Steam is coming to your living room with a streamlined dashboard and redesigned virtual keyboard.
Many have argued that the history of game technology is driven by graphics, but equally important is the matter of convenience. It was convenience that moved gaming from arcade machines to our consoles, allowing us to kick back with a controller from the comfort of a living room couch. The biggest exception to this rule is PC gaming. Despite the impressive contributions computers provide to our hobby of choice, convenience is pretty far down on the list. Valve first mentioned a plan to alleviate some of those concerns with a television-based interface for Steam that would allow your Steam Library to function smoothly on modern, HDTVs. Fans won't need to wait much longer to sink their teeth into it: The beta version of Big Picture Mode will be launching sometime this afternoon.
"PC gaming continues to be the leading edge of entertainment, whether it's social gaming, MMOs, graphics hardware, free-to-play, or competitive gaming," Valve President Gabe Newell said. "With Big Picture for Steam, we are trying to do our part to give customers and developers what they want - their games, everywhere, optimized for the environment in which they are playing."
Once the update arrives, Steam will include a Big Picture button that replaces the familiar Steam UI into a dashboard similar to the one available for XBox 360. The mode will also include full controller support, including a new visual "lotus-style" keyboard that will allow users to quickly type commands without hunting for adapted QWERTY characters. All players need to do is hook up their computer to a television, preferably with an HDMI cable.
Overall, it's an impressive concept, but I suspect there will still be some hurdles between the two gaming experiences. Outside of simply lugging your PC into the living room, computer builds without HDMI ports will require individual video and sound feeds to get Big Picture started, which not everyone has the expertise or patience to do. And that's not counting the problems that will inevitably crop up with any beta project. That said, there are lots of PC gamers out there who prefer controllers anyway, and anything Valve puts a "free" price tag on is usually worth checking out. Besides, if Big Picture Mode is a success, maybe it'll inspire them to put together that Steam Box after all.