Valve announces Steam hardware plans, seeks beta testers

The Steam Box cometh! On Monday, Valve announced SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system with support for local game streaming. Today, the company made another announcement: it's working on a "powerful new category of living-room hardware," and it's inviting beta testers to kick the tires.

The company doesn't go into very much detail, except to say that it's "working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014." Those systems will have "an array of specifications, price, and performance," and they will all run SteamOS, but Valve says users will be free to swap in another operating system if they so choose. Users will also be allowed to build their own Steam machines from scratch and to upgrade retail-boxed systems.

This year, a group of lucky beta testers will get their hands on a "high-performance prototype" of a Steam machine designed for the living room. The prototype will be shipped to beta testers "free of charge," and Valve says it will be "completely upgradable and open." Here's how you can sign up for the beta:

Before October 25, log in to Steam and then visit your quest page to track your current status towards beta test eligibility
1. Join the Steam Universe community group
2. Agree to the Steam Hardware Beta Terms and Conditions
3. Make 10 Steam friends (if you haven't already)
4. Create a public Steam Community profile (if you haven't already)
5. Play a game using a gamepad in Big Picture mode

Valve goes on to explain, "You can complete the steps in any order. Once you've completed all of the steps, you'll be awarded a special badge, and you'll officially be among the pool of people from whom we'll choose beta participants / hardware recipients." Most beta participants will be chosen randomly, but 30 or fewer will be selected "based on their past community contributions and beta participation."

We've known a Steam Box was coming for a long time, so I'm saving my excitement until Valve discloses more about the hardware. I'm especially curious to see what kind of form factor—or form factors—the company will adopt. SteamOS's game streaming capabilities should allow for small, low-power machines with minimal processing power. However, the company says SteamOS will also have "hundreds" of native titles, including triple-A releases, so at least some Steam machines will likely need to accommodate full-sized graphics cards and beefier CPUs.

Today's announcement was the second of three Steam-related reveals this week. Valve has started a countdown for the third announcement, which is scheduled for 10:00 AM Pacific Time this Friday, September 27. The countdown page doesn't say what the announcement will be about, but the Steam machine FAQ includes a potential teaser: "we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input," it says.

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