Whatever happened to that Steam "big picture" mode we heard about a year ago? The guys at The Verge think they have an idea: according to their sources, Valve is in the process of building a full-fledged hardware ecosystem for the living room.
Perhaps the strongest evidence is Gabe Newell's answer to a related question in an interview with The Penny Arcade Report:
Now do you see a future where Valve is actually selling hardware or do you just want to have things that could take advantage of that technology should it be popular?
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. 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. We think it’s important enough that if that’s what we end up having to do then that’s what we end up having to do.
That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. The Verge says the company is developing a hardware spec for a "Steam Box" that could be offered by multiple hardware partners. (The spec is said to include a Core i7 processor from Intel, an Nvidia graphics card, and 8GB of system memory.) Steam Boxes reportedly wouldn't be limited to running games through Steam—The Verge compares the design more to Google's Android platform than to Microsoft's Xbox 360. Valve wants the devices to set a "baseline for hardware . . . with changes possibly coming every three to four years," the site adds.
And official confirmation may come sooner than you think. According to The Verge, Valve could go public at the Game Developers Conference this week or, possibly, at E3 in early June. Rumor has it the company secretly showed partners a prototype Steam Box at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. In fact, Alienware's Mini-ITX X51 desktop is supposedly based on an early version of the standard
You know, that all sounds good to me. One of the problems with PC gaming is the sheer number of possible hardware configs, some including entirely inadequate GPUs or even integrated graphics. If Valve manages to establish a baseline spec, PC gaming could become a more appealing option to less tech-savvy users. I'm sure game developers would be happy with some sort of sensible baseline, too. The PC gaming market is clearly alive and well, but giving it a little more 'zazz and consumer appeal wouldn't hurt.