The time for Linux gaming is finally almost upon us! Valve has confirmed that SteamOS will be released tomorrow, December 13. On the same day, 300 prototype Steam Machines and Controllers will be sent out to participants of the Steam Machine beta test. With sorrowful catch in its throat, Valve says that the hardware beta test will only take place in the US, due to the “regulatory hurdles” of sending prototype hardware out of the country — everyone and anyone will be able to download SteamOS to make their own Steam Machine, however.
SteamOS is essentially a custom version of Linux that boots into Steam’s Big Picture mode — an alternative interface for Steam that’s designed for lean-back control with a gamepad, rather than a mouse and keyboard. The general idea is that, by definition, a Steam Machine is any computer that runs SteamOS — and because SteamOS will run on virtually any modern x86 hardware, there will be a very large variety of Steam Machines. You’ll be able to buy a ready-made Steam Machine from Valve’s hardware partners (more info is expected at CES in January), or alternatively you can make your own by whacking SteamOS on some compatible hardware. Presumably you’ll be able to buy Valve’s Steam Controller separately.
Steam Machines are essentially living room PCs. SteamOS will eventually have support for game streaming (from your normal Windows/Mac gaming PC to your TV-attached Steam Machine), media streaming (music, TV, movies), and family sharing /parental controls. The version of SteamOS being released tomorrow, though, will probably have a very limited feature set. On the website announcing SteamOS’s imminent availability, Valve says: ”… Unless you’re an intrepid Linux hacker already, we’re going to recommend that you wait until later in 2014 to try it out.” To begin with, it will probably just be a barebones Linux install that loads Steam, and not much else.
The eventual goal of SteamOS and Steam Machines is to bring PC gaming to the living room. Originally, much like the Linux desktop, we thought Valve didn’t stand a chance — realistically, native Linux gaming is never going to take off, and generic PC hardware is simply too expensive compared to a PS4 or Xbox One. Game streaming could change all that, though. With game streaming, all you would need is a relatively cheap Steam Machine (think Roku or similar) and a Steam Controller to play your Windows PC games in the living room. Such a setup will probably be available for around $ 200. Whether it makes more sense than running a long HDMI cable from your PC to your TV, I’m not so sure. If SteamOS and the Steam Machine is going to revolutionize Linux gaming, it’s going to happen very, very slowly.