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Hot & Steamy: What We Make Of The First Wave Of Steam Machines

Steam, Steam Machines, Valve

Hot & Steamy: What We Make Of The First Wave Of Steam Machines

Thirteen Steam Machines were unveiled at CES this week, boasting an array of different specifications, capabilities, and price points. It looks like preparation for Valve and co.'s invasion of the living room is well underway, but there are a few sticking points that have left us all a little sceptical and relatively unconvinced that the arrival of the Steam Machines (kind of sounds like a Doctor Who episode) will herald the living room PC revolution that Valve are hoping for.

Anyway, here's what we thought of the initial reveal...


Hot & Steamy: What We Make Of The First Wave Of Steam Machines

New device reveals are always exciting, but I can't even muster up a sliver of enthusiasm for the Steam Machines that were revealed today. Then again, Value and the manufacturers of these (for the most part) hideous boxes aren't aiming them at people such as I - they're trying to aim them at those looking for the very best in convenience, and the issue I see right now is that that particular audience is a bit limited.

The effort from Cyberpower is certainly the most affordable, but it's still more expensive than the brand new crop of consoles, and there's the issue - do you spend your money on a better known brand with the knowledge that sooner or later the big hitters - your Halos and Uncharteds - will make an appearance down the line, or do you spend that money on a Linux machine with a library that, while growing, is limited to begin with?

Don't get me wrong - we here at Dealspwn know that Steam can be dirt cheap for games, something we love Valve for, so in the long term a Steam Machine has the potential to be the best value for money, but the problem is that without big hitting exclusives the non-gaming general public won't care, and those of us PC gamers with already powerful rigs won't want to spend money on a new system. It's for that reason that these "better" and "best" options (to borrow the terminology thrown around during original announcement) are not what I'm looking for - it's the "good" option that still piques my interest.

Where are the $100 options that allow us to stream our existing beastly rigs throughout our homes, because those are the devices I'm waiting for. After all, why would I spend anything over £800 for a device that will only just beat the rig I finished building last year? I just hope there is something in the pipeline that caters to this, because I have a nasty suspicion that Valve will end up turning round to us more tech-savvy PC users and saying "build your own streaming device," give us an online guide to do so, and send us on our merry way.

At least that would be a better path than stating the Rotac machine is their answer to "good", because they can jog on if that's the case.


Hot & Steamy: What We Make Of The First Wave Of Steam Machines


As far as I can tell, Steam Machines have taken inspiration from Southend seafront on a Saturday night when it comes to styling. With the exception of Alienware's achingly beautiful obsidian roof tile, all of the gaudy living room PCs drip with LEDs and silly details that even the most tasteless boy racer would think twice about installing on their 2002 Fiesta. I'm pretty sure that the CyberPower monstrosity has a spoiler.

Never mind about looks, though, because it's what's inside that counts. Though many manufacturers are keeping schtum, there appears to be a Steam Machine for anyone; for any niche, budget, power requirements or gaming predilection. This is tremendously exciting, especially when twinned with the PC's great big dirty cheap variety of games.

And it could also be a major problem.

Personally, I think that Valve's biggest hurdle will be usefully educating consumers about Steam Machines - or in plain English, getting the word out. There's one PS4. One Xbox One. But with over a dozen Steam Boxes already revealed, the concept is dilute and diffuse; difficult to market effectively and potentially confusing people who just want "something to play games on in the lounge." I love the idea of SFF living room PCs (having chickened out and bought an eminently portable X51 for precisely that reason), but we'll wait and see whether Steam Machines can break into the mainstream.

Here's hoping that Valve's controller makes the difference. If Owlface™ can bring every genre from 4X to flight sim into my lounge, then the living room PC revolution will have one clear flagship product to march behind and show to us unwashed masses. Hopefully, much like an owl, it will eat mice for breakfast...


Hot & Steamy: What We Make Of The First Wave Of Steam Machines

Don't you want me?

About this time last year, The Verge reported that Valve's Gabe Newell had touted a three-tier range of Steam Machines, with pricing ranging from $99 for a streaming kit to around $300 for a "midrange" device, with the upper echelons basically wide-open to enthusiasts willing to pay whatever they want.

Of course, that rather seems like horsesh*t now.

Looking at the thirteen examples of first-wave Steam Machines -- and trying hard not to look too hard because they're all ugly as sin -- it's difficult not to be disappointed. Wasn't the whole point of this initiative to work Steam into living rooms in an affordable manner? We already have small form factor PCs and Big Picture Mode, after all. The only difference with these devices is that these will be running the Linux-based Steam OS... which is free anyway.

I posited in my predictions for 2014 piece that the release of Steam Machines this year would be a welcome one, but not the gamechanger many are hoping for, and this first-wave confirms the major fear I had: affordability. Many serious PC gamers will already have an expensive rig, and many (like myself) would have been looking for an inexpensive way of securing a device to work in sync with an existing machine to support living room play.

So where are they? The cheapest models available are Cyberpower and IBuyPower's $499 base models, which look underfed to say the least. The Linux Steam library is growing, but slowly, and there are big hitters coming this year from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. Newell said later in 2013 that he considered Apple to be Valve's biggest competition for living room supremacy. Well, they'll be laughing their arses off at this.

But the biggest problem is that I have no idea who these Machines are aimed at. I thought, thanks to Newell's inclusive words earlier in the year, that I might have been part of that target audience. But not any more. Gadget hounds with deep pockets and a love of all things Valve will of course buy one. Brands sell products, and Steam is a popular brand indeed. Some will buy them just because of the piston logo on the side. But most high-end PC aficionados will know a good deal when they see one, many will have built their own rigs, and many will recognise that there's more power to be had for less money. Many may already have SFF gaming setups. Others will look towards more established living room names for greater convenience at lower prices and simply continue playing Steam games on the PCs that they already own.

Those are our thoughts on the matter, what about yours? Are the prices too high? Has one model in particular caught your eye? Let us know what you make of the first wave of Steam Machines in the box below.

Add a comment8 comments
Tsung  Jan. 7, 2014 at 12:25

If I was to buy a steam machine I'd want something that fits in with the rest of my boxes beneath my TV. Weirdly all the images I see do look like they designed them after visiting Blackpool illuminations.

The manufactures have got it wrong, so WRONG. Give us a black MATT box about the same size as a dvd/blu-ray player, put a small steam logo on it (if you must) and be done. If you must have a light, light it only for two purposes.
1. Switch on, so customer know the box is on and working but turn it off shortly afterwards.
2. Error reporting, eg. if there is a problem with the HDD show a red light, a problem with the network show a yellow light.. or something.

The target market for these boxes is not children. I suspect it's more likely to be PC owners who want the big screen option without any hassles.

machp  Jan. 7, 2014 at 12:40

I agree with Tsung and I suspect many others that will be interested in a hybrid 'console'.

I have little knowledge of current processors, etc, so I want a box that'll reliably play games and last for a number of years without having to research the various pros and cons for hours beforehand. There seems to be too much choice here, so why not just buy/build a decent low form factor pc that'll surely be cheaper?

A steam box needs to be easily recognisable as a product for it to be succeessful. Some of the designs a just plain fugly

davidpanik  Jan. 7, 2014 at 13:34

The streaming is the big missing piece from the picture for me - these prices are too much of a gamble if the streaming doesn't work out and nobody starts releasing AAA games for Linux.

kristianity77  Jan. 7, 2014 at 17:25

Seriously, unless I'm missing something here just what the hell is the point of a steam machine? Surely, you have 2 sets of "gamers" shall we say. Ones that play on PC, and ones that play on console. Who is this aimed at? Its not going to sway anyone away from an Xbox One or a PS4 and surely anyone who is already playing games on PC has a device more than capable already of playing games. Surely a PC gamer will just TV out if they are so desperate to run games on a 40 inch screen? Credit to them for trying, but i'd be astonished if this doesn't fail. Unless of course, shipping a few thousand of them worldwide they would consider a "success".

TungstenShark  Jan. 7, 2014 at 18:38

For each point in the article and the comments there is an equal and opposite point.
"There are too many types, it will confuse people" There are about 2 types of iPhone and a squillion Samsung ones but Samsung sell more.
"They're ugly as sin" the Xbone and PS4 are black rectangular boxes surely anything with a bit of colour is better than that!
"They're all too expensive, the claims of cheaper models are horses*it" As davidpanik so rightly says we haven't seen streaming yet. Until we do there aren't going to be the cheaper models out there. As for the expense, these machines are clearly aimed at the people who can buy graphics cards that cost more than an new gen console.
Basically my point is that this is very early days and speculation at this point is just that - speculation. Give it three months and then run this post again and see where we are, because I truly believe that if there is anyone capable of tearing the console industry a new one then its Valve...

Late  Jan. 7, 2014 at 19:52

I'm a console gamer, and have spent the last few years looking on in envy at Steam's prices - so would love a reasonably priced Steam machine to play PC games in the front room.

Gotta say I'm very disappointed by today's reveals. Ignoring the hideous designs, we were told to expect a mid-range machine for about £250-£300. Instead we're now told the most basic model is likely to be about £400-£450.
Dafuq, Gabe?

And whilst I'd ordinarily argue more choice is a good thing, in this instance it's the opposite. I want a n00b-friendly PC, and that means keeping things extremely simple. With loads of different options we're no longer being sold a steam device. We're being sold a PC. No thanks - there's already been loads of those around forever, and I've avoided them because they confuse me. Your "new" machines offer nothing new.

Tsung  Jan. 7, 2014 at 22:06

Late makes a very valid point. By offering 13 different boxes valve have confused the market. They should of stuck to 1 specification, so all steam boxes would be identical in hardware. Then the only choice would be what colour ghastly neon lights do you want in your lounge?

I'd wouldn't mind a white box, or even a ghastly orange box so long as it fitted in with the rest of the av equipment. One of my biggest bug-bears thou is lights on them, anything more than discrete and it's a distraction. (yes I have been known to put blue tak over annoying lights on AV equipment :p )

Last edited by Tsung, Jan. 7, 2014 at 22:29
Rubisco  Jan. 8, 2014 at 10:12

Stop expecting a marketing assault. They're deliberately treading a path that would look like a monumental failure for any single form factor console. They're playing the long game.

This first wave of machines are nothing but the second phase of beta testing.

Also, the prices have been set by each manufacturer without knowing what their competition are doing. Once on the open market they'll start trying to undercut each other and we'll see cheaper models.

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