Valve hopes to begin beta testing its mysterious hardware project - whatever it may be - sometime next year.
Valve is doing something with hardware. It's not making a new console (probably) but between hiring industrial engineers, futzing with VR headsets and working up ways to bring Steam to the living room, it's definitely got something cooking. What that might be is anybody's guess, but we'll find out soon enough, as the company hopes to begin external beta testing sometime next year.
Jeri Ellsworth of Valve wasn't terribly forthcoming about what she's been working on, saying only that it's intended to "make Steam games more fun to play in your living room." That ties in with a recent Valve job posting for an industrial designer, which complained that "even basic input, the keyboard and the mouse, haven't really changed in any meaningful way over the years," and also with Steam's Big Picture Mode that went into its own beta earlier this month.
Internal testing of Valve's first hardware product has been underway for awhile, and the next step is to get it out into the wild, where gamers can put it through its paces. Valve has a production line capable of making small runs of products, Ellsworth said, so such a beta is possible, and while she expects it will somehow be tied into Steam, how that will actually work hasn't yet been determined.
I can't think of any way to tie Valve's hardware team into the ongoing absence of Half-Life 3, so instead I'll turn it over to you. Let the speculation begin!