Wouldn't a Valve 'Steam Box' console be nothing more than a PC?

Wouldn't a Valve 'Steam Box' console be nothing more than a PC?

Summary: Are a customizable controller, a Valve logo on the case, and being able to sit on a couch to play a game really enough to differentiate the 'Steam Box' from a PC?

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TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware
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An interesting rumor bubbled up to the surface over the weekend which suggested that the game developer Valve, makers of hit games such as Half-Life 2 and Portal 2, could be in the process of developing a 'Steam Box' console, with the idea of bringing the Steam gaming platform into the living room.

Steam is, without a doubt, the most successful online distribution service for games and coupling that to a TV could open it out to a completely new audience.

Let's look at the three elements that kicked off this rumor:

The first 'but' is the biggest. Steam games run on PC, and this system sounds like it's a PC. What differentiates it from a PC other than being packages so that it can easily be connected to a TV (think media center)?

Then there is the fact that consoles are an extremely cut-throat business, with Microsoft, Sony, and to a less extent Nintendo locked in a three-way battle for people's money. It's hard to see room for a fourth player in the market, even if that player is Steam.

Price isn't so much the issue here either. While you can pick up an Xbox 360 for $150 and a PS3 for $250 if you shop around, wait until the new models make an appearance and watch the price shoot up. Branding is more important than price.

An important side note relating to price is that console makers usually lose money on the console in order to make it up later on the games. Does Valve have the money to go up against behemoths such as Microsoft in this way?

Consoles have a long shelf life. Just look how old the PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii are. The Xbox 360 was released in November 2005, and both the PS3 and Wii in November 2006.

Gaming PCs on the other hand don't stay cutting edge for long before you need to slap in a new CPU or GPU. How long could a ‘Steam Box' remain relevant before it needed upgrading? Not as long as the current generation of consoles have lasted, that's for sure.

Are a customizable controller, a Valve logo on the case, and being able to sit on a couch to play a game really enough to differentiate the 'Steam Box' from a PC? Right now, I just don't see enough to make this idea fly.

Personally, I think what Valve needs to do is not make a games console but instead work to bring games to more screens, especially those screens on mobile platforms. In fact, a better idea than a games console would be a portable games console (and even that might not be such superb idea either given that it puts it head-to-head against Apple and iOS devices).

Personally, I'm skeptical regarding this console rumor. At best, this is taking two plus two and getting five. At worst, it is building a house of cards on a foundation made of cards. After all, patents and rumors make for poor sources.

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Topics: Mobility, Hardware

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13 comments
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  • more or less

    Yes it would be...
    slickjim
  • Half Life 2 part 3

    I think Valve needs to finish Half Life 2 before it starts any new projects. I am getting ticked off with how long they are dragging this out.
    ryanmc
  • So let me get this straight...

    They want to sell a console that only plays "Steam" games? So we're looking at:
    -- a console using PC-based architecture & hardware (a la XBox/XBox 360), since they would presumably use their Steam-based games "as-is", as opposed to porting the existing games to a new console standard;
    -- unless the console will accept existing game discs for the games, it'll be "digital download only"... and I'm betting they'll go the digital-only route, because why bother with including a PC DVD drive that they'd then have to add software controls to so that it doesn't accept non-Steam-based game discs?
    -- a new controller... and I don't get why "interchangeable parts" is going to be good beyond a "isn't this cool!" selling point. Now, if they were market it as a "customizable" game controller, and they wanted to create replaceable parts that help advertise a particular game, I could maybe see that...although I doubt most players would shell out for it.

    Yeah, sorry, gonna have to say this would land in the "no" pile for me.
    spdragoo@...
  • Ummm....

    Exactly what do you think a console is? An Xbox 360 or PS3 is simply a PC with a closed rather than open OS. That's it. That's the entire difference. All 360/PS3 game development happens on PC's. Look at this paragraph:
    "Are a customizable controller, a Valve logo on the case, and being able to sit on a couch to play a game really enough to differentiate the ???Steam Box??? from a PC? Right now, I just don???t see enough to make this idea fly."
    You could literally substitute the words Microsoft and Xbox 360 for Valve and Steam Box and you would have the answer to your question.
    Especially inaccurate is this statement:
    "Gaming PCs on the other hand don???t stay cutting edge for long before you need to slap in a new CPU or GPU. How long could a ???Steam Box??? remain relevant before it needed upgrading? Not as long as the current generation of consoles have lasted, that???s for sure."
    Wow. I'm not even sure how to respond to that. This assumes consoles are on the cutting edge. Hahahaha. Modern day PC's are TEN times as powerful as current gen consoles. It is precisely because of developing for the same hardware for 5-6 years that gaming graphics are stagnating. Once again, you could substitute PS3 or 360 in for Steam Box and ask the same question.
    You do have a great point, though, about the highly competitive nature of the console (read: closed OS, standardized PC) business. It IS cut-throat, and I'm not sure Valve wants to get in the middle of that. We'll see how it all turns out, though. I'm not sure the rumors will prove true.
    MTRougeau
    • You don't really understand what you're talking about

      A console isn't "just a PC". The original XBox used PC components, none of the current gen ones do. Yes, they have a GPU that is based on then-current GPUs but with new features added and different memory systems. The CPUs in a console aren't x86/64 based and typically use RISC. It's because of this that consoles see a longer life span than PC components.

      You also equate a PC, absolutely top of the line at $3000+, being 10 times more powerful than a 5-6 year old console and that can be true. But you won't get 10 times the performance. Why? PC architecture is general purpose. Consoles are single purpose devices. There is a world of difference there.
      LiquidLearner
      • A PC is currently far superior in every way, shape, and form.

        "You also equate a PC, absolutely top of the line at $3000+, being 10 times more powerful than a 5-6 year old console and that can be true."

        Actually, I'd bet a $1000 gaming PC against a console as well. My own Core 2 Quad PC isn't top of the line, but I can play any game ported over from a console on it, easily. It won't even break a sweat.

        "But you won't get 10 times the performance."

        Many components may actually break the 10x mark.

        "PC architecture is general purpose."

        PC architecture is currently superior to the Xbox 360's architecture in every way, shape, and form. Name me one, and I do mean [b]ONE[/b], component on a decent gaming rig made today that is inferior to that of the Xbox 360.

        I await your answer, but I won't hold my breath.
        CobraA1
  • Not sure if this will be a win with the PC Gamer crowd

    Seems like too much of a lock in when it comes to the hardware. There are hardcore gamers that upgrade their PCs very frequently (especially graphics cards) and I think that most of them can run a VGA, DVI, or HDMI cable to their TVs if they prefer to use that.

    EDIT. I didn't think that hard core (all one word) was a bad word to be used but apparently it is because it was automatically edited out.
    bobiroc
    • yeah, the talkback is weird for that word

      "EDIT. I didn't think that hard core (all one word) was a bad word to be used but apparently it is because it was automatically edited out."

      Yeah - and oddly enough, it's actually the only word I've seen that's filtered out. I almost never see ZDNet's talkback system filter out a word - except that one, and it's rather annoying when talking about games, because we talk about hard core gamers all the time.
      CobraA1
  • Thoughts . . .

    "Wouldn't a Valve 'Steam Box' console be nothing more than a PC?"

    Well, yeah, duh - in order to run all of Steam's PC games, you pretty much need a PC with Windows on it. My guess is that this may end up being basically be a Windows box, but with perhaps a Steam-like shell over it to cover the fact that it's really Windows.

    If it's really actually going to exist, that is. I'm somewhat skeptical that Valve would try something like this, though.

    "What differentiates it from a PC other than being packages so that it can easily be connected to a TV (think media center)?"

    Except that it would be far more powerful than any media center PC in existence - it's one thing to throw pixels at the screen and do a bit of decoding, but it's quite another to throw around millions of polygons, while texturing, lighting, shadowing, filtering, and shading them. And of course a few per-pixel shaders as well. And of course this has to be maintained at 60-120 or more frames every second, and on en expensive rig has to be done at resolutions above 1080p, possibly with antialiasing turned on, which makes for insanely high virtual resolutions.

    "An important side note relating to price is that console makers usually lose money on the console in order to make it up later on the games."

    Well, Valve certainly has the games. Their current selection is pretty huge, and is already well established. This is totally unlike consoles, which have to re-establish their games with every new generation.

    "Consoles have a long shelf life. Just look how old the PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii are."

    To be honest - that's really artificial and forced. By all measurements, they're really long overdue for a new generation. This generation of consoles has been the longest so far, and to be honest maybe some real competition may actually force them to get off their butts and start getting serious about this long overdue refresh.

    "Gaming PCs on the other hand don???t stay cutting edge for long before you need to slap in a new CPU or GPU."

    Well, you don't need a cutting edge PC to play games, and today's game engines actually scale quite well to a large variety of systems.

    And to be honest, I see this as a distinct [b]disadvantage[/b] of consoles: The fact that they last so long means they're eventually outdated. Whereas most other forms of tech tend to push forward, they tend to lag behind.

    I hate the fact that this generation of consoles has dragged on so far. It's way too long, and they really do need to update more often. I honestly think this is a major drawback, not a benefit.

    "Right now, I just don???t see enough to make this idea fly."

    I'd say it's 50/50 - if they're even doing it at all. If it is real, I honestly hope it at least makes enough to get the other console makers off their laurels and actually be serious about upgrading their aging consoles again. It's far beyond time for another generational refresh.
    CobraA1
  • Sorry to inform

    But ALL consoles are in some way or another Computers. Yes the Xbox is, the Wii, and The PS2 they all run on an OS, not to mention the files(Or games if you will) are .iso's.
    dudewut
  • Forgot to add in one thing

    You say PC's aren't cutting Edge? Dude what are you talking about? It's been conformed that the new Xbox console will run on a 6670 graphics card which is inferior to the new, cutting edge graphics cards you can get on a PC these days and the console isn't even out yet.
    dudewut
  • Cant happen

    As a long time PC gamer, this would be an incredible failure. First of all there is no way they can get into the market at any reasonable price, secondly most PC games dont play friendly with controllers, and using controllers vs people with keyboards and mice has shown to be devastating to those with controllers. Also the graphics card wont be good for that long.
    Jimster480
  • steam box

    .. what kind of operating system would power it?
    sgamao