The Amazing New Gaming Console That Doesn’t Really Exist

It’s got an amazing selection of games and a thriving social network, not to mention that it’s free. But the most interesting new console in years doesn’t even have hardware. posted on

Steam’s Big Picture came out of beta today, after a few months in testing. It’s a technologically minor upgrade for the PC gaming app: a basic full-screen interface with Xbox controller support and a Web browser. (A few dozen popular games have also been updated with gamepad support.) The idea, for now, is that you can take your desktop computer — or more likely your laptop — plug it into your TV via HDMI, and play your PC games as if they were console titles.

Console competition has been a three-way race for two entire, long generations; the Xbox, Playstation, and Wii, while clearly distinguishable, have been fighting by a very familiar set of rules and under self-determined terms. But the new generation of consoles promises a completely different type of war: The next Xbox and PlayStation and Wii (which has been tepidly received) will be competing with nearly game-ready set-top boxes, like the Apple TV, with mobile devices, and now, with what’s left of PC gaming, via Steam.

There have long been rumors that Valve is going to make a Steam Box, which would likely be a cheap but reasonably well-powered small PC with Linux and an interface like Steam’s Big Picture. Another possibility is that Valve will partner with multiple companies that might make Steam-branded mini-PCs of their own, in the same way Microsoft licenses Windows.

Either way, the console war as we know it — the long-simmering, slow-moving battle between three massive and increasingly different companies — is over. The next one is going to be bigger, and much stranger. And Valve, with or without hardware, is going to be a part of it.

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