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From subtle to shocking, Origin & Alienware are creating two very different Steam Machines

Wednesday, 8 January 2014 15:38 GMT By Phil Owen

Phil Owen meets Steam Machine makers at CES and asks, “is The Cult of Steam ready to start a hardware movement?”

You’ll find Phil’s hands-on impressions of the Steam Machines and Steam Controller through the link.

Our editor Matt Martin has also posted an opinion blog on the Steam Machines product line, dubbing it overhyped, overpriced and over-complicated.

On Monday night I found myself standing atop the 55-storey Palms Hotel & Casino in a reasonable (read: not enormous) space known as Ghostbar. Waiters with finger foods, sliders and cocktails roamed, and two of the three bars were manned. The view was spectacular, at least if you looked outward.

For a spot in which a gaggle of tech journalists were gathered to gawk at a bunch of computers, it was decidedly classy. Not that Ghostbar isn’t literally classy in the modern sense – it does, after all, require “stylish nightlife attire” for entry during regular business hours – but the setting didn’t exactly gel with the reason for being there, at least in theory, and it definitely clashed with the regular Joe appearance of the attendees.

“Valve’s purpose in partnering with so many manufacturers is to provide a range of options that it hopes will hit every type of person interested in gaming hardware.”

When Gabe Newell demanded our attention and had a member of the Valve Army pull the sheet off the Steam Machines to reveal display models from his company’s numerous hardware partners, however, the situation made a bit more sense.

A PC tower isn’t sexy. Sure, you may put lights and artwork on its shell, but if it’s powerful enough it’s going to take up some legitimate space. It has all those wires, and it won’t fit into a stock entertainment center. It belongs in its own room, away from where, you know, the normal people will gather.

“You can’t put a tower in your living room and have your wife look at it every day and go, ‘I like that. I like that a lot,’” Alienware’s Joe Olmsted told me as we stood in Ghostbar’s VIP room. “You don’t have wires strung across the living room. If you’re 22 and living with two roommates, sure, no problem. But once you get to that next stage, no.”

Alienware’s Steam Machine is a reflection of the above sentiment. Based on the model units displayed in a row for us to examine, the Alienware box seems to be one of the smallest, and judging from the target prices listed in the digital brochure we were provided with, will also be one of the most affordable. Without giving a specific number, Olmsted said they’re aiming to be competitive in pricing with the new generation consoles – the Alienware model box was significantly smaller than Sony’s PlayStation 4, I should note – with performance he promised would be “surprising” for a device that size.

In short, Alienware is making a Steam Machine it deems suitable for the traditional domestic setting (“looks like it belongs there,” to quote Olmsted), with form factor taking priority. It’s classy and responsible, rather than indulgent and gluttonous. It’s outside the traditional nerd expectation and desire that instead prioritizes utility above all else.

While my description of Alienware’s aim may paint it as unpalatable to some readers, when put in more basic terms it really doesn’t sound unreasonable at all.

“What we have spent all of our time and energy on is building something that’s small, and fits [next to] your TV and that’s quiet,” Olmsted said. “That’s been the hardest part about making this box, making it so small, with the performance we’re going to put into it, and have it be quiet. And hit the price points we want to hit.”

But with four USB ports, HDMI, digital audio, wired and wireless ethernet and bluetooth connectivity along with Windows-like device support, Alienware’s Steam Machine is perfectly prepared to spread wires around the living room, despite what Olmsted says.

At first glance, Alienware’s philosophy in this instance may seem to be the overriding theme of the entire Steam Machine concept, and without physically seeing the boxes next to each other for scale it can be easy to make that mistake. There is no real size or aesthetic standard for these things, with the stark variety of physical design being almost comical. One would assume Valve’s purpose in partnering with so many manufacturers is to provide a range of options that it hopes will hit every type of person interested in gaming hardware.

The Origin PC box on display, for example, was a large cube thing that would never blend in with the short and wide blu-ray players and cable boxes that populate the stereotypical middle class entertainment center. That box is not the box Origin will be selling, though, as the company’s CEO Kevin Wasielewski was quick to point out.

“We offer our customers total customization,” Wasielewski said. “We don’t say, ‘This is our Steam box, and this is the price point, and take it or leave it.’ We say, ‘We’re offering a Steam box. There’s a base configuration, which is still to be determined and then the customer can configure it from there.”

In other words, the Steam Machine concept is essentially just a new brand offering that will go into the Origin line-up, and it isn’t even really an unprecedented form factor as these new boxes will fit right into the small form Chronos collection of gaming PCs they already offer.

“Our goal with the Steam box is to offer the highest performance, and the most customization options, with the best support, which is our same goal with every gaming PC that we sell,” Wasielewski said. That customization extends optional paint jobs on the exterior, but he said the cases they’re currently planning to use don’t have window panels and so lighting options are out.

“You can’t put a PC tower in your living room and have your wife look at it every day and go, ‘I like that. I like that a lot.’”

Aside from being intended for the living room, the other aspects that delineate the Steam Machines from regular desktop PCs are the SteamOS and Steam Controller, both of which will be bundled with every unit. Valve’s Greg Coomer said SteamOS does at present provide a performance boost in some games over Windows, including Valve’s own titles and some others, like Metro: Last Light.

But from my brief chat with Coomer, I got the impression that SteamOS will never be something that regular PC owners will be able to easily dual-boot alongside Windows, which will remain a necessity for gamers for a long time despite this initiative from Valve. Perhaps the performance increase will at some point be significant enough to warrant that action regardless of the headache it may cause, but for now it seems Valve is positioning this Linux OS as being for these new boxes, one would assume because it wants you to buy one, either to run games or stream them to the TV from another machine over a home network.

When Gabe took the metaphorical stage on Monday to reveal the physical shapes of the various Steam Machines, he seemed quite gung-ho about the affair, emphasizing the 65 million Steam accounts that have been established so far. The Cult of Steam does exist – it isn’t difficult to find people who won’t buy any game that runs outside the Steam client – but is that crowd ready to jump-start a hardware movement?

I’m not sure that anything I saw or heard in Las Vegas came close to convincing me these boxes, as scatterbrained as they collectively are, provide the necessary catalyst.

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8 Comments

  1. Panthro

    “You can’t put a PC tower in your living room and have your wife look at it every day and go, ‘I like that. I like that a lot.’”

    I know I look at the PS4 in my living room everyday and go ‘Urghh, such a shitty case for a shitty machine’

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Ireland Michael

    If I was married to a woman as pedantic as that… well, I wouldn’t marry them in the first place.

    What is this guy living in? 1995? Cut out the men are from mars bullshit. It makes you look like you’re trying too hard.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. yeoung

    My (completely hypothetical) wife would go “Just look at that thing.. I still can’t believe you didn’t go with the 780ti, when it outperforms even the titan at a lower price point!”

    Then we’d have awesome sex. Yeah.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. sh4dow

    Uhm… aren’t you sort of the anti-sexism guy in chief around here?

    Why on earth would you highlight a quote like “You can’t put a PC tower in your living room and have your wife look at it every day and go, ‘I like that. I like that a lot.’”, as if it deserves to be the center of attention in this debate? Or are you a proponent of the whole “Well, each gender deserves equal rights but they still are naturally different” view? As in: men tend to care more about substance and women more about appearance? (as this quote – if its content is indeed true – would indicate)

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Ireland Michael

    Me? Or the article writer?

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Arcnail

    These Steam machines are losing just that, their Steam, very quickly. Still waiting on a good reason to even think to buy one over a PC/laptop that I can easily plug into the TV and equally easy to have it hidden out of sight.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Tormenter

    @6

    There is no reason, you can stop waiting now.

    These boxes are only for the idiots whos tech knowledge begins and ends with putting a disc in a box….. and as such they will be shafted for their ignorance, just as we in the know will laugh.

    Pertaining to the article though.. I think Valve have made 2 HUGE mistakes in their plans…

    First, too many boxes, we’re just back at the same situation as before, confusion in the market place which will cause a reluctance to shift platforms.. there shouldn’t have been so many models, they should have standardised it and then sought about reducing price per unit as much as possible.

    Secondly, too many ‘partners’…. Loyalty has as much to do with success as a good product has… actually, more even.. how many times have we seen rabid support for, what we all know is, a piece of shit equipment. The fact isthat there are so many partners that brand loyalty doesn’t get a chance to latch on and then all that would result in is an internal arguement about which ‘box’ is better, resulting in an internal fracturing of the customer base INSTEAD of an external fracture such as the PS v Xbox ‘wars’.. Wars are good for opposing side.. it’s NOT good inside a singular market such as steam is trying to appeal to. It should have been a single partner as the deal originally was, with Zotec.

    This Valve announcement has muddied up the waters.. but in a bad way. Confusion has been caused as opposed to simplification, which was the whole idea.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. Edo

    placeholder

    #8 1 year ago

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    Skyrim has been granted a new beta update – more than three years after launch! – to improve the experience for modders and those who use them. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim released in November 2011. I think that’s worth noting before we discuss the beta update that dropped today, even as Bethesda is working […]

  • Paradox’s next epic RPG is, uh, Knights of Pen & Paper 2

    Knights of Pen & Paper 2 is very serious business so please enjoy this very serious trailer. “Return to the dicey world of Knights of Pen & Paper for a new turn-based adventure, where players get to take on the role of players, and also of the game’s encounter-designing, rules-laywering GM in a fully customizable […]

  • Amplitude looks amazing in new gameplay trailer, has a team multiplayer mode

    Amplitude may have been delayed but we still get something this March: a fine new gameplay trailer. Amplitude is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 sometime in northern summer. It’s a reprisal of Harmonix’s classic rhythm action game, a forerunner to its later efforts with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and was crowdfunded. Update: Turns […]

  • DayZ creator’s “crazy”, “esoteric” next game developed with Improbable

    DayZ creator Dean “Rocket” Hall has dropped the first vague details of his new game project. “I do not want to make safe games. I do not want to make games the way we have been making them. What if the most experienced video game staff in the world collaborated on the most esoteric and […]

  • Battlefield Hardline will support AMD’s Mantle

    AMD has confirmed what most Battlefield fans thought. Battlefield Hardline will indeed support Mantle. Battlefield Hardline will support Mantle, AMD has confirmed. Some players weren’t sure whether the retail version of the game will support AMD’s API, due to its absence from the recent PC beta. AMD did not say whether the feature will be […]

  • Unreal Engine 4 GDC 2015 sizzle reel shows what the tech can do

    Unreal Engine 4 is a pretty versatile bit of tech, as this new sizzle reel shows. As one of the more ubiquitous engines, Unreal will be on show at GDC this week. Developer Epic produced the following sizzle reel to quickly demonstrate what it can do – cutting edge graphics (there are very few games […]

  • Survarium’s latest patch removes limit on battle ammo, rebalances experience gain

    The latest Survarium patch has readjusted the value of experience and reputation points gained and removed the limit to the maximum amount of ammo you can use in combat. Survarium developer Vostok Games has released patch 0.27a to the public, having recently finished testing it. The patch is a major one and covers changes to […]

  • The Hunt Begins in new Bloodborne TV spot

    Bloodborne is so close you can almost smell its coppery tang on the wind – and also you can watch commercials for it. Bloodborne arrives on PS4 at the end of this month (March 24 North America, March 25 Europe, March 27 UK) so excitement is starting to build. Sony isn’t helping keep us calm […]

  • World of Warcraft: you’ll soon be able to buy game time with gold

    Blizzard will soon allow World of Warcraft players to exchange in-game gold for game time and vice versa. Blizzard has announced a new system that will launch soon for World of Warcraft. The system is called WoW Token. Using this system, players will be able to buy game time using in-game gold. Here’s how it […]

  • 3D Realms’ Bombshell returns with the first gameplay trailer

    Remember 3D Realms’ Bombshell? The isometric ARPG that was announced last year? Well, it’s back, and we get to see gameplay footage. The game stars Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, a bomb technician turned mercenary with a mechanical arm. She will embark on a quest to rescue the president and save Earth, all while shooting aliens. The […]

  • Unreal Engine 4 is now free for everyone to use

    Epic Games has made Unreal Engine 4 available for anyone to download and use, for free. Unreal Engine 4 is now free. Anyone can download it and start using it, the developer announced today in a blog post. The download features the the full set of tools used by Epic, and includes 100% of the […]

  • Call of Duty European Championship winner announced

    The winner of the European round of the Call of Duty Championship has been announced. This past weekend, 28 teams representing UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, the rest of Europe and Middle East attended the final of the European round of the Call of Duty Championship. UK team Epsilon eSports was crowned […]

  • GOG brings back Insomnia sale with discounts up to 90% off

    GOG.com is bringing back its Insomnia sale event with even more games. GOG’s Insomnia sale is back with double the amount of games. This year, there will be two sets of games available at once. The sets are seasoned classics and fresh new titles. Each set will feature games with discounts up to 90% off, […]

  • 2K is shutting down NBA 2K14 online servers, won’t affect career save files

    2K will be shutting down the servers for NBA 2K14 this month. The publisher revealed yesterday that online servers for NBA 2K14 will be turned offline on March 31. “You will no longer be able to play ranked games/online association,” reads the announcement. NBA 2K14 relied on online servers to store save files for MyCareer […]

  • One Dead or Alive tournament organiser is proposing ban of “over-sexualised” costumes

    A Dead or Alive tournament organiser has suggested a soft ban on some of the game’s “over-sexualised” costumes, and not everyone is happy. Tournament organiser “The HuBBs” took to the FreeStepDodge forums to suggest a list of rules that other offline tournaments can follow. The list goes over stages, characters, moves, which is certainly in […]

  • Destiny: all the news from Bungie’s open house Q&A

    Bungie hosted an open house Q&A session with the community last week and lots of exciting news have come out of it. Arekkz Gaming has gathered all the information that came out of Bungie’s open house Q&A in one handy video. The list is massive, going over Exotic weapon balance, upcoming events, PVE, Crucible rewards, […]

  • Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen to honour Nimoy with in-game memorials

    Developers behind space exploration games Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen will honour the memory of Leonard Nimoy through in-game memorials. The develops of both games have confirmed separately that in-game memorials will be established to honour the memory of the late Star Trek actor, Leonard Nimoy, famous for playing Spock. Elite: Dangerous executive producer Michael […]

  • Deal: get a PlayStation 4 + three exclusives for $399

    Amazon’s latest PlayStation 4 deal is not one to miss. With purchase of a PlayStation 4 console from Amazon in the US, the online retailer will throw in digital codes for Infamous Second Son, Killzone Shadow Fall and The Last of Us: Remastered, all for the same MSRP of $399. The Last of Us Remastered […]

  • Destiny: this is how one player predicted House of Wolves details and Xur’s inventory

    The method one Redditor possibly used to leak some details from Destiny’s House of Wolves was the same one he used to predict the inventory of Xur: Agent of the Nine. Last week, Reddit user Megamanexe4 leaked a few pieces of House of Wolves expansion content. The leaks included strikes, new Crucible mode, and a […]

  • Mortal Kombat X is coming to iOS… as a card-battler

    Mortal Kombat X will be releasing on mobile devices in some form, just not the one you except. Mortal Kombat X is coming to Android and iOS devices as an extension of the main game. It will launch in April alongside the console versions. The mobile game will be part card collecting and part fighting […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain announcement coming this Wednesday

    Kojima Productions will unveil something about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain this Wednesday. Metal Gear Solid fans should standby for a Phantom Pain-related announcement on Wednesday, March 4. According to developer Kojima Productions’ Twitter, there’s going to be an announcement at 2pm GMT on Wednesday. The developer posted the following image. The image […]

  • Reader survey: time to let us get to know you better!

    We’d really appreciate it if you could fill in this survey about the websites you read and the games you buy. It massively helps! You can fill out the survey right here and obviously all the information you supply is confidential. It helps us build a better picture of the people who read our site […]

  • Battlefield Hardline Premium: here’s everything you get for $50

    Battlefield Hardline’s Premium membership will give players access to 4 new features, early access to expansion packs and more. EA detailed the offer today – it costs $50 in total (£40 in the UK) and gives players a whole bundle of new gear and content. Check it all out in handy list form below: Masks […]

  • Hayter’s gonna hate: the voice of Solid Snake wouldn’t answer my Metal Gear question

    Voice actor and Hollywood writer David Hayter discusses the differences between movies and games. And politely declines my leading question. “It might be fun to do a crazy, over-the-top film version of Saint’s Row.” Yeah, that headline is a bit cheap but you’re reading the work of a man who once asked the maker of […]

  • Xbox One bundle gets £100 price cut in UK

    Microsoft has knocked up to £100 off Xbox One bundles in the UK. The Xbox One with Kinect Assassin’s Creed bundle is now £100 cheaper and comes with a free £20 voucher to be spent on the official Microsoft online store. Over on the Xbox online store there’s a £70 price cut on the white […]

  • Pokemon Shuffle downloaded 1m times, free stuff given out to celebrate

    Free-to-play 3DS title Pokemon Shuffle has been downloaded over 1 million times. As a reward for playing the match-3 puzzle game Nintendo has gifted players a Complexity -1 item for free. The item reduces the difficulty of a level, according to Eurogamer. By all accounts Pokemon Shuffle is a cynical game with poorly implemented microtransactions. […]

  • Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power sure is pretty

    FrozenByte Games has revealed Trine 3, due for release in 2015 And what better way to reveal a new side-scrolling adventure than with a very pretty trailer full of gameplay? The latest in a series that has already sold 7 million copies is earmarked for PC and “other” formats. Trine 2 released on PS3, PS3, […]

  • Dying Light takes UK number one

    A month since it was released on digital platforms, Dying Light’s physical release has topped the UK charts. Techland and Warner’s zombie survival game has proven to be one of the big hits of the year so far. It was released on digital formats a month ago but has only just been released on good-old […]

  • GTA 5: that’s some seriously accurate grenade throwing

    Think you can take down a jet plane with a grenade throw? This guy can. In fact, he can do it twice. This is in a variation on the player-created deathmatch “Stunters Versus Snipers” which seem to be all the rage in GTA Online at the moment. One team has a sniper rifle (and grenades) […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: Mother Base turns pink in the morning sun

    The Phantom Pain looks nice even when Kojima just takes a quick pic with his phone. Look at that beauty. We get nice reflection in pink at the first gray of dawn. pic.twitter.com/aERTBoZT9z — HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 2, 2015 The game doesn’t have a release date yet, which makes us a bit nervous for it […]

  • Dying Light: Underpant Gnomes and 9 other secrets you missed

    Dying Light still has legs – maybe because it’s crammed full of secret things to discover. Ten of those have been highlighted by TerraMantis’ latest YouTube video, including reference to the Underpant Gnomes, guitar lessons, farting zombies and well, we don’t want to spoil it for you. Even if you think you’ve seen everything in […]

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly

    Why blind ‘em with science when you could kill ‘em with dance moves? revelations raid When I say Resident Evil: Revelations 2‘s Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly, I’m not being figurative. If you finish the first chapter of Revelations 2 you can unlock Gina for use in Raid Mode. All characters can use gestures […]