No, it’s not the new line from Rug Doctor. It’s not some humidifying gizmo on the Shopping Network. And it sure isn’t a new facade deemed ecofriendly by Syncrude.
Simply put, a Steam Machine – sometimes known as Steam Box – is a portable PC for your living room.
Traditionally, the gaming console has had a monopoly on the living room, whereas the PC has been relegated to a more private recess of the home, like an office. The Steam Machine is aimed at changing all that.
Instead of you being cooped-up in an office – call it your “man cave” all you want; you know, I know, and your partner knows it’s a glorified office – with stereo headphones and a 22-inch monitor, you’ll be able to play your games in your living room on your monster 70-inch LED in 7.1 Dolby. You’ll use a console-style controller instead of a keyboard, making that leather recliner a much more comfy gaming option than that office chair you have.
Sound nice? Well sit tight; there are other advantages.
Though some may worry about the number of titles available, any gamer will tell you that apart from a handful of exclusives, most blockbuster games are either co-released for the PC or at least come to the PC a few months after their release on console. And if all those Xbox and PlayStation fanatics out there are really honest with themselves, they’ll admit that these games actually look and play better on a PC than on a console.
Then there’s the sizes and variety available. Steam Machines are smaller than current consoles, with some being able to fit in the palm of your hand. And whereas you now have basically one PS4 and one Xbox One to choose from, the Steam Machine will have a plethora of possibilities available to you, from different hardware and operating system options, to a customizable chassis.
Steam Machines also come with the flexibility inherent in a PC. Need better performance? Upgrade the hardware. Steam Machines are specifically designed so gamers can easily open the chassis and switch out the RAM, motherboard and graphics card. This makes the Steam Machine much more versatile compared to a console, with gamers able to upgrade parts quickly and easily to play the higher end games of the future.
Will Steam Machines usurp the PS4 or the Xbox One? Hardly. At least, not in the foreseeable future. Barrier one is price. Making a competitively hardy, yet ubiquitously portable PC is no cheap feat. Steam Machines start at around $500.
These less robust systems mean bigger games will stream from a PC to the TV through the Steam Machine. The higher-end models are able to run games natively, with no need for streaming, but they will run you $1,500, with the big Kahuna costing upwards of $6,000.
Barrier number two is market. By this time, most gamers are pretty comfy in their chosen PlayStation-Xbox-PC camp. The Steam Machine is targeting PC gamers and it is this demographic that will make up the majority of Steam Machine customers. That being said, the flexibility, upgradability and performance advantages inherent in the Steam Machine may see more and more gamers changing camps in the years to come.
A third barrier involves technical issues. While a PC game may look fantastic on a 22-inch monitor, will that same, crisp performance be lag-free on a 44 or even a 60-inch screen? Unlikely, not without decreasing your resolution output or with gamers paying through the teeth for the higher-end Steam Machines. I predict that, given the choice, PC gamers will stick to the peace of mind, portability and functionality of a high-end gaming laptop.
The biggest question for PC gamers is not what nor how, but when? Valve, the father of the Steam Machine and the mind behind such superb mega-games as Half-Life, Counter Strike, and Portal, has been quiet about release dates for more than a year.
Given that 500 beta (tester) systems were sent out in December, I doubt the Steam Machines will be ready for mainstream rollout until September, leaving lots of time for Sony and Microsoft to solidify their place in this new generation of gaming.
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.