There isn't a hardware standard for Valve's upcoming Steambox concept. While the goal of the initiative is to move PC gaming from the desk to the living room, that doesn't necessarily involve a single hardware standard or minimum spec, Valve hardware engineer Jeff Keyzer told Engadget in an interview this morning at CES 2013. "It's going to be different things for different people. We're interested in investigating an ecosystem of devices that don't necessarily have to share a common spec," Keyzer said. Nothing's set in stone, of course, and Valve's still very much in the exploratory phase of its Steambox push. "We're exploring the space, and trying to understand what the tradeoffs are and how that impacts the user experience -- what it's like to actually use this hardware and play games," he explained. Beyond specs, he pointed out that all the prototypes of Steambox on display at CES share one common feature: "they don't look totally out of place in a living room."
Keyzer and the hardware team at Valve certainly seem to understand the challenges ahead of them in 2013. In true Valve fashion, their approach to tackling those challenges lies in iteration and openness. "We're planning to be open and involve users, so I think over the coming year you'll hear from us, and it won't be this big secret. I really think that it's going to be quite open," Keyzer said. And there's that hardware beta we heard about last year, lest you forget.
Steam's Big Picture Mode -- a TV- and controller-friendly version of Valve's widely used digital gaming service -- is the first volley in Valve's big living room push. Keyzer pointed out that several devices already on the market are essentially doing what Valve hopes to do in the coming year with its own hardware. "There are a lot of computer manufacturers that are making computers like these now that you can buy presently and are supporting Big Picture," he said, referencing the three non-Valve PCs on display in the booth. "But we think that there's a lot of fertile ground for innovation and exploration in that area, so that's what we're doing," he added.
Eyes-on with Valve's Steam Box prototypes
Still, a huge barrier to entry for PC gaming lies not only in the interface and form factor, but also in standardization. With a modern home game console, everyone who buys one knows they can expect (basically) the same experience across any device. With PCs, however? Not so much. Keyzer addressed this a bit ambiguously. "Being able to know what the experience for a given game is gonna be like on any platform is interesting, and I think Steam gives us a certain amount of control over that that otherwise we wouldn't have," he said. What that actually means is another question altogether -- one that we'll no doubt see answered across the coming months.
We only had one more question for Jeff. The media and gamers have been calling Valve's Steam player the "Steambox" for months now, but what does he and his team call it internally? "I call it the Steambox. I actually don't know where that name came from originally. I'm not sure whether that was something that was internal or external." The mystery continues.