with WASD+mouse like God intended, and so on. That I could imagine dropping a little money on.

For that matter, heres an idea:

Something like the phantom lapboard, but with laptop components in it, talking wirelessly to a wee hdmi box/dongle plugged into the receiver.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:03 AM on January 8, 2013


looks like the Piston has a windtunnel kind of cooling design, so if you set it on one of the hex grate sides, it'll overheat.
posted by hellslinger at 9:03 AM on January 8, 2013


Not everyone has the time or the inclination to build a PC.

So buy a premade one built for gaming. For example, the Alienware X51 is $700. I'm not really up on Windows gaming machines these days, so maybe there are better examples, but that should give some sense of the competition Valve is facing.
posted by jedicus at 9:04 AM on January 8, 2013


I'm not sure any real game has ever purchased an Alienware before.
posted by hellslinger at 9:07 AM on January 8, 2013


The Alienware x51 has a nice community around it now. It has official support at the Dell forums and many user videos explaining how to upgrade the graphics cards, tweak the fans, optimize graphics for 1080p tvs, etc. etc. It's a pretty compelling package actually and a nice one is about $900. This isn't the early 2000s anymore.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:11 AM on January 8, 2013


Wow, Xi3.com is getting hammered. But one of their form factor leverage ideas was this, which is... a bit odd.
posted by boo_radley at 9:13 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Was out of date video drivers really OnLive's problem?

No, what I am trying to say is that not having to bother oneself with providing and maintaining the hardware & software removes a lot of the pain and barrier to entry for PC gaming. If all you need is a TV, broadband internet, and the equivalent of a Roku box, standard-issue consoles and monstrously expensive "gaming PCs" both become dinosaurs. I wouldn't miss 'em.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:14 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those $200-300 consoles are the current generation, aka the six+ year old generation. This is not being built to compete with the Xbox 360 and PS3; it's being built to compete with the Xbox 720 and PS4. Which will probably cost about $1000 apiece before Microsoft and Sony take their loss-leader bath in order to sell lots of games on which they make their profits.

And guess what? Steam means that Valve takes a cut of every single game sold. Which means that a loss leader model is entirely viable.

Short version: It's not necessarily going to be as expensive as you think, and you're not comparing it to the right console generation. Chill the fuck out.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:16 AM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


...not to mention the fact that digital distribution is amazing and I also wouldn't cry if Gamestop -- the single most painful retail store to actually try and shop in -- became extinct.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:16 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not really up on Windows gaming machines these days, so maybe there are better examples, but that should give some sense of the competition Valve is facing.

Okay, thinking about it from that direction is a good start. I mean, what advantage does having a "Steam Box" give Valve? How would a "Steam Box" integrate with the Steam Store?

And after answering the first two questions, how would those answers translate to giving a benefit to the consumer, especially over an existing console platform or Alienware PC?

One thought is, perhaps games would be 10 to 25% cheaper if purchased through Steam on the Steambox as opposed to anywhere else. Since the primary advantage that Valve has over established consoles is it doesn't have to fight for brick and mortar space or have to have physical media, it can translate that into faster and cheaper delivery of media to the consumer.
posted by FJT at 9:17 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have no love for the big expensive gaming PC for gaming, what I really want is a mouse and keyboard because controllers are baby toys.

If Valve can put economies-of-scale into full force and give me a gaming PC for cheap that is optimized to play all my favorite games, I can put all my work stuff on another PC that doesn't need a blow torch video card, and be just as happy as the current 1-PC-for-everything model.
posted by hellslinger at 9:32 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure about this.

I can see the value of a branded steam PC. It would lower the barrier of entry to PC gaming and give devs some target to develop for. The flip side would be that the steambox would soon be outdated, and devs targeting it will be castigated by gamers for catering to filthy casuals.

I personally don't see the benefit for a PC that is actually a console. I'm not going to try playing games with a keyboard in my coffee table, so I'm limited to games that support a 360 controller.

I think instead of bringing PC gaming to the living room, this will bring living room gaming to the PC.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:47 AM on January 8, 2013


Wow, Xi3.com is getting hammered. But one of their form factor leverage ideas was this, which is... a bit odd.

And that's before they attach the robot arms!
posted by Artw at 9:51 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Artw: "Wow, Xi3.com is getting hammered. But one of their form factor leverage ideas was this, which is... a bit odd.

And that's before they attach the robot arms!
"

(artist's conception of Valve's Piston with robot arms)
posted by boo_radley at 9:56 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The flip side would be that the steambox would soon be outdated, and devs targeting it will be castigated by gamers for catering to filthy casuals.

This hasn't happened to the current generation of consoles, which are still producing tons of hardcore gaming products.

The whole point of something like the Steambox is to eliminate the twin demons of constant semi-mandatory upgrades and endless configuration hell that drove people like me away from PC gaming. In other words, to eliminate the very concept of "outdated" in the sense that it currently applies.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:57 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This hasn't happened to the current generation of consoles, which are still producing tons of hardcore gaming products.

Because there's nothing better. If the Steambox is upgradeable, then over time AAA titles will generally require a recently-upgraded box, just like it won't take long after Microsoft and Sony release their new consoles for the big-name releases to be exclusive to XBox 720, PS4 and WiiU, while there's an occasional Madden title or shoveled-out port for the old systems.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:02 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


If there's one thing Valve has always been good at it's making sure their stuff runs okay on older machines.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


And that's before they attach the robot arms!

I was thinking along these lines.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:11 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Piston seems to be a beachhead for Valve into gamer's living rooms. I don't think this is THE Steam Box (as conceptualized by the rumor mill to be a device specifically by Valve as a console replacement). The Piston isn't going to be Vavle's only entry into living rooms - it's going to be one of many. Like I said above, Valve is investing in Xi3 with this project but Xi3 are making this device specifically to work with Steam. This is all theorizing, again, but I see the Piston as one entry point among many more to come. Steam will be the platform on which other gaming PCs come storming onto your television.

From my blog ... I hope that's OK to link to
posted by Tevin at 10:15 AM on January 8, 2013


I mean right now if I'm searching right there are 38 games available on Steam for Linux. And a quarter of them appear to be total garbage. What am I missing?

How many PS3 games were out before the actual PS3 was?

That's not to say it will succeed. But looking at the number of games that could conceivably run on this system which has literally just been announced isn't going to tell us very much. If they put an effort into making sure a lot of games run on this thing it might be really cool. I've certainly learned not to underestimate Valve over the years.

If the $1k is an accurate estimate I don't see it being crazy out there, taking into account what most consoles cost at launch and also the price of games on Steam during their sales.

The big thing for me is that if this works at all Valve will have accomplished for them what the console publishers have been trying, and failing, for years: the elimination of the used game market.
posted by ODiV at 10:22 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This hasn't happened to the current generation of consoles, which are still producing tons of hardcore gaming products.

I think some PC versions of cross platform games suffer because of consoles. They have a minimum spec they have to support and have to support controls based around a controller.

Right now, PC titles are free to ignore all but the latest and greatest everything if they want. I think the steambox may ultimately become a minimum they are forced to support.

Then again, it may not. Maybe devs will just ignore the steambox after a year.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:24 AM on January 8, 2013


Man, if this hardware is the same as the X7A Kickstarter, I wouldn't touch it. It's all AMD, meaning that it will be too hot, too loud, and with shitty driver support under Linux.

On the CPU front, Intel just destroys AMD. It's so lopsided these days. Intel is much faster on the high end, and everywhere throughout their lineup, they're more than twice as efficient in terms of computing per watt. There's hardly a spot where you'd ever choose an AMD CPU over an Intel one.

In theory, the AMD chips with integrated graphics should be a clear win for AMD, because Intel embedded graphics are still kind of laughable. Better than they were, but it doesn't take much to improve from zero. AMD's embedded video is more like a weak discrete GPU, much stronger than the Intel offering. But, in actual practice, the AMD chips are (somewhat optimistically) rated at 125 watts of thermal exhaust. So, if you use a 65-watt Intel CPU, which will run faster for the great majority of software than the 125-watt AMD monster, and then use a small discrete card, you end up with both much stronger CPU and much stronger GPU performance, in a very similar power envelope. All of AMD's engineering into gluing the two parts together on one chip ends up being largely useless. And, with that Intel chip as your backbone, you have the option of going up to the high-end 200 watt GPUs, which will transform the box into a firebreathing monster, able to drive huge screens, often several huge screens with older titles, with aplomb.

You can argue that many games don't need that much CPU, which was largely true until 2012, where CPU demands started seriously spiking. But even when CPU demands aren't that high, an Intel chip, in general, can do twice as much work per watt, so it costs less to run, it costs less to cool, and, critically, when it's sitting next to your television, it's quieter. If it's putting out half the heat, it needs half the airflow to cool itself, and especially in a small box like that, the noise difference can be enormous. Small fans are noisy if they try to move much air, and that box is tiny.

And then, all hardware issues aside (and those aren't things you want to just handwave away; AMD really sucks these days).... ignoring all the hardware issues, then you have driver issues. And under Linux, for many many years, the two solutions you want for graphics have been Intel if you want a true open-source stack, and NVidia if you want good performance.

NVidia is not well-liked by the Linux kernel devs, because their video driver is basically their Windows driver, with a thin set of shims that insert into the Linux kernel, and make it call into the appropriate spots in the Windows binaries. Free software people (and I consider myself more or less one of them) hate binary blobs passionately, because it means we can't fix or improve problems, and if a manufacturer decides to abandon hardware, it leaves us helpless. But, whether we like it or not, the NVidia approach works better than any other video solution in Linux. (The free drivers for that hardware, Nouveau, have just now gotten to the point that they can actually do 3D acceleration on all NVidia hardware. This is very good, but I suspect that's where the real work starts.)

ATI has tried to do the same thing, but in comparison, their proprietary binary blob is terrible. You can simulate the Linux on ATI experience for free, by putting a bag over your head, and asking people to hit you with hammers. They did put out good documentation, finally, which is wonderful, and something NVidia never did, but I'm not aware that the freeware ATI driver camp has even gotten as far as the Nouveau team has.

Basically, under Linux, you just want Intel and NVidia. Everything works. Everything works really well. Anytime you get into AMD/ATI, you're asking for pain.

So I am completely mystified as to why Valve would, apparently very deliberately, choose absolutely the worst hardware to drive the OS on their box. Maybe they've got the resources to make this work, but they're gonna have to climb a damn mountain just to get to where they'd start with an Intel/Nvidia setup, and even then they're going to be struggling with chips that can substitute for space heaters.

Truly puzzling.
posted by Malor at 10:35 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Many, if not most, AAA titles are produced on middleware like Unity, PhyreEngine, CryEngine, Unreal and so on. And while it's not "click and done" to port to a new platform, it's a lot simpler than it used to be. Almost all of the development effort and expense these days goes not into programming but into asset generation, and it makes perfect sense to ensure these assets are platform neutral so that you can release on a wide range of platforms.

What I'm saying is that thinking of this system as a whole new world that will require significant ramping for development is incorrect -- if Valve throws its endorsement behind this platform, all the major engine developers are going to throw basically an infinite number of resources behind porting their middleware to it, because anyone who does not do so is saying "Oh, let's just not support Steam" which is just basically walking away from a flipped over and burst open armoured car full of untraceable cash.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:41 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is A steam box not THE steam box:
Reached for comment this morning about the forthcoming piece of hardware, Valve marketing director Doug Lombardi told Polygon that Piston is just one of many hardware prototypes they brought to the show.

"Valve will be at CES to meet with hardware and content developers in our booth space," Lombardi said. "We are bringing multiple custom (hardware) prototypes as well as some off-the-shelf PCs to our CES meetings."

Lombardi described the prototypes as "low-cost, high-performance designs for the living room that are great candidates for Steam and Big Picture.

"We will be sharing more information to the press and public in the coming months," he added.
Polygon
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:43 AM on January 8, 2013


Man, if this hardware is the same as the X7A Kickstarter, I wouldn't touch it. It's all AMD, meaning that it will be too hot, too loud, and with shitty driver support under Linux.

Long before this announcement, Valve has been working to improve driver support under Linux.
posted by Jpfed at 10:53 AM on January 8, 2013


One out of three works for batting averages, but maybe not for hardware design.

Also, if the Steambox OS is only going to play new games, that defeats half the purpose of the service as far as I'm concerned. I already own upwards of 200 games on Steam; a console made just for playing Steam games should support more than four of those.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:06 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Things like 'wine' and 'Dosbox' should also make this pretty interesting. With enough resources and a standardized hardware set Valve could really make fairly large number of old games work pretty well.
posted by rosswald at 11:16 AM on January 8, 2013


Okay, thinking about it from that direction is a good start. I mean, what advantage does having a "Steam Box" give Valve? How would a "Steam Box" integrate with the Steam Store?

Mac and Linux clients notwithstanding, Valve still depends heavily on Windows. Microsoft released Windows 8 with the built-in Microsoft Store. Right now it's lacklustre, but over time it could build itself up to be very strong.

Valve probably saw the writing on the wall, and decided to take a stab at their own platform while they can. And I know that a Steam Box is very appealing to me -- being able to run all the games I already have on Steam on a HDTV, with high-end specs, and with a strong commitment to compatibility? That could be very nice.
posted by JHarris at 12:01 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Also: it runs Linux.)
posted by JHarris at 12:02 PM on January 8, 2013


A serious question: Is there any conceivable way that a Linux-based steambox could run the service's back catalog of Windows-only games (of which the original developers would presumably have the time and manpower to port but a fraction), without me having to install Wine and buy a new Windows license?

Because if so I'm a lot more optimistic about this thing.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:06 PM on January 8, 2013


Well, they could probably set up a WINE environment under Linux. Cedega has more or less offered that for a long time, and it works reasonably well. But it's probably only ever going to be really good at running games that are native to Linux, either by their framework being ported (like Unity) or by the actual code being ported to run under Linux and OpenGL.

Valve, at least, has been getting performance under Linux that's just as good or better than under Windows on the same hardware; the OS stack is perfectly capable, it just needs to be driven in OpenGL instead of Direct3D. But whether devs that aren't using toolkits can be convinced to support the OS is questionable. That's a lot of extra work for maybe 10% more revenue. Valve will need to make that revenue figure more interesting, and as powerful as they are in gaming, that may be more than they can deliver.

In doing some testing in Xubuntu, Trine 2 is one of the games that runs in the new Linux environment. The launcher does not correctly detect the large fonts I use (in, admittedly, XFCE, kind of an oddball windowing environment), so it's kind of a disaster in terms of looks, and the game doesn't seem to support 2560x1600. In 1280x800, it runs beautifully, but I'd rather see it in native mode.

TF2 runs fine, but it feels frame-lagged, like I have vsync on when I don't. Not sure what's up with that.

This is all early alpha stuff, and I'm running a Ubuntu offshoot, rather than Ubuntu itself, so don't take these criticisms too seriously. The cosmetics are less important than the fact that the games look and run just fine. As long as they do fix up the cosmetic issues, early testing is very promising.
posted by Malor at 12:21 PM on January 8, 2013


Oh, and don't forget, HZSF (wow, that name is hard to abbreviate!), that very frequently Windows itself isn't always that great at running older Windows games, especially with ATI drivers. It feels like ATI doesn't do much testing with older titles. I've had much better luck retrogaming with an NVidia card.
posted by Malor at 12:25 PM on January 8, 2013


Xi3 also compared the device’s physical size to that of a grapefruit

Dear Valve,

Please make it look just like a GlaDOS module.

Your friend,
byanyothername in Universe B
posted by byanyothername at 12:44 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Has anyone actually confirmed that this thing is based on Linux?
posted by memebake at 12:44 PM on January 8, 2013


And that's before they attach the robot arms!

Now, see, I was thinking of this, myself.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:49 PM on January 8, 2013


I'm not sure any real game has ever purchased an Alienware before.

Have you checked out this thing called PAX? Or do all the people carrying Alienware machines to BYOC not count as 'real gamers'?
posted by jacalata at 1:14 PM on January 8, 2013


Well, no true Scotsman gamer would do so.
posted by griphus at 1:19 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Project Fiona becomes Razer Edge, starts at $999, sans controller.

What.
posted by boo_radley at 1:30 PM on January 8, 2013


It's not even plaid, I mean come on.
posted by flaterik at 1:31 PM on January 8, 2013


It runs on 20 watts? That's amazing. I think an average LED TV uses somewhere around 200 W. And if you plug in a big gaming PC it'll use at least another 200 W or so, doubling consumption. The Piston would give you the same games for a tenth or less of the electricity. Not bad if it really is upgradeable and will last for many years.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:48 PM on January 8, 2013


Project Fiona becomes Razer Edge, starts at $999, sans controller.

Holy shit that is ugly. How would you even hold that without getting either neckstrain or gorilla arm?
posted by griphus at 1:52 PM on January 8, 2013


It looks like Razer Edge is a tablet computer, and that arcade style setup in the photo is the tablet fitted into a special gamepad dock.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:03 PM on January 8, 2013


Man, I am not an industrial designer by any means, but either way, that thing is butt-ugly. The frame on the tablet is huge, the handles aren't remotely ergonomic, and I am not sure how you are supposed to use thumbsticks mounted over the dpad and buttons without constantly depressing the buttons with the inside of your thumb. Hell, I can't even figure out how you're supposed to keep a grip on it.
posted by griphus at 2:15 PM on January 8, 2013


I mean right now if I'm searching right there are 38 games available on Steam for Linux. And a quarter of them appear to be total garbage. What am I missing?

This is the question that I've had too -- at this point, it's a pretty small slice of the Steam library that runs on Linux, and if the Steam box spec that Valve is saying will hopefully be taken up by a number of players actually is taken up, then... well, I don't know. Maybe there's a lot of semi-secret action going on in the background with game dev houses being encouraged to come out with Linux binaries as well, but the shift away from Windows that Gabe Newell has been encouraging after his public disappointment with MS's walled-garden shift in Win8 doesn't really seem to be gathering steam (hah!) yet.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:45 PM on January 8, 2013


Ah, never mind. Gabe explains the whole thing here.
We’ll come out with our own and we’ll sell it to consumers by ourselves. That’ll be a Linux box, [and] if you want to install Windows you can. We’re not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:57 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am sure a lot is going on behind the scenes. Steam has made it clear that they see this as a survival issue because Windows 8 is a disaster, the PC market is bifurcating into tablets, information appliances, and a relatively small pool of old school machines upgradeable to gaming spec and those possibly locked down for the MPAA in inconvenient ways.

Steam built a massively successful distribution channel to serve a platform that's about to, as they see it, cease to exist. They have said they see Linux as the solution to this problem, but given the hardware manufacturers' constant dance with Microsoft they probably see a strong possibility that having their own hardware will eventually be the only reliable way forward.

This puts them at a disadvantage to Sony and Microsoft with regard to experience and economies of scale, but they still have the distribution channel and a free operating system. They can work with the hardware manufacturers and game developers to a degree that Microsoft can't on its PC side to make sure everything works. They can make design decisions that place their box closer to a PC in ways PC gamers will want. They might very well deliberately make it hackable. (While typing this stavros' comment popped up indicating that they this is indeed likely part of their strategy.)

This is a bold, expensive, risky move that might still not work if they can't get a lot of their back catalog ported from Windows. They will have the advantage of being able to tweak Wine and the drivers to their particular hardware, but you never know. The thing is, the alternative for them is to possibly be left with no business model except to sell out to Sony or Microsoft three or five years down the line. There are all kinds of reasons this might not work out, but they see the worst-case scenario as being the inevitable scenario if they do nothing.
posted by localroger at 5:05 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Right, the era of open PCs, with open markets, is ending. Either they preserve something of that ethos themselves, on their own hardware, or they die.
posted by Malor at 6:02 PM on January 8, 2013


Right, the era of open PCs, with open markets, is ending.

The freedom-restricting kids can stay the fuck off my lawn.
posted by jaduncan at 6:06 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


What amazes me is the number of people who are in full-throated defense of Win8. They simply do not care about the loss of open markets and DRM being put on all their programs. They just don't care, and they're full of scorn and spite for those who do.
posted by Malor at 6:09 PM on January 8, 2013


Not doing whatever it would take to put a Steam tile right there on the start page was, IMHO, one of the biggest missteps of The Win8 launch.
posted by Artw at 6:11 PM on January 8, 2013


Malor, re: DRM'ed programs are you talking about WinRT and its mandatory use of the Windows Store, or is this something else?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:27 PM on January 8, 2013


Basically everything that uses Metro on Win8 has to pay Microsoft toll, and comes with heavy restrictions as far as what those programs can do. You can still use desktop programs, but that's a deprecated mode, and Microsoft is clearly planning to make it an unhappy, uncomfortable place. They want you in Metro, using tiles, because that means you're paying rent.

Windows 8 isn't quite an eviction notice from your own hardware, but it's certainly trying to make tenancy more appealing than ownership.

A world that goes with the Metro interface and locked-down machines is a world that can never seriously upset Microsoft again, because disruptive changes will be absolutely prevented. Only rent to Microsoft, forever, will be tolerated.

It's basically the same deal with Apple; but they've already taken it even further. They already prevent you from finding abortion providers with Siri, instead sending you to the bullshit 'pregnancy counseling clinics', propaganda machines to trick women into bringing fetuses to term. And they prevent you from easily finding out about American drone strikes, by locking a program to tell you about them out of the store. Apple is pushing its politics onto its users via the control it has via the DRM in its hardware. And if you think Microsoft wouldn't do that, the instant they felt secure enough to do so, you're a hell of a lot more optimistic than I am.
posted by Malor at 8:49 PM on January 8, 2013


I think WINE will progress a lot faster if Valve starts packing appropriate winetricks-like configurator scripts in with the popularest Windows games. They could hire Crossover or Cedega to do it.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:17 PM on January 8, 2013


The thing to remember, here, though -- the cat-herding aspect -- is that Valve just sells 99% of the games, through Steam. They have their own in-house games (some of the best games of the past decade amongst them), but the vast majority are from other developers, from EA on down to single-proprietor indies.

So in terms of how many games get ported over to Linux, Gabe and Valve can bang the drum, but I don't think there's much they can do other than lead the way by getting all their Source engine games working well. Given that they've been instrumental, I think, in expanding gaming on Apple computers (with their buy-on-one-platform-play-on-any system), it's entirely possible that developers might start getting on board, though.

The problem at the moment, I think, is the cost-benefit analysis, especially for small dev houses -- is the time spent developing a Linux port going to pay off in sales? The answer for most, I think, is no. Not yet. It remains to be seen if that will change, but there's an awful lot of inertia to overcome there, and unless Microsoft refuses to learn from what is becoming clear is another mistake, and step back a bit from the walled-garden initiative, well... we'll see, I guess.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:24 PM on January 8, 2013


The answer for most, I think, is no. Not yet.

Well, maybe an infusion of capital would help. Either use money to find ways to market and sell their Steam Boxes to everyone, or maybe just outright give subsidies to devs to develop for Linux or whatever Steam-friendly OS they can push.
posted by FJT at 9:45 PM on January 8, 2013


> the cost-benefit analysis, especially for small dev houses -- is the time spent developing a Linux port going to pay off in sales?

The majority of linux-compatible steam titles available right now are veterans of the humble indie bundle, which generally requires that its releases run natively on all three major computer platforms. Given that linux users have historically donated higher sums during each humble bundle promotion (demonstrating some kind of market even before valve's push) I think that a large minority of indie developers will begin releasing ports and find it profitable.
posted by sandswipe at 12:30 AM on January 9, 2013


Truth, the Humble (and other) Bundles have done great things for cross-platforminess in the last year or so.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:34 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, it seems most of the major game dev libraries now have the option to spit out Linux versions. Valve has ported Source & presumably the next Source (in development now supposedly) will support Linux for obvious reasons, Unity supports Linux already, Crytek is supposed to be working on porting CryEngine etc etc.

Essentially, if Valve is going to nail down a reasonable set if libraries to do everything else you'd need to write a modern game (sound, user input etc etc) then the big graphics engines are going to be there. At which point every AAA title has the option of a Linux port.

I think Valve has a decent chance of making this happen, and it'll be interesting to see the response from Microsoft, Don't et all.
posted by pharm at 1:24 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally, I would be happier with a custom PC integrated with Bittorrent, that wanted to actually save me money on using data in any particular way I feel like.

I am not particularly looking forward to this tiny little box, as much as I am looking forward to how people hack it. If the price point drops dramatically, it would also make an awesome substitute for the AppleTV/Roku niche, for example.
posted by markkraft at 1:46 AM on January 9, 2013


Well, it's clear that 2013 will be the year of Linux on the desktop! Er, on the TV!
posted by whir at 12:42 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oddly, whir, 2012 was the year of Linux everywhere else. It's quite dominant in most markets other than the desktop.
posted by Malor at 8:35 PM on January 9, 2013


I really just do not fathom what Microsoft is about. They have enormous financial, intellectual and IP resources and all they seem to want to do is push the tide back out to sea. The last time an organisation so big acted so stupidly was about a hundred years ago. In Russia.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:45 AM on January 10, 2013


How is aping the strategy that's made Apple an amount of money usually reserved for first world GDPs "pushing the tide back out to sea"? MS sees handheld computers eclipsing the "traditional" PC model, and they're trying to get a foothold before Windows, their cash cow to end all cash cows, becomes a thing of the past.

None of that is a reason to like what they're doing, obviously. But a locked-down platform where the "preferred" developers have been selected by, and pay a toll to, the company that made the hardware and/or OS isn't the past and it's also not Richard Stallman's paranoid delusion.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:19 AM on January 10, 2013


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