Big-Screen Steam: Valve Want Your TV

By Alec Meer on February 28th, 2011 at 6:49 pm.

Freemanview TV

This is potentially huge, if it’s done right. This is, if I understand it right, Valve having a little nose at whether it’s possible for the PC to become a console. In fact, to be better than a console. They’ve just announced a “big picture” mode for Steam, which essentially is a revised interface and pepped-up controller support designed for playing your PC games on your TV. Gasp.

Heresy or the Singularity?

We haven’t got much at all to go on until Valve’s talk at GDC later this week (Jim will be there, and hopefully providing excited missives. Look out for him if you’re there – I think he took the purple mechsuit for this trip, but it might have been the green one. Not sure). In the meantime, we have this to decipher and conjecture from:

“…will offer controller support and navigation designed for television interaction. Big picture mode will enable gamers to enjoy Steam and their library of Steam games on more screens throughout the house.

“Our partners and customers have asked us to make Steam available in more places. With the introduction of Steam on the Mac, and soon in Portal 2 on the PS3, we’ve done just that,” said Doug Lombardi, VP of marketing for Valve. “With big picture mode, gaming opportunities for Steam partners and customers become possible via PCs and Macs on any TV or computer display in the house.”

The image that pops into my head is Microsoft’s Windows Media Center, which was a pretty good idea that I’m not convinced entirely took off – not least because Xboxes and PS3s started doing movie streaming perhaps a little more neatly than wiring up a PC to your telly. If the same concept is applied to Steam, I’m guessing they’ve reasoned PC gamers are a rather more techy bunch than the average PC user, and thus more likely to run a DVI or HDMI cable from their graphics card into a free port on whatever monolith of a TV is sat in their living room.

I really like the idea – it’s something I’ve done myself on occasion with various games, though generally have given up trying to balance a keyboard on my knee and reverted to desk + monitor instead. The really tantalising part about this meagre information is the talk of controller support and navigation, which suggests a) Steam will be navigable with a gamepad and b) perhaps there’ll be a little more Steamworks and other built-in support for pads in new games, as opposed to so many PC games’ tendency to treat them like a malodorous relative you know you have to smile at over Christmas dinner but secretly wish they were in a coma.

The lingering question is, of course, the raw practicality of the cabling. I’d need a seven metre HDMI cable to rig my current PC to the telly, or alternatively I could buy a second, dedicated TV PC. I’m not quite ready for either yet, because past experience tells me it’s a messy and laborious system either way. Maybe, however, big-picture Steam will have something up its big sleeves to change my mind – or at least make me think such travails are truly worthwhile.

Any TV PC gamers out there? What are we missing? What’s key to making it work well, rather than merely adequately?

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148 Comments »

  1. KayTannee says:

    I play on a HD projector, don’t actually own a monitor. Its lovely. Wireless Keyboard and TrackBall. Sorted. (Most track balls rubbish need a finger ball, thumb click one)

    The thing I want to see and thing I was hoping that this would be, although can’t see how possible without extra hardware. Would be the ability for a kind of Gaming Remote Desktop for TVs. Sometimes I wouldn’t mind sitting in front of TV and playing some games, i just don’t want to move my PC or require some insanely long cable.

    If OnLive can manage game streaming across the internet, I’m sure it should be possible across a 1Gbps LAN with minimal lag.

    If anyone knows of anything currently like this, let me know. Would make me happy.

  2. vodka and cookies says:

    Streaming wireless the desktop for games is perfectly possible with low latency hardware like the Asus WiiCast or Netgear 3DHD wireless bridge but these are not cheap solutions and can be as expensive as an Xbox 360.

    I cant believe the number of the people who plug their PC’s into the TV’s is that great at all, maybe there is just enough for Valve to make it worthwhile doing a GUI but thats about it.

    Also Microsoft is sort of killing off it’s own HTPC platform after it’s failure to register with mainstream audience, windows media center will be in the future sold as a standalone set top box which can act independent or as an extender to a PC. But most in HTPC land knew this was coming, XBMC too is also going back to set top box roots (arm/Sigma ports) so they days of the HTPC are numbered.

    If Valve were to sell their own wireless kit specific with games and a controller that would definitely help sell it a bit more than a DIY put it together attitude.

    • Ryz says:

      Re: XBMC moving back to set top box roots and signaling the death of HTPCs…

      Bullshit. Yes, they’re extending support for multiple platforms (most recently iOS/AppleTV2) and they’ve been discussing/planning a Sigma port. Discussing. A. Port. Not “going back to set top box roots,” not abandoning the HTPC market, not cutting support for Linux/OSX/Windows.

      I mean really, have you even looked at the roadmap for the next milestone? And the Linux/OSX/Linux specific improvements being planned for 11 and 12 alongside the Android and Sigma ports?

      HTPC is a niche market, but it has huge advantages over the Roku boxes and the like due to having no limitations. Can any of those set top boxes install something like Street Fighter 4 or Blaz Blue on a whim to play local co-op with a buddy? Can I decide to add a PVR to the existing box? What about a tuner?

      Just because you don’t see the advantages does not mean they don’t exist or that there isn’t a very dedicated community that has. This kind of fatalistic crap is on the same level as console gamers claiming the “PS720DX (with 3D!) ” means PC gaming’s days are numbered.

      And MS killing off Media Center means nothing considering the general dislike for how bloated of a platform it was. The main thing the HTPC community used it for was the remotes, and nowadays those are falling to the wayside in the face of more competition and lack of interest by MS. Honestly, if all of the other options for a HTPC Media Center software didn’t exist and it was ONLY Windows Media Center…..a significant amount would just use Media Player Classic Homecinema rather than deal with the bloat.

    • Rugged Malone says:

      Windows Media Center is a great 15-foot interface. Microsoft really hit a home run with the UI there.

      The problem is in the silly limitations in Microsoft’s implementation, most notably the media format compatibility issues and the DRM (which is really, really nasty in a multi-system environment).

    • Ryz says:

      Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with the UI. I prefer something I can customize like XBMC, but there’s nothing wrong with Windows Media Center on that front.
      It’s just…well, *everything else.*

  3. Anarki says:

    People are talking about having to have a long cable… This might sound crazy but every now and again (when I know I can have the living room free for at least a few hours) I just unplug my PC, carry it downstairs, and sit it right next to the big tv. Not really much hassle to plug the keyboard and mouse back in and boot it up again, and worth it for a few hours of 42″ gaming!

  4. nneko says:

    I’ve got a little breadbox with a Radeon 6870 (MSI Frozr 2) HDMI’d to my HDTV. Here’s what I know:
    1) Wireless mouse (trackball for me) and keyboard and headset work great if the USB nubs aren’t tucked behind a signal-interfering case. So I’ve got some USB tendrils going out around the case. (Note: the stupid design decision to make the Microsoft Arc keyboard’s arrow buttons one rocker button makes some games a total PITA to play, and most specialized devices probably don’t come with a wireless option.)
    2) The ergonomics of having a lap-addicted cat with the keyboard and mouse trying to sit on a small thin piece of wood/plastic in my lap are pretty miserable. I need to figure out a setup that gives the cat adequate room while allowing me to rest back into the couch instead of having to lean forward over the keyboard.
    3) But the prime flaw in Steam’s plan to take over the living room are game developers that rely on text, but don’t care to improve accessibility to the text. Take, for example, King’s Bounty in which the text cannot be resized, appears to render in an absolute quantity of pixels and is thus darned near unplayable at 1080i from about 2 meters away regardless of panel size (but there’s issues with the display driver anyway). These are the minority of games, but when the lack of a single seemingly minor never-advertised feature can render a game nigh-unplayable, consumers will be right to be wary of the market. (Also: Super Meat Boy rejects control remapping? Gah!)
    Perhaps they need a “Alternative Set-Up Friendly” stamp of approval to indicate that the game experience won’t suffer if played in the living room.

    • Ci2e says:

      Karate chop the cat while in your lap that will deter it from returning to your lap…

      I personally have an hdmi cable ran under the carpet from my desk and my tower is huge, so moving my tower is not happening. I prefer wired products so if I ever play any games on my hdtv, it’s usually one developers chose to natively support the xbox360 controller. Without this support your forced to create a desktop setup in your living room which you guessed it, is also not happening.

      This is where Valve’s plan presents a problem. If developers don’t include proper support for the controller or re-mapping correctly this will fail. Example… Battlefield 2 I was forced to edit the controls.con to correctly map my xbox360 controller so that I could fly heli/jet. Battlefield 2142 similar experience. Battlefield Bad Company 2 a little less troublesome but still an issue with the left and right trigger buttons, ltrigger makes the chopper turn right and rtrigger makes the chopper turn left. I prefer having a solution within the game itself not using third party apps that remap controls before you start a game like joy2key or whatever it’s called. The end result is staying out of the cockpit, sad.

      Basically developers have been slacking still to this day. Has Valve found a solution regardless of developer support? If so it will be interesting to see what comes of this. I honestly can’t see myself utilizing it very often, simply because I am a native PC gamer, using a joystick in most games seems pointless.

  5. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    DO NOT WANT

    Playing things on TVs is for consoles.

  6. 7rigger says:

    My PC is permanantly hooked into my HDTV and I wouldn’t have it any other way :)

    I still have my monitor and desk for strategy and other PC-centric games, but it’s much better to get the 360 pad and play TDU2 on a big screen. My pc is pretty much my entire media centre – I downgraded my sky tv to the most basic level as I never go near it .

    Being able to access the steam overlay with a pad for invites to steamworks games would be absolutely awesome.

  7. Saul says:

    This is already very common in my world. Two of my previous flatmates have had PCs set up on their TVs, one as a media centre and the other as his primary machine. Neither of them spent a lot of time actually watching broadcast television.

    Similarly – I don’t own a TV, but my monitor is 28″, and the couch is only a few feet behind where I’m sitting now, so it’s easy to use to watch shows, or sit back and play games with the Xbox controllers. In fact, I have a 360 and a Wii plugged into it as well, so there’s not much functional difference between using any of them (except that the PC games always look better).

    This kind of integration is only going to get more and more common – I think it’s smart of Valve to get in at this point.

  8. Carra says:

    I just bought a €70 mediaplayer and connected it to my network. Playing divx on my tv? Check.

    As for games? Meh, I’m mostly interested in strategy games.

  9. BobbleHat says:

    I’ve had my PC permanently hooked up to my TV for about 2 years now, and I’d find it hard to switch back to a desk. wireless keyboard on lap and mouse on the spare bumspace next to me on the sofa suits me fine. The mouses magnify function comes in very handy, too. The only disadvantages are having the sensors on the floor in the middle of the room, which get in the way a bit and cut out when I have a few people round, and pulling the sofa up closer to the screen if I want some serious gaming, especially for text-heavy games. Nothing like playing Crysis or STALKER on a 32″ screen, though.

  10. Pidesco says:

    I have my PC connected to my TV and a 5.1 sound system. Additionally, i own two gamepads, wireless keyboard and wireless mouse.

    I played through DMC4, Psychonauts and The Last Remnant on my LCD TV. I have also played big chunks of Alpha Protocol, The Witcher, Burnout Paradise and Street Fighter 4 on my HDTV

    Finally, I watch TV shows and movies through my PC.

  11. Tuan says:

    I just don’t understand how anyone can (enjoyably) play PC FPS’s without a mouse. You need the precision. I’ve played enough console FPS’s to realize that they are just not as fast paced and do not require the accuracy, and for me I don’t enjoy them as much. That’s why any real shooter I play on the PC.

    Also, how in the world can you play an RTS without a mouse? Again, you need speed and precision.

    Anyway, I just scoot my 24″ monitor close to me and lean back in the office chair, I find my vision is encompassed by the monitor more than when I’m on the couch with a 42″ tv not too far away.

    I definitely see the appeal of wanting to use the TV and being in a comfy couch, I enjoy that a lot sometimes with console. But I just can’t get by without a mouse for most PC games.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      You realize there are more PC games than FPS’s and RTS’s, don’t you?

    • wengart says:

      RTSs of course almost require a mouse, I actually don’t know of many that are controller compatible, but for shooters I have no problem using a controller as long as it doesn’t put me at a competitive disadvantage. Which means when I play BC2 online it’s mouse and keyboard all the way, but singleplayer I play for casual fun, this means Normal and sometimes easy difficulty and often times a controller.

    • Dominic White says:

      The PS3 has the Move controller now, which is a shameless clone of the Wii remote setup, but fancier. While not QUITE as pinpoint accurate as a mouse, it’s perfectly good for FPS and RTS use. I wouldn’t mind seeing support for that on the PC for even comfier couch-gaming.

  12. Rugged Malone says:

    Some of us already have game-capable HTPC systems…in fact I have 2 of them in my home, in addition to my primary gaming system and my wife’s PC. One of them is primarily a media server, but also serves as a workout area HTPC; the other one is a dedicated HD HTPC.

    A TV-friendly interface for Steam is music to my ears. :)

  13. tims says:

    Oh I like speculating…
    Okay so imagine steam wants to be multiplatform, they’ve got it running well on mac and soon the ps3.
    Maybe they’ll get a linux version out, port their games and get some key publishers to do the same. It’s been a long pipe dream I know, I know.
    However.. If there was a gaming platform like steam on linux, it wouldn’t be just us nerds that like to play with bash that get the benefits. I don’t think steam has any illusions about people hooking up hdmi cables to their tv’s.. Any third party hardward company could make some pretty awesome hardware to play on cheaply, with no windows fees, they would wrap it all up as a polished steam box.
    This wouldn’t really be a open console.. Since it’s not like steam is open. I’d argue it’s better than what consoles are like now though. It would definitely resemble what the next iterations of consoles are going to look like. I don’t think anyone expects boxed games to last. Steam is probably in one of the best positions to disrupt the status quo.

  14. Ryz says:

    I have two (well, three if you want to be technical) PCs.

    One is the stereotypical gaming PC in the office with a 24 inch monitor and fantastic headphones that I dropped way too much on. There’s also a fairly nice 5.1 speaker system with the satellites placed discretely on the walls. It’s on the loud side as it’s focused on cooling rather than quiet and bulky to support the latest and greatest. It runs on a Ubuntu/Win7 dual boot (work vs play) and works great.

    The other is a custom HTPC with a bent towards gaming. It has a much smaller form factor (less tower more set top), emphasizes running silent rather than cooling an overclock, and has modest hardware. It won’t run Metro2033 on high settings like the office PC, but it manages a cross between medium/high settings. Most other games like Mass Effect 2 or Dead Space 2 or whathaveyou can be maxed at 1920×1080 res. It’s connected to 50 inch plasma, a mid-range 5.1 system supplied by Energy, and several different controllers/keyboards/mice/remotes depending on what I’m doing. It runs on a XBMC Live/Win7 dual boot.

    Both PCs stream video/music content off my media server (the “third” PC).

    I for one welcome an optimized Steam UI for TVs as it is extremely tiny on my plasma and a bit of a chore to use at it’s optimal resolution from my comfy recliner.

    Anyone that claims HTPCs are “consolified” or “dying” or “not worth it” haven’t tried one or even looked into them. You guys seriously sound like console gamers claiming that you need to spend $3000/yr to maintain a gaming PC and that PC gaming is dead. Don’t be like them, guys. It’s kinda embarrassing.

  15. vecima says:

    I’m not planning on reading the many posts on this story, but in case it was missed i thought i might bring up wireless. The TV I just bought (55 inch Vizio LED) has built-in wifi. It’s great. I stream netflix right to the TV now as opposed to using the xbox or ps3. My point being, if this big screen steam is going to work like a media server or something it might be possible to get to game on the screen with a pc in the house, but not necessarily even in the same room.

    The only thing I think would be needed in that scenario is a steam “app” for the tv, as that’s how the other internet things like netflix and pandora work on most of them.

  16. Archonsod says:

    I ditched the TV a few years ago. Doesn’t seem much point in having one these days, it’s cheaper to simply buy the DVD’s of the three decent shows they manage each year than pay the license fee. And since they started sticking everything up on Iplayer etc, you don’t even need to do that.

  17. Batolemaeus says:

    So..

    Am I the only person who does not have a TV in the first place?

  18. luckystriker says:

    Heresy grows from idleness.

  19. mkultra says:

    Good thing gamers watch less TV than anyone else of the means and in the first world.

  20. DOLBYdigital says:

    I would suggest getting a table similar to the ones they use in hospitals called ‘overbed’ or something like that. It works great when you want to play PC games in front of a TV while sitting in a lounge chair. It doesn’t work on sofas but most other comfy chairs work great. (surprised at the complaints of running one cable to a TV…)

    http://www.nextag.com/Drive-13008-Deluxe-Tilt-87783900/prices-html?nxtg=58360a500504-C15B23251EDC08B3

  21. Radiant says:

    I’m in reverse; I have a fantastic 30 inch monitor on an arm that I can swing towards the couch and use as a tv.
    Or use it to watch porn and have a wank on the sofa.

    One of those two I can’t remember which.

  22. thebigJ_A says:

    I have a crappy old 4:3 bigscreen. I was saving to buy a proper tv, but then I realized I need a new pc, so I’m saving to buy that instead. I simply can’t afford both. Now Steam want’s to do this to me?
    DAMN YOU STEAM, I”M A POOR MAN!

  23. Muzman says:

    It seemed like this was bound to happen sooner or later. I know a couple of people who have all their content served from a big media unit that’s connected to the net and cable tv etc. From it they can access any of the media on it from any laptop or desktop in the house, as well as the TV. As the power of these boxes grows they can play increasing amounts of games too.

    Good on Valve for getting in there. It’s the sort of thing that should turn console makers white and make exclusivity all the more ruthless.

  24. lunegov says:

    F YEAH! Just bought 32″ LCD and running HL2 again! They (Valve) have to add full support of x360 gamepad to source based games. And I will be happy-happy.

    • Monchberter says:

      For xbox360 pads, a bit of rooting around in the in game console with the command “exec 360 controller” will solve most things. Problem is, it doesn’t fix the front end menu’s to work as well as they should. Having everything work correctly from the desktop would be the ideal solution.

  25. TaroYamada says:

    This is great, I use the 360 controller an awful lot, sometimes even for FPS (though most often I use KBM for those). It really bothers me to quit Steam and then have to switch to KBM to select another game to play.

    Color me excited about this.

  26. Kong says:

    The distinction between TV and computer screen is a relict of the 20th century.

    If the living room was not the natural habitat of the female and the child, the living room would be the perfect place for my PC.
    Being a conservative software customer I do not care much about steam as long as it is not forced upon me.
    I created my own habitat by getting rid of desk and chair and turning the PC place into a comfy cockpit sort of thing. My design will be avaiIale at IKEA one day.

  27. bonjovi says:

    I’m happy they are looking into this. If they spend some time on it, maybe they will come up with solution for all folks with TV too far away form the PC. Home gaming cloud? PC is used for all hard work, and tv is only connected to something that can receive and display the results?

  28. adonf says:

    Can you get sound through HDMI on the PC ? Does it work well or does it have synchronization problems ?
    I just got a new flat-screen TV and I’m planning to connect my PC to it for games and videos but my computer is 4 or 5 years old and all I have is a DVI output, so no sound even if I buy an adapter. I think that more recent video cards have HDMI output but I’m not too sure if that’s just for the picture or if it’s picture + sound. Any suggestions as to what to buy or to avoid in my case ?

    • Scatterbrainpaul says:

      I couldn’t work out how to get the sound working through the cable

      Wasn’t really a problem though i’ve just arranged my pc speakers so two are next to the tv and two are on the desk

    • adonf says:

      That’s exactly what I don’t want to do…

    • falseprion says:

      My friend purchased a new inexpensive ATi card and it works fine with audio+video over HDMI. The feature was listed as a bullet point on the box.

      I’m running an older 8800GTS so I have just video over HDMI along with a Balun adapter off a Y-cable from my sound card to run to my living room stereo. It sounds perfect, and I didn’t have to get a new video card.

  29. yhalothar says:

    Jesus, Valve read my mind. Steam is one of the last things I use a remote mouse with when playing on my HTPC.

  30. Scatterbrainpaul says:

    I play the majority of my games on my 32 inch hd tv. Sat on the sofa using a wireless mouse and keyboard, or a controller.

    Playing Stalker COP on TV was the highlight of my gaming year

    The only issue’s i’ve had is games that don’t let you increase the font size. You can’t sit back and enjoy eve online from the comfort of your sofa without pair of binoculars

  31. Frank says:

    yes, i wish gamepads were in a coma, too

  32. falseprion says:

    I am glad they are considering my demographic. I play most of my PC games on the TV, even though the PC is in another room. 50ft. HDMI cable with a clone display is my solution. My stereo and seating are much better in the living room, and I’ve got an excellent bluetooth keyboard and gaming mouse – so no problems there. The PC is already the best console out there – this is just icing on the cake.

  33. RegisteredUser says:

    I heard that all your purchased game titles will be pruned and you will be only allowed 2 titles at any time ever, as allowing you more guns errrr games is not compatible with a gamepad interface.

    I’m fine with an optional interface _addon_ to a PC optimized world of gaming. My main concern obviously is that any other aspects may suffer(future Half-Life-s to have autoheal, savepoints and you are only allowed to carry 2 weapons. Oh and of course autoaim and over 9000 achievements).

  34. ps3freak says:

    Great article. I agree with what you stated about the new likelihood of the stream. I hope it works flawlessly, because I love playing my PS3 Move Games on the big screen HDTV.

  35. roku2user says:

    Thanks for the information about the connectivity of advanced TV services. Where ever this road leads, I hope that it will work flawlessly with my Roku 2 Media Streaming Player.

  36. Stevven says:

    Great article dude. Brings up some very good points, which you wouldn’t normally think of. Now get off your butt and go workout!

    For the trusted Insanity Workout Review.

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