Bigger Picture: Valve Hardware Beta To Begin Next Year

By Nathan Grayson on September 20th, 2012 at 10:00 am.

The number one selection criteria for the beta will be that you have an exceedingly blue and atmospherically lit room.

Valve’s designing its own hardware. This has been known – in various forms – for quite some time. But, more and more, it sounds like Gabe Newell’s mighty lair in the (kinda occasionally) frigid wastes of Bellevue, Washington is converting into full-on Santa’s magical toy shop mode. Admittedly, wearable computing‘s still the stuff crazy future fever dreams are made of, but in the meantime, Valve’s churning out prototypes right and left. Its goal? “To make Steam games more fun to play in your living room.” And, according to a new report, a lucky few of us will get to continue Steam’s slow-but-sure conquest of our homes as soon as next year.

Valve’s Jeri Ellsworth apparently “lit up” while telling Engadget about her team’s current projects – which, of course, suggests that one of them involves incorporating bioluminescence into human beings. Apparently, though, no option – “from Phantom Lapboard-esque solutions to hybrid controllers” – is out of the question in Valve’s quest to bring PC gaming into the living room. Currently, Ellsworth’s team is working “in tandem” with Steam’s Big Picture mode, so clearly, Valve’s sticking to its usual “slow-and-steady wins the race” gradual rollout tactics on this one.

The beta for the first part of Valve’s multi-shot hardware salvo is set to kick off sometime next year, and it’ll see prototypes make their way into players’ hands via some variety of Steam selection process. As for what it’ll include, that’s anyone’s guess at this point. According to Ellsworth, Valve’s churning out all manner of prototypes every day, but – if nothing else – it’s also documenting the whole process. So perhaps at some point, we’ll get a sneak peek inside the mad science factory.

This, though, is certainly a grab at an audience that formerly shunned PC gaming. That said, are you at all interested in having PC gaming claim dominion over your living room? Also, for you, at what point does this kind of thing stop being a “PC” experience? Do alternate control methods, bigger screens, and the like take away from that? Or is it, at the end of the day, about openness, freedom, and options more than perspective, location, and control scheme?

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69 Comments »

  1. pRiM8 says:

    I used to game on my PC in the livingroom but that was because my bedroom couldn’t fit my massive gaming desk haha.

    Seriously though, its all very interesting and I wonder if they will develop their own ‘normal’ controller along with all the other crazy eye/heart/pulse monitoring gadgets etc. I think big picture mode can be used for any room and any size screen, its a pretty slick interface. I’ve also been thinking about building a mini pc for the livingroom, a bit like a htpc but with more punch in the gfx department for those less demanding games and games that I can play along with my gf.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      I used to game on my PC in the livingroom, but then I t…

      No, I still do. But I don’t own a TV, so I probably don’t count.

      • DeVadder says:

        I still play in the living room too. Sometimes it becomes a little bit awkward when using voice comms, but normally that works just fine.

        But i do not understand the whole novelty about this. I have plugged my labtop into the tv numerous times using wireless mouse and keyboard to play. So the whole ‘big picture’ thing is not really new to me. Do other people not have HDMI in their TV and computer?

        • f1x says:

          Believe it or not, its not that common

          Believe it or not, there are lots of people out there with TV that dont have an HDMI port (or at least in Spain, well we are a bit “3rd world” anyway)

          And also there a lots of pc gamers that really dont know how, dont want to, cant be arsed

          Myself, I prefer to play in my “computer” room, when I go to the living room I have an xbox (heresy! but I think it was 2010 when I played on the xbox last time) and when I got to bed or outside I have an ipad to play some of those gasp.. casual games (kairosoft <3)
          perhaps I’m not a pure-race PC gamer but I think most of the people are similar to me (I mean we are the “mass” of average users) and that could be the market that Valve is trying to reach, people that want different solutions to different gaming situations

          For me this big picture thing could be a great deal, I understand that they are working on some sort of controller-hybrid-solution?, because no matter what using a keyboard while sitting in the sofa is not too comfortable

          • Lemming says:

            Yeah I’m with you on that kind of setup. I like having my computer its own place, and frankly, my girlfriend prefers that too. TVs in the lounge are usually for sharing, and if you a have special tv, in a special place for your special PC well…multiple widescreen monitor setups are much cooler, IMO.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Does no-one else use the HDMI out port to connect to the 42″ WQXGA monitor that the cable/sat box uses?

    • traslin says:

      I’m an HTPC gamer, and I love it. I just hook up my xbox wireless controller, and I feel like I am getting the best of both worlds. The biggest downside is that there is no way to chat effectively, but a Bluetooth headset is better for communicating anyways. Also, it is nice to be able to play a game and entertain the kids at the same time with my mad skillz (truthfully, I mostly suck but my kids are nice enough not to judge me).

    • Bel says:

      I just finished doing just that. My new HTPC/Gaming rig does all the video stuff, and is built to be the lan-gaming computer as well as PC-Console. Already downloaded Dirt2 to futz around with it, since I already had a license on steam for it.

      The big picture interface is pretty neat, but it is indeed a beta. There are a lot of UI oddness that should be smoothed out before it is a general feature.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      I have always gamed in the livingroom. I just got a optoma 600x lv projector connected it to the pc and xbox. Flying on the outside camera in a plane on Battlefield 3 caspian border…….. holy shit the image is just over 2 metres across the diagonal.

      The pc is hidden now pretty much unless I need to get a disk in. The house has basically aquired a server for all screens. And big picture for a first attempt is pretty good.

      If valve did a gesture interface combined with a re-imagined keyboard layout, that could prove handy. Is there a practical and accurate replacement for the mouse is the thing ?

      Perhaps something built into a chair like a toilet.

  2. thesisko says:

    I thought most PC gamers already had one connected to their TV/projector with a couple of controllers. I mean, what else would you use…a consoletoy? *shudder*.

    • frightlever says:

      You’ve confused what happens in your house with what everyone else is doing.

      I actually DO have a PC hooked up to my TV but that’s strictly as a Freeview/media viewer. What else am I going to do? Pay for Sky?

      I actually see no real benefit to playing on a 42″ LCD while sitting with my face about 8 feet from the screen, versus a 23″ LCD with my nose about two feet from the screen. The screen to everything else ratio in my field of vision is much smaller on the telly. The deciding factor is probably a big fat comfy front room chair vs a three hundred quid ex-auction Aeron (thank you recession).

      • JBantha says:

        And you know: 3 friends playing AVNT with you on the couch.

  3. RaveTurned says:

    “Valve’s Jeri Ellsworth apparently “lit up” while telling Engadget about her team’s current projects – which, of course, suggests that one of them involves incorporating bioluminescence into human beings.”

    Valve’s vision is augmented.

    • Fazer says:

      Comments like these reassure me RPS should implement voting system, reddit-style.
      Have an upvote, good sir.

  4. Torn says:

    I’m actually really hoping it’s not a console with its own hardware per se, but that it’ll have some wireless ability to fling/receive HD video + audio, and provide its own (or accept my current) wireless keyboard / mouse / controller via bluetooth. It should then – automagically – speak to my gaming PC running Steam in another room that provides the horsepower.

    That kinda stuff over ethernet, as long as the input lag isn’t terrible, would be a fantastic way to play a lot of games.

    • TaroYamada says:

      This is basically what I want, a HDMI bridge (wireless with the option for ethernet) + some built in USB ports for 360 controllers/whatever other control method.

    • pRiM8 says:

      That is a great idea, like Onlive/Gaikai etc but local. We already have the technology to stream music/video around the home, Valve should develop something that can do the same for games so you’re main PC can stream games to any room in the house.

      • Apocalypse says:

        You mean something like big picture? HDMI and DP cables have already a good range, you can just plug in your gaming pc into your TV. It is working like a charm … ok it is working, but is draining performance like a 5$-ea-game right now, but I am sure they will fix this problem before the beta ends.

    • AbyssUK says:

      Dear sirs,

      http://www.asus.com/Multimedia/Wireless_Kit/WAVI/

      HDMI and usb wireless streaming … apparently its not bad at 720p but can struggle at 1080p.. also line of sight is recommended.

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      My wireless, and I’m sure many other people’s, is so flaky I’m not confident that this would work brilliantly.

      • AbyssUK says:

        ?? The WAVI uses its own wireless connection in the 5 ghz range… has nothing to do with ‘wifi’. Its essentially a cableless HDMI and basic USB cable.

        Sadly the USB can only work with basics games controllers, keyboards etc doesn’t take a hub or a webcam.

  5. Badgercommander says:

    A device that’s as accurate as a mouse, as comfortable and easy to use as a controller and doesn’t require a flat surface would be nice.

    • Xardas Kane says:

      A flying robot unicorn would be nice too, and about as much plausible. Sigh… Which is why I’m not sure I’m interested in this initiative. Like many, I’ve been gaming on my PC in my living room for years, both with a controller and the old m+k combo.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Small ergonomic laptop table with built in keyboard and flat area for mouse. Fold it away when not using. Want to use it while sitting on a bean bag? Quick-release velcro strap goes round the back of your legs. Only downside is the mouse might fall off if the table is sitting at an angle.

        I like my M&K :)

    • enricllagostera says:

      Maybe something like this , but with some nice text-input-specific interface?

    • InternetBatman says:

      The controls of the wii were not a bad idea, the technology hasn’t been fully realized yet. But pointer control for aiming and analog for movement is pretty nice.

    • Infinitum says:

      I hope Steam picked up the revolve controller. The closing video implies someone might be funding him outside the kickstarter.

      I abandoned the mouse in favor of a trackball 12 years ago, and even use one for gaming. I envy the gaming specific mouse market, though, and hope something more responsive comes along.

      • Binary77 says:

        Infinitum, a guy called Jay Garcia has been making a modded 360 controller with a trackball for ages now. I have one & it’s amazing. That Kickstarter project honestly looks like an inferior product.

        http://trackballcontroller.com/

        • Infinitum says:

          I don’t have the words.

          I suppose, “thank you,” and, “purchased,” will have to suffice.

          edit: emotional roller coaster; Jay’s eBay listings appear defunct.

      • N080D7 says:

        I have also been using a trackball for at least a decade, still have the original Logitech Trackman but replaced it with the newer version two years ago since the original was turning yellow and the newer one had those two additional buttons.

        Now I am using the CST L-TracX ( http://www.clearlysuperiortech.com/ltracx.html ) which has now become my favorite trackball since you can change the tracking rate on the fly, bigger trackball (billard ball size) allows even more accurate control, high tracking rates (3200 cpi is way more than enough for a trackball), and the one thing that has been missing on most trackballs, a scroll wheel. Can also mod it with what ever trackball you would like (including a real billard ball since they are the exact same size/weight), create/buy a switchblock (I made a LEGO switchblock like Ripster), or what ever else you would like. (http://imgur.com/a/AXUbt#0 ) Although beware that the L-TracX is considerably larger than most trackball mice.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          That’s a nice looking trackball. I use thumb balls myself, currently using a logitech M570 wireless one, admittedly I don’t play games competitively but it has never let me down or felt inferior in gaming.

        • Infinitum says:

          Thanks, I may give the L-TRAC a try. I used a Microsoft Trackball Explorer for my first 10 years, great for games of the time: 4-buttons, thumb scroll wheel, large ball, but started to feel slow about 2 years ago. I switched to a Kensington Orbit, with the scroll ring. While “faster,” it’s less suited for gaming, with only 2 buttons and a slightly awkward scroll function (frequent accidental weapon switches in FPS games).

          Is reaching for the scroll wheel above the ball awkward? Avoiding accidental scrolling appeals in contrast to my current experience, but I imagine potential annoyance with spreadsheets or web browsing.

    • Vandelay says:

      Motion controls are the way forward, if that is what you are looking for. The PC’s solution, the Razer Hydra, is pretty good, but has some fairly crappy software. It has been improved since launch, but there is still no easy solution for the sticks to work as analogue controls; they still just emulate the keyboard, which makes driving in a GTA-esque game, for example, nearly impossible.

      As for the consoles, I’ve only really used the Wiimote and Kinect, the later of which is a very different idea. I’ve not played any Wiimote Plus games yet, but the accuracy of it in Twilight Princess feels nowhere near the precision of the Hydra (this is through Dolphin, so not sure if that has an effect.)

      I know Valve have worked with Sixense (they make the Hydra, Razer just distribute,) before with the Hydra, so I could see them collaborating further on a new device. If they could make a similar more affordable product that would be very interesting.

      Having said that, this sounds as if they are looking to make something completely new, so who knows what it is going to be.

  6. Cytrom says:

    Is the “TV mode” for steam already out? If so, how do you enable it?

    • Alexandros says:

      You need to opt in for the beta (Steam > Settings > Account Tab > Beta Participation).

    • jezcentral says:

      Talking of enabling, how will the game know it is on the big screen, far, far away? Surely text will need to be bigger. I can understand some kind of zoom/font-size increase functionality being built into Steamworks games, but what about games that don’t?

      EDIT: I guess games should already have this kind of functionality, y’ know, because of accessibility, but I don’t know how many do this.

  7. Alexandros says:

    “Or is it, at the end of the day, about openness, freedom, and options more than perspective, location, and control scheme?”

    Well put Nathan, that’s precisely what it is about. At no point does this stop being a PC experience, as long as the user is the one controlling it. PC gaming has always been about user choice, in stark contrast to the “we’ll tell you how you should play” ethos of console gaming. More choices on how to play PC games is a good thing, a great one even.

    Playing a game on a TV with a controller is no less PC gaming if I can at any time go and play on my desktop with a kb&mouse or on my laptop while on the go. It’s still PC gaming if I can play on a Steambox or on a rig of my own choosing, or on one I’ve built myself.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Agreed.

      My concern about Valve moving into what is essentially the console space however is that the market forces in that sector may begin to push Valve towards being Just Another Console Manufacturer. It may well be that you can go and plug in a Mouse and Keyboard in another room, but the subtle design changes (akin to reducing the number of possible actions or controls in a game because the XBox controller has limited buttons) that push things away from the PC experience are what worry me.

      “What PC gaming is” seems to vary from person to person and article to article (though some overconfident souls will claim to have THE one true definition) To me, PC gaming kind of IS about sitting at a desk, with a mouse and keyboard. It IS about Hi-fidelity visuals, taking advantage of the most modern equipment (similar to buying expensive stereo equipment for the extra fidelity that it brings). It is about choice, the ability to change things and make / add mods, to be in control of your gaming experience. I want that choice to remain a firm part of the experience, and for NONE of those choices to be watered down by compromises in implementing others.

      That is because, when choices have to be made in a commercial setting, mass market decisions tend to influence them the most. In the console space then, my fear is that it will be console-centric decisions that pass. Maybe I am an old gaming dinosaur, who at 34 years of age and having grown up with amigas and C64′s has got used to sitting at a table, in front of a keyboard, but thats me. Thats MY choice. They are a vanguard of PC gaming, and I hope that Valve will preserve those choices that may be less mainstream.

      • Alexandros says:

        I’m 33 and I have the same gaming background as you, so I understand your point of view :) If I understand the article correctly, Valve is trying to create a controller that replaces the mouse&keyboard with the same functionality, so I don’t really forsee any danger of simplifying games or interfaces. I think it will just be another choice for people who want to game in their living room, and that’s absolutely fine by me.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        To me, it’s about being agnostic about which hardware you choose to use. I use an Nvidia GTX570, a 3D monitor and a Mac Pro. If someone wants to use an XPC connected to a TV and Xbox 360 controller, that shouldn’t make any difference.

        The only way this will fall flat is if Valve start putting minimum requirements on Steam (other than having a barely functioning PC).

    • particlese says:

      Absolutely. User control has to remain strong.

      If they ever make a “Steam Box”, I’m thinking along the lines of there being a fully-upgradeable baseline model with (for example) video card vendors specifying that their product upgrades “steam box version x”. Game developers would then have a stabler platform to target while still letting users use better hardware for more eye candy or trade frame rate for the like. There are the problems of preferred vendors, stagnation of hardware innovation, and corner cases with games programmed for specific hardware that perform worse on generally “better” parts from other vendors, but hopefully this sort of idea could be better developed by others. (Or maybe already has been.)

  8. Hoaxfish says:

    Cryogenic freezing, so we can all be frozen until Half Life 3 arrives?

  9. zeroskill says:

    I can see this as a move by Valve to be a competitor to consoles. If you can easily use your PC in your living room, then consoles actually become obsolete. It can almost be seen as a move against Microsoft, who have been busy trying to make the PC a less viable platform for gaming.

    This is speculative, but if this is so, could the next move by Valve be maybe an PC OS? The PC could surely benefit from a serious competitor to Windows, and a user friendly, Linux based PC operating system doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. And considering Gabe’s outspokenness about the new Windows 8, could this be something Valve is looking into? They sure have the resources and competence, considering again that Gabe used to work for Microsoft before he co-founded Valve, to pull something like this off.

    Time will tell, I guess.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      As long as they beat them, and don’t join them. Thats my only wish :) They can butt-kick Microsoft all they want otherwise.

      WINDOWS 8 <_<

    • milman says:

      Well if you listen to all the mutterings lately from Valve it’s quite clear a steamOS is something they would love to achieve. They also want you playing games on your TV. And would love to develop some genius piece of tech that rivals a mouse/keyboard (wearable?).

      If the big 3 console makers let Valve get even halfway down the road to achieving that trifecta they should be very afraid.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        They should televise this particular revolution. It would be an awesome E-Sport :)

      • soldant says:

        Only so long as it remains a trouble-free experience and doesn’t fall prey to an eternal upgrade cycle. You’d need to enforce some pretty common standards and expectations for it to appeal to the console masses. Remember one of the ‘strengths’ (from an end user perspective, and okay from a dev perspective too I guess) is that there’s only one hardware profile for a 360, one for a PS3 etc. The user upgrades to the next console generation, and theoretically (hardware failures notwithstanding) their console can last them for a good few years without losing visual fidelity or playing games slower (for the most part).

        For Valve to really succeed with a SteamBox they’d need to duplicate some of that. Otherwise all they’ll do is get the existing PC gamers, who will probably build their own systems anyway because we’re awesome like that.

    • Alexandros says:

      “This is speculative, but if this is so, could the next move by Valve be maybe an PC OS?”

      I feel that this is most definitely the endgame for Valve’s living room assault, a Steambox running Valve’s own Linux distro. It won’t happen overnight, but Valve are clearly moving in that direction.

  10. Tiguh says:

    I haven’t owned a TV in years and consider it to be an antiquated technology. I really did expect most fellow geeks to be like me and not bother with them, but it looks like I was wrong.

    I can’t believe we’ll still be using those massive boxes in ten years time.

    • caddyB says:

      I also don’t have one, but that’s only because I never watched it anyway. So I sold it.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Wheeee. I also do not watch telly. I have one in my flat, but it doesnt really work. Our aerial is crap and gets like 3 freeview channels :)

        I have felt the pressure of I NEED A 50 FOOT SQUARE MEGALITH-O-SCREEN every now and then, but its not top of my priorities financially.

        Looks like I am a geek too :)

    • tetracycloide says:

      Cable is an antiquated technology. A stand alone device that can stream HD video directly from multiple internet services without the need for any additional devices to a substantial sized screen is certainly not.

  11. BPongo says:

    Already doing it. I’ve got a table shaped like a “D” with short legs on one arm of my arm chair for my mouse, with keyboard in my lap. Also got a controller hooked up.

    It all works great, my only quibbles being the text being so small on the big screen and the cord city I’ve got going on behind the tv

  12. Carra says:

    I’m interested in big picture but only for some games. I enjoy playing platformers or third person games with a controller. Shooters? Euhm, no.

    So being able to play Assassins Creed on my big TV sounds very nice.

  13. markcocjin says:

    Silly RPS. It only stops being a PC experience if Microsoft has its way and becomes a closed system.

    Steam coming to the living room does not mean a stop to a PC experience. It’s more of the consoles becoming more like home theatre PCs becoming an end to the console experience. Not that ti got worse. On the contrary. It got better for them because they’re like PCs.

    • soldant says:

      That’s not happening for x86-64 PCs. Only Modern UI. All this ‘closed platform’ stuff is FUD for the most part, and any attempt by Microsoft to lock down regular apps would be met with outright failure. Also, a SteamBox/SteamOS would effectively just be what GabeN complained about with Windows 8, except it’s Valve/Steam instead of Microsoft/Windows Store.

      Valve are a company interested in making money and cornering the digital distribution market. They’ve made massive inroads as it stands. A SteamBox would just help cement that control. Hell, they wouldn’t even need to impose hard restrictions, because people would just blindly use Steam anyway. Where else are you going to find Linux games if their promises of proper and extensive support is true? They’ll be the biggest fish in a very small pond.

  14. jellydonut says:

    I’m not interested in it, but an open platform in the living room beats a stupid one. You know, like the current two.

    If it can replace consoles then I’m chuffed. But not for me, no thanks.

  15. Ratchet says:

    You know, I always thought (hoped, actually), that all the Valve Hardware rumours were more along the lines of Valve designing a spec for a Linux-based gaming platform (that idea started to gel when Valve started poo-pooing Windows 8). Not an actual Linux based gaming platform, mind you, but simply a spec for one that gamers, game developers, and (more importantly) hardware companies devoted to gamers could get behind.

    This whole idea of “wearable” computers seems a little ostentatious and doesn’t seem appealing at all, but I’ll still hold hope that whatever they are doing is something truly exciting and game changing (pun!) .

  16. InternetBatman says:

    personally, I would like a refinement of wii style controls with some biofeedback capabilities. That’s gotta be pretty expensive though.

  17. Hodge says:

    If anyone’s not heard of Jeri Ellsworth before this then it’s well worth checking out her YouTube channel. Her baffling array of bedroom hacks will make you smile.

  18. Lev Astov says:

    My PC room IS my living room, due to the fact my PC uses projectors for screens. I have a couch with a center console in which I’ve mounted my mousepad. I just hold a keyboard on my lap and use the mouse on the center console and I’m all set.

    I’ll always need keyboard and mouse (until brain-computer-interfaces become good) but I’m open to new controllers for certain types of games.

  19. pupsikaso says:

    I don’t even have a TV, much less any interest to play PC games on it.

  20. Moraven says:

    I like this idea to make it easier for the masses to use their PC essentially as their console. For multiplatform games I would pick the PC version everytime with this setup.

    I would not even buy a console if every game was on PC.

    Unfortunately that will never be the case and I will always will want each console eventually due to exclusives. (Bought a Xbox for Ninja Gaiden, PS3 for Valkyrie Chronicles, 360 got used for the better version of Rock Band and have bought other exclusives. ).

    If only these companies hired the emulator makers to emulate their last generation console and sell their games digitally…if only.

  21. Paul says:

    PC + 60″ plasma + x360 wireless controller + Steam Big Picture = the only way to play.

    Games that support controller, that is.
    For games that do not support it, mouse and keyboard + 24″ LCD monitor connected to the same PC help too.

  22. AbyssUK says:

    You know what I bet you could make an awesome set of power gloves with today’s technology. Perhaps with virtual keyboards, virtual mice, joysticks.. if nintendo could do something that half worked back in the 80′s it must be much easier to make today.

  23. MythArcana says:

    N.I.M.B.Y.

  24. aircool says:

    TV is crap for games as you have to sit up close. I like my desk and my desktop PC. I spend nearly all day at my desk, working or relaxing. The TV is there for when the desk is to be forgotten.

  25. dirtrobot says:

    Found a leaked picture of the hardware prototype:
    http://www.hdequipment.eu/hdmi-hdmi-long-length-cable.html