Alienware's Steam Machine starts at $549 and launches this holiday season

Alienware is no slouch when it comes to cranking out high-end gaming PCs, but its approach to Valve's Steam Machine project is a bit different. The company is looking to deliver a high-quality PC gaming experience to the living room, but the execution doesn't sound much different from the experience that's already available for other machines running Valve's made-for-TV Big Picture Mode (BPM). The rub of the Alienware Alpha series is that the diminutive PC boots directly into BPM automatically after hitting the rig's power button. The problem with that is two-fold: Big Picture Mode doesn't do the best job of identifying which games are fully controller supported, and because Valve recently delayed its in-house designed controller (which essentially is a stand-in for a mouse), OEMs not delaying hardware of their own need to come up with work arounds.

In Alienware's case, the company is shipping every one of its Alpha rigs with an Xbox 360 controller and customizing an interface to make BPM fully controller compatible. A version of that experience is already available with PCs running the Steam OS beta and connected to a TV; you still need a mouse and keyboard to do certain tasks like logging into Ubisfot's Uplay service, though. We asked Alienware if it would be offering an upgrade (free or otherwise) to get one of Valve's controllers when they actually ship, and were told that that was still too far out. We were told that it's extremely difficult to answer that because "the company [Dell] doesn't know when the Steam controller is going to be ready," Alienware's marketing manager Bryan de Zayas told us.

According to de Zayas, Valve's Gabe Newell has said that Alienware's product is the ideal Steam Machine. How so? Well, the Alpha has HDMI pass-through, it's smaller than the other consoles, and has gigabit ethernet and fiber optic audio baked in. What's more, the base configuration with an Intel i3 is $549 and Alienware promises games running on high settings at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second. We'll believe that claim when we see it. Hopefully that's this week at E3 2014.