Casting The Couch: Steam’s Big Picture Beta Out Today

By Adam Smith on September 10th, 2012 at 11:00 am.

some kind of tomorrow

Tendrils of Steam are preparing to spread throughout homes across the world. With all the talk and rumours of wearable computers, a Steam OS and anything with a ’3′ in the title, it’s been easy to forget about The Big Picture. With an interface designed for television screens, Big Picture will transfer the Steam library to your living room, “or anywhere there’s a big screen”, so you can finally play Left 4 Dead on that fifty inch Plasma screen in the bathroom while soaking in the tub. A New York Times feature on Valve drops the information that Big Picture will enter public beta today, although quite how and when specifically is not mentioned. I’m keen to test this out, even though my big screen isn’t all that much bigger than my small one.

Although controller support is emphasised on Big Picture’s page, Valve do add that “keyboard and mouse aren’t going anywhere — users will be able to switch between input devices at any time.” As with any impending beta, my main question concerns the logistics of this implementation. Will I be allowed to indulge in a bit of big screen strategic action while reclining on the couch with a glass of red wine? Will my cramped living quarters put me at an advantage for once because my computer is only a few feet from my television? Will Planetside 2 look really really awesome on a massive TV?

Answers to those questions and others as soon as more details are known. In the meantime, the NYT article is worth reading and if you don’t believe me, know that it refers to Gabe Newell as “a bearded bear of a man with John Lennon-style glasses”.

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98 Comments »

  1. jumblesale says:

    Finally, something I can play Alan Wake on!

  2. Simon Hawthorne says:

    I, like many, already have my HDTV in my lounge connected to a PC which runs Steam. The only annoying feature is that I can only be logged into Steam on one computer – so whenever I log in on my laptop, it logs the TV-Computer out. So I cannot play a different game to the one my wife plays on the PC.

    A new UI specifically for TVs would be interesting, and I suspect it will be A Good Thing, but I would like it if I could be logged in to the TV and my laptop at the same time. Sure, I can’t play the same game on both at the same time, but especially if Valve are looking at software other than games and…who knows, films, TV, etc – I’m going to want to be able to have Steam running on both, simultaneously.

    • Zanchito says:

      Mr. Hawthorne:

      I’m looking forward to setting up my home so I can play on the TV. The ideal thing would be to be able to simply display the output of my main gaming rig on the TV, but all the solutions I’ve found are subpar (loss of visual quality and increased input lag).

      Does anyone know of a way to do it?

      • Simon Hawthorne says:

        Hi – I just use an HDMI cable. It probably does lead to some lag or quality loss but I’m not enough of a videophile to notice. I also tend to use the TV for “sit back” games rather than graphics intense fast-twitch games (e.g. Civilization). Having said that I do still play games like Limbo and Super Meat Boy which require somewhat fast twitch responses and I’ve not noticed any lag. However, I’m sure it’s because I’m not good enough to notice!

        • fish99 says:

          If there’s any lag it’s not due to HDMI, it’s just that HDTVs tend to have more lag than PC monitors, usually around 30ms (i.e. 2 frames). That same lag is there on all your console games though, and most people don’t even notice it.

          Also HDMI is digital and should give you a perfect picture.

          • Gregg B says:

            What fish99 said.

            With regards to HDMI / VGA / DVI input: I’ve got two HDTVs hooked up to two separate computers by VGA and there’s absolutely no perceptible image loss or difference when compared to HDMI, at least not to my very particular graphic designer eyes. I think also, with VGA usually being the labeled ‘PC input’ on a TV, you get all the usual PC display functionality; horizontal/vertical resizing, phase, pitch, auto-powering off the TV if your machine goes to sleep etc.

            The only image quality issues I have is to do with one of our TVs (an older Sony Bravia) not supporting 4:4:4 chroma (not something I can explain, see end of comment) and the same TV being limited to native 1360 x 768. Unfortunately 4:4:4 chroma isn’t something that’s mentioned in TV tech specs so it’s difficult to suss out which ones offer it and which ones don’t. More info and ways of testing to see if your TV has 4:4:4 chroma here: http://www.avsforum.com/t/1381724/official-4-4-4-chroma-subsampling-thread

            Our native 1080p HDTV (Samsung UE40D5000) supports 4:4:4 chroma and looks fantastic over VGA with a rare 16ms input lag (according to HDTV test).

          • david151511 says:

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            you are not missing anything. These comments are as stupid as they appear to be.

          • ScottTFrazer says:

            Re: david151511′s post: that’s spam, don’t click it.

      • RobinOttens says:

        If your 3D card has somewhere you can stick HDMI into, that’s all you need, right?

        I’ve been playing steam games with my laptop hooked to my TV for years now. I’ve never had any trouble with input lag or lower visual fidelity. I use a 1080p TV connected with an HDMI cable. Wireless keyboard & mouse and dualshock 3 controller. Of course it’s going to look a bit different on a TV then on a monitor, just mess with your TV’s setting a bit. And get used to resolutions no higher then 1080p, which is no problem if you sit a normal distance from your TV anyway.

        Only thing I miss from the old PC & monitor days is surround sound, since my laptop doesn’t have the necessary output for that.

        • Zanchito says:

          Hawthorne: HDMI is digital and as such, there should be NO quality loss whatsoever.

          About using the secondary HDMI out and then maybe a wireless keyboard + mouse, the problem is the computer is in another room, so I’d have to throw a long cable and drill the wall. Admittedly, it’s the simplest solution and the one with less input lag implied too. I just wish there was a way to use the 1GB ethernet LAN for reasonable streaming.

          • sonofsanta says:

            Ethernet for streaming video? You need HDMI over Ethernet, then.

            Disclaimer: I have never used any of these so can’t vouch for quality, but there’s a fair selection on Amazon so give it a go.

          • Zanchito says:

            Well, Mr. Sonofsanta, isn’t that a sweet discovery? Thank you!

          • Simon Hawthorne says:

            Hi – I understand that the connection between my computer and TV would be lossless…what I’m less certain about is what fancy filters my TV has to try to make the picture better, which may then lead to input lag (things with names like “MotionFlow”)…it’s possible that makes the picture worse in some way I suppose?

            For me, I’m not particularly bothered because I think it looks great anyway :-)

          • Zanchito says:

            Oh, I understand what you meant now. Most decent TVs have an operation mode that bypasses most if not all post processing, but I’d not concern myself much about it unless there’s significant input lag or something really looks odd.

          • ScubaMonster says:

            Well there is “quality loss” if you have a monitor that can run resolutions higher than 1080P. Lower resolution on a larger TV screen is not going to look as sharp as a smaller monitor running 1920×1200 or higher. But that monitor is not going to be as large as your HDTV so you’re basically trading sharpness for size.

      • mashakos says:

        This is interesting. I actually did just what you were hoping to do last month!
        Using a bluetooth keyboard, a usb hub extender and an hdmi extender, I can keep my HTPC in the living room and my monitor/controls in my own room.
        I went for a cheap non-brand Chinese extenders as branded ones can cost u to $400 (shudder). The hdmi extender I got cost $50 while the usb hub cost $25. Just note that the usb hub is usb 1.1 only so will only be useful for mice/gamepads.
        I even went one step further, installed softxpand on my system. Now my HTPC actually runs two Windows desktops each with their own peripherals. That way, the rest of the house can watch XBMC on the main tv while I game in my room – using the same HTPC.

        hdmi extender
        http://www.langheng.com.cn/en/ProShow.aspx?id=56

        usb 1.1 extender
        http://www.langheng.com.cn/en/ProShow.aspx?id=149

    • mrwonko says:

      You should be able to enter Offline Mode on one PC and use the other one regularily. Keeping in mind that account sharing is evil, of course. ;)

      • baby snot says:

        Hopefully this will spawn enough interest that users will flood the forums now that they have somewhat been (fully?) integrated into Steam to demand multiple users access to the same account without knocking each other offline.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          Even with overwhelming demand, Valve will never allow multiple user access to one account. They’ve stated as much at the Steam forums.

    • AlexClockwork says:

      Well, it’s supposed to be YOUR account, so Steam won’t want you and your wife to play using an individual account. You’re supposed to have one each. I know it’s absolutely illogical, but… That’s how it works. >.<

      There has to be a way around it, though. What about playing offline?

      Edit: Ops, didn’t see the las response… -.-’

      • Berzee says:

        It’s one of the Stupidest Stupid Things about Steam. Wives and family members (who are the main consideration) aside, it would be nice to be able to play games on one computer while another one downloads a new game, without messing around with offline mode — it’s irritatingly much less convenient than buying games in a box, in that respect. (Perhaps making up for it in that I don’t have to carry a bin of CD’s with me everywhere I take my laptop =P).

    • sophof says:

      I complained about this to the steam devs ages ago, they still haven’t done anything about it. I explained to them in no unclear wording that I was ‘pirating’ the games I bought, because that way it at least let me play them conveniently. Sadly I never got a straight answer.

      Just to be clear, at that point in time, offline mode didn’t really work (you had to disconnect cables and all that nonsense).

    • Derppy says:

      I second this, extremely annoying when Steam logs out the other computer.

      It’s only a mild annoyance when you are using both computers alone, but one very frustrating case is when you host LAN parties and people want to play games from TV on a HTPC.

      Give the controller to someone else, move to your computer and realize you’d have to interrupt the game on TV in order to use your Steam account.

      I understand Valve doesn’t want accounts to be shared and technically other people shouldn’t play your games, but there would be 0 financial loss for them in cases like this, only potential gain because people want to buy the game for themselves.

      Allow 2 simultaneous connections from same IP address. I don’t think many people would bother to set up VPN connections for sharing the accounts over internet.

    • Jenks says:

      Xbox Live is worse, simply because you need to be logged into your gold account to stream Netflix, Hulu, etc. So if your kids want to watch a pokemon movie on Netflix, and you want to play Age of Empires Online on your PC, one of you is shit out of luck unless you pay for 2 gold accounts.

  3. Zanchito says:

    Not much information. What exactly is this? Is it just a different layout for the Steam interface?

    • Spengbab says:

      “Heading to the living room—or anywhere there’s a big screen—is Steam’s soon-to-be-released big-picture mode, offering simple, easy-to-read navigation designed specifically for TV. With full controller support, big-picture mode will let gamers kick back and enjoy their favorite games on the biggest screen in the house.

      Steam’s big-picture mode doesn’t require any additional development from you. Just ensure your game works well with a controller, and we’ll take care of the rest. And don’t worry, keyboard and mouse aren’t going anywhere—users will be able to switch between input devices at any time.”

      Basically, it will let you control the Steam UI via gamepad (Xbox controller, f.e.) and it will make the Steam UI more readable (is that a word? cripes) on big screens.

      So if you want to play videogames on your TV, you can just drag your desktop to the living room, connect 536 different cables and after a week’s worth of labour, you should be able to enjoy Supreme Commander on your 50″ home theater.

      Or you could just buy a consolebox and be done with it.

      • Quatlo says:

        Actually, we have HDMI cables so you need to plug only one :P

      • fish99 says:

        It’s *one* cable, and it’s the same cable your console uses.

        • Spengbab says:

          I was referring to the cables a regular desktop PC uses, like power, DVI, peripherals, networking, etc etc, not just the *one* HDMI cable from your graphics card to the TV

          Laptops dont count :)

          • fish99 says:

            WIreless mouse/keyboard, wireless gamepad, wireless LAN, plus pretty much all video cards have HDMI output these days, or come with a DVI-HDMI adapter. As for power, your console needs that too :p

      • InternetBatman says:

        Aren’t there wireless HDMI cables now too, so it would be like moving something the size of a USB drive? from your monitor to your TV?

      • zeroskill says:

        Or instead of carrying over your PC to the TV, just disconnect your TV, grab the one cable it has and carry it over to your PC, as I do when I want to play on the big picture. Which I do quite regularly I might add. Seems more reasonable. Also, as any reasonable person should have, there is a couch perfectly positioned for those times I want to play with a controller and on my TV.

        Takes about 30 seconds. :)

        As a mather of fact, I actually wrote this on the TV screen.

      • Derppy says:

        1) Get a HTPC with gaming components, proper case and you can fit anything but multi-GPU setups there. If you don’t want to put it together yourself, ask the store to do it for you.

        2) Connect HDMI cable between your GPU and TV, and a power cable between your PSU and power outlet.

        3) Plug in an USB dongle for keyboard and mouse, another for controllers if necessary.

        Enjoy vastly more capable system than any console, now with improved Steam UI.

        “Couch gaming” isn’t exclusive to consoles, it’s better on PC, if not for the 60FPS @ 1080p + MSAA, for the fact you don’t need to raise your fat ass from the couch to switch games, and the fact you can do more than play games with it.

        Only viable arguments for consoles are the price (can’t put a PC together at the price of Arcade Xbox 360) and exclusive titles.

        • potat0man says:

          This.

          I’ve had a homebuilt, high-end media/gaming PC in the living room for just over a year now. I can’t imagine going back. I have my Steam/game library, emulators, hulu, and I threw a capture card in it so it’s a pretty kick-ass DVR too.

          Plus, when friends come over we can all get baked and show each other funny internet stuff from the couch.

  4. crazydog says:

    I want to see Valve releasing the ability to “stream” steam and its games to my TV via a thin client type setup. I have an HTPC, but it, of course, is not built for gaming. It’d be nice to be able to use my gaming PC’s hardware across the house through my projector…

  5. kyrieee says:

    Who uses TVs any more?

  6. maweki says:

    I’ve been waiting for this a long time. I have had a PC in the living room since before there was HDMI (Composite over SCART – PAL resolution). Now I have Full-HD, a few controllers and steam has some cool couch-co-op games.
    I am looking forward to abandoning this ridiculously small interface I am using now.

  7. Manac0r says:

    I suppose i can see the advantage. But T.V’s are for the muggles right? I’ll stick to 30inches of 2560 x 1600 rather than 50inches of 1080p. See lads size doesnt matter… *phew*

  8. sonofsanta says:

    Having just built a mancave/been allowed by my wife to build a mancave, I have my 42″ plasma sat in front of my reclining leather armchair all of 5m away from my PC and already connected via HDMI. So yeah, how do I get in on this beta? :D

  9. Jams O'Donnell says:

    I’m rather interested in this, as I do a fair amount of TV gaming these days. What I’d really like however, is something that lets me control the mouse cursor (& mouse buttons) in Windows with a gamepad. I’m sure something like this probably already exists.

    • Tinarg says:

      There are several alternatives for controlling your mouse via gamepad.

      Personally I’m using an older (free) version of “XPadder”. It gets the job done.

      If your however willing to pay for such a programm it might be worth looking into pinnacle game profiler. It promises to automatically detect what game you’re playing and adjust your controller mapping accordingly.

    • Alevice says:

      Joy2Key did the trick for me. You need to know the corresponding axis for you sticks.

  10. defunkt says:

    I’ll stick with XBMC as it can launch games *and* play all my other media.

  11. fish99 says:

    “you can finally play Left 4 Dead on that fifty inch Plasma screen in the bathroom while soaking in the tub.”

    You always could though. This is nothing more than a gamepad friendly UI, and you could always achieve the same thing with a wireless mouse. Also this doesn’t add anything new to the individual games, most of them already support pads, and the ones that don’t, still don’t. Pretty much every LCD or plasma TV has always had at least one input that will work with a PC, whether it’s HDMI, DVI or VGA, nothing has changed there. And the few games that won’t work at a resolution your TV can handle, still don’t.

    Also I hope Valve were clever enough to add an option for steam to startup maximized or you’re still going to need a mouse.

    • Liquidoodle says:

      Yeah I’m thinking the same thing regarding it being maximized from the start, having to use a mouse on my sofa is a pain in the bum. I’m really hoping this eliminates the need for a keyboard too, which judging by the radial context text entry that may be a yes too, happy times!

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      Careful though. I messed up my trackpad on my laptop by putting it next to the bath to watch a movie (stupid, I know, but…), and now dragging is almost broken. (It works if I push really hard and get lucky.) Luckily nothing else broke. Moving the cursor and normal clicking still works, so I can still use it. I connect an external mouse if I’m doing a lot of dragging.

  12. ElvisMZ says:

    Options are great. I probably won’t make use of this feature though. TV’s are only useful for live sporting events nowadays.

  13. lofaszjoska says:

    Could we just ban #3 from Valve-related articles, please?

  14. AmateurScience says:

    This + Steam Linux + Raspberry Pi = awesome, £30 mini game console.

  15. InternetBatman says:

    I’m excited because this means that my partner can play a few games she’s been missing in the past. She loves 2D platformers, and for a while the wii was great for that, but now most of that energy has moved to the PC.

  16. TheFlameBeneath says:

    If the rumors for a SteamOS are true, they could put it on a custom-built pc and start selling Steam-consoles. That would be strange, but not difficult and quite pleasant: all the benefits of a console with all the games you already have on pc. I doubt I would use it without keyboard and mouse, though.

    • RabidZombie says:

      I’m pretty sure they’re not interested in developing their own hardware. They’ve said they’re perfectly fine with other manufactorers putting Steam Big-Picture on their devices though. Gaming HTPCs may become a common thing in the future…. :D

      • TheFlameBeneath says:

        I was thinking more on these lines: they could make a deal with an hardware vendor and start selling Steam-branded PCs with SteamOS pre-installed, usable both as normal PCs and as consoles.

        I’m thinking this because putting all this effort in Big Picture would be useless (from a business point of view) if they don’t attract more customers. And what customers they could hope to attract, if not casual gamers and console-folks?
        However, these people like to have a completely hassle-free experience. While it’s not difficult to connect a computer to a TV, it’s often not desirable if you already have a PC, and for some reason you don’t want to move it to the living room. Buying a second PC is “easy” but you have to hunt a little to find one that suits your tastes, even more so if you are a casual gamer and you don’t know that much about hardware. So, it becomes difficult to use a pc on your tv, and it might stop console-folks from being attracted.

        It seems to me quite logical to sell custom “Steam consoles”, which are something like the gaming HTPCs you mention, but also Steam-branded and with SteamOS preinstalled (if that turns out to be real, of course).

        It’s not likely, I know, but I think it’s possible and logical… also, it wouldn’t be that bad!

  17. vodka and cookies says:

    Love the idea but my PC is on the opposite side of the house from the TV so there is no way to make use of this.

    HDMI wireless has an incredibly short range, really there needs to be some sort of ethernet box you can plug into the PC and into the TV which gives you your desktop with a usb port for gamepads, mice/keyboard.

  18. Yuri says:

    Um, can anyone explain to me what Big Picture brings that we didn’t already have on our PC’s?

    I mean, I’ve had my PC connected to my TV for 3-4 years now and have been playing most of my PC games from a comfy chair with wide armrests(for the keyboard and hard-surface mouse pad).

    The only issue I have with playing PC/Steam games on my TV is the relatively small font that Steam uses by default, which makes it hard to read at 1920×1080 from a distance.

    So if Big Picture will bring a new interface adapted for TV sets, one that will use bigger fonts and all, i can understand that.
    The only other thing i can think about is a Steam-internal setting to select your “primary” gaming display, regardless of your Windows setting.
    For example, your primary display setting in Windows makes it so that both your desktop/taskbar and your fullscreen applications run on that screen, which includes games by default.
    If Big Picture can allow you to run games on another display while still keeping your taskbar/desktop on the other display, that would actually be useful.

    Dunno, I’m just confused about what all the hubbub is about.

    • zeroskill says:

      It’s a redesigned UI to be used with a gamepad, so as many people use a gamepad while playing on their TV’s, it makes sense, no?

      “Although controller support is emphasised on Big Picture’s page, Valve do add that “keyboard and mouse aren’t going anywhere — users will be able to switch between input devices at any time.”

      There, it sais that in the article.

      I agree with the dual monitor issue. I have the same problem with Dota 2 there. There is basically no option that allows you to run Dota 2 on your secondary monitor, so if I want to run it on my second monitor I have to set windows primary display to that monitor. It’s a bit annoying. Even the Torchlight 2 Beta recongized that I have 2 monitors running and let me chose which monitor I want to run the game on.

      So yeah Valve doesn’t seem to realize that people are quite frequently running dual monitor setups these days.

      • Dominic White says:

        “Valve doesn’t seem to realize that people are quite frequently running dual monitor setups these days”

        Actually, they do. They run regular hardware surveys via Steam, remember? So they know that it’s actually a vanishingly small number of PC owners.

    • Yuri says:

      Ooooh, so you’ll be able to navigate Steam with a controller? Yeah, that’s nice i guess. Nothing really revolutionary, but still nice.

      I’m still hoping it’s more about the interface scale and potential display options than controller navigation.

  19. fish99 says:

    “We’re confident in some things that customers want,” Valve’s Greg Coomer, head of the small team that designed and developed Big Picture mode, told me in his office. “They want a full-screen experience. They want to be in the living room. They want to use a game controller. They wanna have a social gaming experience. And we have this platform that lets us ship a significant portion of that experience.”

    Is that ALL gamers then? Because honestly my number one choice for playing games is still at a desk in my comfy office chair with mouse and keyboard.

  20. MythArcana says:

    Not in my house.

  21. D3xter says:

    I’ve been using a TV for years and even Steam with it.

    Only things you need:

    1) A TV
    2) A HDMI-cable (for me it is a DVI –> HDMI cable, cause my card didn’t have HDMI when I first started)
    3) A Controller and XPadder, this is probably different for everyone and you could use a Wireless Keyboard/Mouse instead, but I just bound Keys to the Controller
    Left Mouse/Right Mouse are the Triggers, the two Buttons are Back/Forward for movies and browsers, the left stick is Mouse Movement, the D-Pad is mouse-scroll for browsing Wegpages and similar, the red “B” button is ALT+F4 for closing something quick and the blue “X” button is ALT+Enter to maximize something quick etc.

    For Browsing it’s also helpful to Zoom in on Text/Pictures etc. since the TV is further away, I got that on Left Button + DPad to zoom in/out.

  22. Shortwave says:

    I’m just happy you’ll be able to navigate using a controller.
    (Please don’t burn me! Lol.)

    It’s just annoying when I’m playing controller-able games and have to get up to use my mouse to switch to another one.. Right.

    Hopefully that also comes to the normal version of steam,

  23. pakoito says:

    BRCC joke? Oh, you!

  24. uh20 says:

    this is good change for a drm that will effectively be a little bit of more use than drm

    with this you can have a console experience, and get more computer game developers to stop worrying about adding splitscreen, and other console-like features to a computer version

    this will be a nice suprise to also be added into the steam for linux, because then it could quite literally be the desktop, hehe

  25. KillahMate says:

    What I find strangest is how the US news sites are already screaming ‘Steam Box! Steam Box!’. Everything about the Big Picture mode seems to be reported filtered through the angle of how it might relate to a Valve console. From where I’m standing Americans look obsessed with their consoleboxes so much that the PC is only relevant insomuch as it can be converted into a console.

  26. Saiko Kila says:

    I, like many, do not have a TV any more, so shouldn’t be concerned.

    However, I am a bit concerned. The reason is one – rather small – possibility that future Steam interface will be based on that “big picture” one, or it will be forced on me. I hate all these game interfaces coming directly from consoles, who assume I have a big but relatively low-res screen. They hurt my eyes. They hurt my gaming time, because I need to search for mods and solutions to change them. And they hurt my ego, because they remind me than I am a second-rate, after-thought, just-a-bit-better-than-trash customer.

  27. fish99 says:

    Well, it’s launched, and ……. it’s actually really good. In fact it’s better than the Xbox Live UI, much better, and while it’s maybe not as pretty as the PS3 UI, it’s better organized. Ok the browser isn’t perfect yet, but it’s better than the PS3 one, and of course it’s sitll in beta. Browsing the store and your library, launching games etc, all super slick.

    Does it make me want to connect my PC to my TV, for most games no, but for some…. maybe. For what it is, they’ve done a good job.

  28. fish99 says:

    Also the text entry system (which i`m using to type this message) is a stroke of genius.

  29. eleven0911 says:

    oil press
    Glad to be here and see this. Many thanks for sharing this with us.

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