With the conclusion of a three-day countdown that began last Friday, today Valve announced SteamOS—“a free operating system designed for the TV and living room.” With that description out of the way though, what, exactly, SteamOS will actually be is still somewhat up in the air.
According to the announcement page, SteamOS is a Linux-based operating system that will provide “a gaming experience built for the big screen.”
“It will be available soon as a free stand-alone operating system for living room machines,” the page adds. What’s a “living room machine,” you may ask? I’m not sure, but it seems like it may refer to devices that are yet to be made. The bottom of the page says, “SteamOS will be available soon as a free download for users and as a freely licensable operating system for manufacturers.” To me, that sounds a lot like the concept behind the Nvidia Tegra Note, a design for a low-cost, high-power, 7-inch Android-based tablet. Nvidia isn’t making them, but the company designed it, and is licensing the schematics out to manufacturers. Valve may be going much the same route here as well, providing the SteamOS as the platform, and relying on manufacturers to build dedicated SteamOS “living room machines” on their own.
Furthermore, whatever form these machines take, they’ll work in concert with your existing PC, rather than replace it. The page offers up “four new Steam features focused on the living room,” with one describing “In-home Streaming”:
“You can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too. Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have – then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV!”
Additionally, the announcement says that SteamOS will also provide TV, film, and music streaming options, family libraries, and family sharing. That’s all pretty cool. Though, I have an HDMI out on my laptop, so playing Steam games on my TV hasn’t been much of an issue (while I’ve been watching Netflix on my Xbox 360 for ages). Even still, it opens up new possibilities for what power PC gamers can do in their homes, and may circumvent the question of gaming consoles altogether. At the same time, Valve itself is expected to enter the console market directly, raising even more questions as to what form that will take.
To summarize that last point: for years now, gamers have been waiting for the mythical Steam Box, rumored to be a powerful gaming PC that’s made specifically for the television; essentially, it’s thought that the Steam Box will be Valve’s in-house answer to dedicated gaming consoles.
Valve made the announcement of SteamOS on its “Living Room” page, and now there are two more announcements left to go. It’s entirely possible that the Steam Box is still on the way, and will make use of the SteamOS directly. But until we know for sure, we’ll have to wait and see.