The "lotus" style keyboard (as in the flower, not the software company) has users tilt an analog stick in one of eight directions to highlight a cluster of letters, then hit a colored button to specify the letter. It's a weird-looking solution to the problem of on-screen typing, but a Valve staffer told Kotaku that when people try it, "they're almost instantly faster than [when using] QWERTY."
Big Picture also includes a web browser, which can be used simultaneously with a game through a multitasking feature. You can switch back and forth, Kotaku reports, without going back to your PC's desktop.
This isn't necessarily a first step toward the legendary "Steam Box" console. "What we really want is to ship [Big Picture mode] and then learn," Big Picture Mode team leader Greg Coomer said. "So we want to find out what people value about that. How they make use of it. When they make use of it. Whether it's even a good idea for the broadest set of customers or not. And then decide what to do next."
Update: A trailer for Big Picture Mode, above, shows the keyboard in motion, along with other features.
Update 2: Steam users can now opt in to the beta for Big Picture Mode! Go into settings, select "Steam Beta Update" and restart the Steam client. Once you've completed that, you'll see the Big Picture button in the top right-hand corner.
New mode of Steam designed for display on televisions; works with game controllers
September 10th, 2012 -- Valve announces a major update to the Steam gaming platform called Big Picture.
Steam's new Big Picture mode lets gamers access all of their favorite Steam games on a television. With the press of a button, Steam displays a new full-screen user interface optimized for readability and interaction on TV. Big Picture has been designed to be used with a traditional game controller, while also fully supporting keyboard and mouse input.
Steam gamers can experience Big Picture by connecting their PC or Mac to a TV, typically with a single HDMI cable. Access to the complete Steam store is included, as is the Steam Community. In addition to their complete library of Steam games, each user's cloud files, Steam Workshop content, account information and preferences will be accessible automatically in the new mode.
"Sega's roots are in living-room gaming." said John Clark, Vice President of Digital Distribution at Sega. "For the first time since the advent of PC games decades ago, gamers are finally going to have access to the kind of entertainment experience we've always wished they could have with our PC titles - one that's incredibly social, comfortable, and accessible. We're excited about the opportunity, and Big Picture has inspired us to bring even more of our titles to Steam in the future."
"There is nothing more satisfying than slaying thousands of orcs on your big screen. And many of the most die-hard players of Orcs Must Die 2 have always preferred playing with a game controller. Steam's Big Picture mode finally marries these two and delivers a true living room entertainment experience to players."
"We're pleased that gamers on Steam will now be able to immerse themselves in our entertainment experiences in the comfort of their living room on large sc reen TVs," said Steve Glickstein of Take-Two Interactive Software. "From action and adventure to sports and sims, our titles deliver big fun on big screens."
"PC gaming continues to be the leading edge of entertainment, whether it's social gaming, MMOs, graphics hardware, free-to-play, or competitive gaming," said Gabe Newell, president of Valve. "With Big Picture for Steam, we are trying to do our part to give customers and developers what they want - their games, everywhere, optimized for the environment in which they are playing."
Big Picture also includes a new web browser designed for televisions and game controllers. It is accessible from anywhere within the Big Picture UI, and even while playing Steam games on a TV. It supports Big Picture's new method of typing with a game controller, which is useful for entering URLs, filling out forms, chatting, and other functions.
For more information, including how to participate in the beta, please visit http://www.steampowered.com/bigpicture/