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Steam Box rising: Valve-backed, modular, living room gaming PC shown at CES

Steam Box rising: Valve-backed, modular, living room gaming PC shown at CES

A Steam Box is coming, although at this point we have more questions than answers about Valve’s answer to gaming consoles. It’s also unknown whether this device, which is being made by Xi3 Corporation and features a modular design, is “the” Steam Box that has been at the center of so much speculation. Valve has invested in the company, and the press release for the hardware specifies that it’s designed to be used with a television, and specifically to run Steam in Big Picture mode.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era for Xi3,” Jason A. Sullivan , founder, President and CEO of Xi3 said in a statement. “This new development stage product will allow users to take full-advantage of their large high-definition TV displays for an amazing computer game experience. As a result, this new system could provide access to thousands of gaming titles through an integrated system that exceeds the capabilities of leading game consoles, but can fit in the palm of your hand.”

Why is this so special?

The system, code-named “Piston,” is being shown at CES but there are few details known about the hardware inside. What’s unique about Piston is that the motherboard is broken into three pieces and then stacked on top of itself, creating a cube-like design. The hardware is designed to be modular, so gamers will be able to upgrade things like video cards, RAM, and CPU as the system ages, allowing owners of the system to keep up with the changing demands of PC games.

“Xi3 brought an early version of Piston to CES, but was tight lipped on details about the hardware currently in development with Valve,” Polygon reported. “Xi3 chief marketing officer David Politis told Polygon that Piston will offer up to 1 TB of internal storage and offer modular component updates, including the option to upgrade the PC’s CPU and RAM.” The embedded video below was uploaded last October, but it gives some interesting details about the Xi3 systems.

Xi3 Corporation has described its products as being in the “post PC” era, and Gabe Newell has long talked about bringing Steam to the living room. “I think in general that most customers and most developers are gonna find that [the PC is] a better environment for them,” he told Kotaku. “Cause they won’t have to split the world into thinking about ‘why are my friends in the living room, why are my video sources in the living room different from everyone else?’ So in a sense we hopefully are gonna unify those environments.”

I had asked Newell about Valve releasing hardware itself back in February 2012, and he seemed reluctant, but willing. “Well, if we have to sell hardware we will. We have no reason to believe we’re any good at it, it’s more we think that we need to continue to have innovation and if the only way to get these kind of projects started is by us going and developing and selling the hardware directly then that’s what we’ll do,” he stated. “It’s definitely not the first thought that crosses our mind; we’d rather hardware people that are good at manufacturing and distributing hardware do that.”

The Street praised Xi3’s designs back in 2011. “Now, the concept has issues. They are not cheap to buy, and to use them properly real techno savvy is required. But consider that one of these things—monitor excluded—is smaller than a Coke can, is made of solid metal and can be configured to handle everything from a single seat to massive groups of enterprise users,” a round-up post of the best of 2011 stated. “Assuming you know even a little about business computers, the Xi3 is the PC idea of the moment.”

Valve gets the best of both worlds by investing in the Xi3 Corporation. A company that seems good at manufacturing systems gets to handle hardware, Xi3 already designed a modular system, and Valve gets to help mold the hardware to work as well as possible with Steam. PC gamers may be able to purchase a system that is easy to use, easy to upgrade, and has Valve’s stamp of approval. That’s a powerful advantage in the crowded field of computer hardware, especially if the final retail product is able to provide solid performance for an acceptable price.

The gaming world has become very interesting in the past few days.

Image Credit: Jared Newman, Tiime.com