SteamOS is first reveal in three-part living room announcement from Valve

Date Posted Author
24th September 2013 Matt Bailey

This week Valve are slowly revealing their plans for the living room after months of rumours and hints directly from the company. Last week they put up an announcement page that promised more details about the developer's plans for taking its dominating Steam distribution platform into your living room. On Monday part one of that plan was revealed.

First up is SteamOS, an operating system "built around Steam itself". It's based on Linux, a platform which only gained the Steam client earlier this year, but it will be a highly customised distribution released by Valve, possibly based on Ubuntu considering their good working relationship with owner Canonical. By releasing their own OS, rather than just shipping Ubuntu with Steam pre-installed, Valve get to control the whole path, which means they have a greater control of things Linux has traditionally been weak at for gamers; video drivers and audio. Valve are working with the graphics chip manufacturers - namely nVidia, AMD and Intel - to make better Linux drivers, which in turn means better SteamOS drivers, and with control of the OS they can make tweaks to the Linux kernel to improvement performance further. Expect future Valve games to run best on SteamOS, and that may even translate to advantages for other Linux users too.

As a gaming platform Linux has made big leaps and bounds in the past few years, in particular in the last 12 months since Steam for Linux entered beta. The Humble Bundles have seen a vast number of indie games come to the open source platform, and Valve have brought their own first-party catalogue along too with only Portal 2 missing out at the moment. But despite the major steps forward, there are still big gaps in the library, and a lack of particularly high-profile releases other than the likes of Dota 2. Football Manager 2014 will be a big step forward when that comes out next month, but Valve are promising more 'AAA' games are on the way, with announcements about what's coming to SteamOS in 2014 coming soon.

If additional AAA games isn't enough to fill that gap, then you can also take advantage of another feature of SteamOS; the ability to stream your games from another PC or Mac. So your machine running Windows or MacOS X will be able to easily pipe games to your living room PC - or Steam Box if one is revealed this week. This will also be an important part of a likely cheaper and less capable Steam Box that won't really be powerful enough to play many games natively, but will act as a gateway for your existing beefy hardware.

The way Valve is marketing SteamOS is a bit like a console, even though the actual announcement of hardware - or at least hardware partners and a branding plan - isn't coming until at least the Wednesday reveal. It talks about how you get to keep everything you have; all your existing games, your Steam friends, cloud saving, Steam Workshop, etc. - all features which are a big sell, and an advantage over moving to a new console (don't forget that neither the PS4 nor the Xbox One is back-compatible, although their friend systems will carry over).

It looks like gaming isn't all that's on the cards for SteamOS; Valve have confirmed they are working with content providers to provide streaming video and music services to the platform, so expect Netflix and Spotify apps to turn up on SteamOS in the future.

In typical Valve fashion there's no release date for SteamOS at the moment, although we suspect it will be out - at least in beta form - before the end of the year, with 2014 looking like the time when the company will be making the big push with games content for the new system. When it does arrive it will be a free download that anyone can get hold of and install on their system, either as a replacement or a dual-boot operating system, and a move similar to Google's approach with Android - which has helped Linux dominate in the mobile market - SteamOS will also be freely licensable by hardware manufacturers to include on their future systems. Windows-less laptops with SteamOS pre-loaded might be available in the not too distant future then.

An exciting and interesting time, then, although there's still plenty of unknowns to be answers - such as how good is the streaming performance and just what will those AAA SteamOS games be - but we'll post more as we have it, including the two remaining living room announcements coming later this week.

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