On Wednesday, Valve made the second of three announcements planned for this week regarding their entry into the world of video game hardware. Their first announcement, SteamOS, promised a living room-friendly interface to play all of your Steam games on. While that first announcement dealt with software, Wednesday’s announcement dealt with hardware: the console-like PCs that will run SteamOS. Valve is calling these SteamOS boxes “Steam Machines”.
According to the announcement page, Valve is working with several unnamed companies to make a large variety of devices. By making deals with other companies to build hardware, Valve can ensure that there will be a multitude of Steam Machines to suit every need. Whether you prefer small size and silent operation, or cheap, raw power, you should (in theory) be able to get a Steam Machine with whatever you consider the most important traits for a console. Because there will not be a single Steam Machine, but rather a variety, there is not yet a single defined set of specs or case design. The Machines will start appearing at retail in 2014.
As anyone familiar with the Android smartphone OS knows, though, having too many confusingly similar options can become a serious issue. As a result, Valve is conducting a free hardware beta test to evaluate what customers desire most out of the devices. The company is letting anyone who has a Steam account and meets all of their requirements enter for consideration into the beta. On October 25th, Valve will choose 300 participants from the pool of applicants and send out Steam Machines free-of-charge to those selected. At that point, the beta testers may do whatever they wish with the Machines (short of selling them, naturally) so Valve can figure out what features are most desirable for “users who want the most control possible over their hardware”.
The third and final of Valve’s announcements this week will be released on Friday.