Big-Screen Steam: Valve Want Your TV

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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