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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 20, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Look out Xbox: Valve unveiling living room attack

Bellevue game giant Valve on Monday will finally reveal its plans to expand into the living room, ending months of speculation about how the company will challenge the Xbox, PlayStation, Wii and other mainstream gaming platforms.

Valve last year introduced a TV-friendly interface for its Steam PC gaming service called Big Picture and dabbled in producing a console-like box based on Linux.

“This year we’ve been working on even more ways to connect the dots for customers who want Steam in the living room,” Valve said in a teaser web page. Three announcements are coming, with the first on Monday.

The page suggests Valve’s preparing to enter a beta phase during which customers can help finalize the product’s design.

If Valve’s planning to produce its own hardware connecting TV sets to Steam via home networks it will face tough competition with everything from Google’s $35 Chromecast dongle to Microsoft’s $500 Xbox One.

TVs are increasingly connected to home networks and PCs in the house and all sorts of technologies for mirroring a tablet or PC display on a TV are available now, so perhaps Valve’s found a software solution, or a combination of new software, Steam services and commodity hardware.

Valve’s teaser page includes a sort of puzzle that will keep fans guessing until Monday. Check out the faint symbols inside these three circles.

valveish

My first guess is that the circle within the circle on the left represents the Steam service, the center symbol represents Big Picture (Steam inside a frame/display) and the third is a clue about what’s next.

Could it be Steam plus Steam apps, a parallel service delivering Valve’s games and services through existing living-room platforms such as iOS, Google Play, TiVo and “appified” TVs from Sony, Samsung, Vizio and others? Or will Valve finally unveil its own hardware device?

Valve boss Gabe Newell tipped his hand a bit on Monday while speaking to a Linux convention in New Orleans. He didn’t confirm plans for the long-awaited “Steam Box” game system but said the company will talk about opportunities around Linux in the living room.

“Next week we’re going to be rolling out more information about how we get there and what are the hardware opportunities we see for bringing Linux into the living room,” he said, according to a report by Ars Technica.

Linux already has a big presence in living room entertainment hardware, though it’s mostly invisible and running on devices that don’t have enough oomph to run full fidelity games. Samsung SmartTVs, TiVo boxes and even Google’s Chromecast run versions of the open-source software.

Millions of Steam fans would go nuts for a dedicated “Steam Box” but it’s a costly bet to mass produce consumer hardware.

Maybe Valve could tap into the maker/hacker movement and release a free Steamy version of Linux configured for the best gaming and entertainment experience. It could also offer a guide or a kit for people who want to build their own Steam Boxes.

Why reinvent the wheel when just want your high-octane fuel available to more vehicles?

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