Valve unveils Steam Machines, a hardware beta for its living room game console

Valve announced Steam Machines today, a living room game console that launches at some point in 2014. The company also announced a hardware beta for its own version of the console; the beta starts this year. Today's news is the second of three planned announcements this week meant to expand the company's digital game distribution service, Steam. The company's issuing just 300 hardware prototypes in 2013 -- "free of charge, for testing" -- and you can enter to become one of those lucky 300 through your existing Steam account (an "eligibility quest" was added to Steam's quest page that will guide you through the process).

Valve says that a variety of "Steam Machines" -- the new name for the company's "Steambox," a living room gaming console for playing PC games -- will become available next year "made by different manufacturers," including Valve itself. The hardware beta, which we first told you about many moons ago, only includes Valve's version of the Steam Machine. All the machines will run SteamOS, the operating system that'll power Valve's big living room push (it was announced earlier this week). There aren't any specs given for the various devices. Valve says that, since there will be a few different options, there'll be "an array of specifications, price, and performance" when we learn more "soon." It sounds like the 300 beta testers can share their experience with the rest of us, though, as Valve's asking for loud, public feedback.

Apparently the beta will include "the nearly 3,000 games" that are available on Steam including the "hundreds already running natively on SteamOS." Everything else is streamable, says Valve. In terms of using a mouse-and-keyboard setup in your living room, Valve says that's an option, but "we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input."

Today's announcement is the second that further elucidates Valve's "Steambox" initiative; a program that's attempting to bring PC games to the living room, squarely aimed at competing with the big three entrenched game console manufacturers (Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony). Both Microsoft and Sony have new game consoles launching this year in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, respectively.

A new countdown for the Valve's third Steam announcement kicked off just as today's expired, leaving another 48 hours before the final piece of news. Sounds like a controller of some form is in the works for Friday, which we'll have here for you as soon as it goes live.
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Here's how to participate


Want to make yourself eligible to participate in the beta? Add yourself to the list of candidates by completing the Eligibility Quest on Steam. Sound hard? It's not.
THE HARDWARE BETA ELIGIBILITY QUEST:
Before October 25, log in to Steam and then visit your quest page to track your current status towards beta test eligibility
1. Join the Steam Universe community group
2. Agree to the Steam Hardware Beta Terms and Conditions
3. Make 10 Steam friends (if you haven't already)
4. Create a public Steam Community profile (if you haven't already)
5. Play a game using a gamepad in Big Picture mode
You can complete the steps in any order. Once you've completed all of the steps, you'll be awarded a special badge, and you'll officially be among the pool of people from whom we'll choose beta participants / hardware recipients.

On October 25th, the list will be locked. So complete the quest before then!

Your help is critical to our design process. Your feedback will shape both the new OS version of Steam and the new category of gaming machines that will run it.


Questions!


When can I buy one?!


Beginning in 2014, there will be multiple SteamOS machines to choose from, made by different manufacturers.


I'm pretty happy with my PC Gaming setup, do I have to buy a new piece of hardware now?


No. Everything that we've been doing on Steam for the last 10 years will continue to move forward.


If you guys are delivering an OS to hardware manufacturers, why is Valve also making its own box?


We're conducting a beta of the overall Steam living-room experience, so we needed to build prototype hardware on which to run tests. At Valve we always rely on real-world testing as part of our design process. The specific machine we're testing is designed for users who want the most control possible over their hardware. Other boxes will optimize for size, price, quietness, or other factors.


How will you choose the 300 beta participants?


A small number of users (30 or less) will be chosen based on their past community contributions and beta participation. The remainder will be chosen at random from the eligible pool.


Should I create lots of Steam accounts to increase my chances of getting selected?


No, that won't work.


What are the specs of the Valve prototype?


We'll tell you more about it soon. Remember, there will ultimately be several boxes to choose from, with an array of specifications, price, and performance.


Where's a picture of it? How big is it?


We promise we'll tell you more about it soon.


When will the prototypes ship?


This year.


Will beta testers be allowed to share info about their experience and post pictures and opinions online?


Yes, that really is the whole point. The input from testers should come in many forms: bug reports, forum posts, concept art, 3D prints, haikus, and also very publicly stated opinions.


Will I be able to build my own box to run SteamOS?


Yes.


Can I hack this box? Run another OS? Change the hardware? Install my own software? Use it to build a robot?


Sure.


Can I download the OS to try it out?


You will be able to download it (including the source code, if you're into that) but not yet.


If I'm not in the beta, how can I help and contribute feedback?


The Steam Universe Group is where feedback is being collected. Most areas of the group will remain open for participation by all Steam users. Some may be limited to beta participants only, but there will be plenty of ways to contribute feedback for everyone.


What games will be available during the beta?


The nearly 3,000 games on Steam. Hundreds already running natively on the SteamOS, with more to come. The rest will work seamlessly via in-home streaming.


What is SteamOS? What's included?


Here's a link to what we said earlier about SteamOS. We'll have more details to tell you, soon.


Am I going to be using a mouse and a keyboard in the living-room?


If you want. But Steam and SteamOS work well with gamepads, too. Stay tuned, though - we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input.