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Xi3 making Valve's Steam Box? Not exactly

Xi3 making Valve's Steam Box? Not exactly

Xi3's Modular Computer is clever, but expensive - and while it may be turned into a Steam machine, it is certainly not Valve's Steam Box.

The news that Valve had partnered with compact computing specialist Xi3 on its Steam Box games console project, producing a piece of black-box hardware known as the Piston, set the web aflame earlier this week - but the real story is somewhat more complex.

Yesterday, several news sites ran a story about Xi3, a company which has been producing its compact Modular Computer family for quite some time, claiming that the company had been chosen to create Valve's upcoming Steam Box games console - a hybrid PC and console which runs Linux and the Steam for Linux client in 'Big Picture' mode. Images of the machine - identical in appearance to Xi3's existing Modular Computer devices bar a decal reading 'Piston' - began to spread, and those lucky enough to be present at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas confirmed that the device was not only on display at the Xi3 stand but also at the Valve stand.

The information used for these stories came from a carefully-phrased press release, issued not by Valve but by Xi3. The sole contact for the story was Xi3's David Politis, but apparently very few sites got in touch with the company to verify what they believed they had read: that Valve had contracted Xi3 to create the hardware for its Steam Box.

Which is a shame, given that Valve has done no such thing.

The key points from Xi3's press release, missed by sites that ran with the story, pointed out that the device is a 'development-stage product' which is 'designed specifically to support both Steam and its Big Picture mode for residential and LAN party computer gaming on larger high-def screens.' In other words: it's an Xi3 Modular Computer, which you can buy right now, with a copy of Steam pre-installed. While it's true that Valve has invested in Xi3, the nature of that investment - time, money, the promise of help marketing the device should it come to fruition - has not been released, and nor will it be: 'No additional details about Xi3's new system or Valve's investment in Xi3 will be released at this time,' Xi3's press release declares.

But Valve could still be using Xi3 to build the Steam Box, right?

Not exactly. Valve engineer Ben Krasnow has gone on record with Engadget as stating that the Xi3 is not the Steam Box, but merely one potential Steam Box. Valve's stand at CES does indeed play host to an Xi3 Piston, but also to compact computers from a variety of other manufacturers - and neither the press nor the public are allowed into the inner sanctum. Valve is using CES, it seems, to meet with several different hardware companies - like Xi3 - in order to sell the idea that they could create a Steam Box of their own, creating a market in which buyers can choose from a Lenovo Steam Box, an Xi3 Steam Box, a Dell Steam Box, an Asus Steam Box and so forth.

Krasnow's comments are given further validity thanks to an interview between Valve founder Gabe Newell and The Verge. Asked directly about the Steam Box, Gabe described something akin to Intel's Ultrabook project: a set of guidelines - split into 'good,' 'better' and 'best' specifications - to which manufacturers must adhere in order to produce something they can call a Steam Box. While one of the manufacturers is likely to be Xi3, it will be far from the only company entering the market.

Those companies that do choose to license the name and build their own Steam Box will also be competing with Valve itself: confirming rumours, Newell told The Verge that as well as Valve-licensed devices from third party manufacturers, his company will be launching an own-brand device - a similar approach to Google's Android ecosystem or Microsoft's Surface family. 'We’ll come out with our own [Steam Box] and we’ll sell it to consumers by ourselves,' Newell told the site. 'That’ll be a Linux box, [but] if you want to install Windows you can. We’re not going to make it hard.'

So, is the Xi3 Piston the Steam Box? No, despite what you may have read elsewhere - but it could well be a Steam Box. Sadly, with Krasnow stating flatly that there'll be no launch before the year is out, we'll have a while to wait in order to see what the gaming giant is really up to.

23 Comments

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Jehla 9th January 2013, 12:16 Quote
Does steam for Linux only have valve games? Seems kind of an odd propersition, a console with 6 games.
Gareth Halfacree 9th January 2013, 12:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jehla
Does steam for Linux only have valve games? Seems kind of an odd propersition, a console with 6 games.
Not even close: here's the official list of 38 first- and third-party titles currently available on Steam for Linux. Remember that it's currently a beta: with a 2014 release timescale, there's plenty of time for that list to grow significantly before the Steam Box comes out - and there are plenty of games which are both available on Steam and available for Linux but not in that list because, for whatever reason, they're not available on Steam for Linux.

Compare and contrast with the number of games available for the recently-launched Wii U.
Shirty 9th January 2013, 12:26 Quote
Good debunking article Gareth, thanks for clearing this up.
bigc90210 9th January 2013, 12:33 Quote
the "buy right now" link is dead, seems their servers are overloaded
Andre_B 9th January 2013, 12:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shirty
Good debunking article Gareth, thanks for clearing this up.

+1
theshadow2001 9th January 2013, 13:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shirty
Good debunking article Gareth, thanks for clearing this up.

QFT
blacko 9th January 2013, 13:20 Quote
+1 for Gareth.

i looked into this xi3 and tbh and once i saw it ran a AMD APU i closed the website down.
Anfield 9th January 2013, 13:27 Quote
Just put an ivy bridge quad, 8 GB ram, a ssd for the os, a 4TB HDD for games and a 7850 in a bitfenix prodigy and you got your own steambox.
B1GBUD 9th January 2013, 13:46 Quote
Gotta love the BBC's take on this.... http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20949071
greigaitken 9th January 2013, 21:05 Quote
seems to me a little like googles approach to developing nexus. A steambox would be an android phone but the nexus model is the one valve put out the door.
greypilgers 9th January 2013, 21:55 Quote
Top marks, Gareth. Excellent piece.

:-)
Phil Rhodes 10th January 2013, 05:47 Quote
Quote:
'good,' 'better' and 'best' specifications

What the hell happened to "low", "medium" and "high"?
Shirty 10th January 2013, 07:15 Quote
Marketing types are frightened of the negative connotations of words like low and medium ;)
impar 10th January 2013, 10:14 Quote
Greetings!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shirty
Good debunking article Gareth, thanks for clearing this up.
The information was already in the "Steam 'console' revealed" thread. Specifically here and here.
Hustler 10th January 2013, 10:48 Quote
It's not even out yet, and it's already a confusing situation for those following the development of it, in the minds of the general public it will be dismissed.

What is Valve's objective here...a successful hardware launch or simply a means to an end, of turning Linux into a viable alternative for the PC gaming community..?
Baz 10th January 2013, 10:50 Quote
The clear problem here is the thought of Valve having anything to do with a company with '3' in its name. Valve doesn't do 3s.
impar 10th January 2013, 10:56 Quote
Greetings!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baz
The clear problem here is the thought of Valve having anything to do with a company with '3' in its name. Valve doesn't do 3s.
;)
Shirty 10th January 2013, 10:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by impar
Greetings!

The information was already in the "Steam 'console' revealed" thread. Specifically here and here.

Greetings!

It was indeed, but that was buried in a forum thread as opposed to a front page news article ;)
Spreadie 10th January 2013, 11:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baz
The clear problem here is the thought of Valve having anything to do with a company with '3' in its name. Valve doesn't do 3s.
Brilliant! :)
lp1988 10th January 2013, 22:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anfield
Just put an ivy bridge quad, 8 GB ram, a ssd for the os, a 4TB HDD for games and a 7850 in a bitfenix prodigy and you got your own steambox.

Having my pc in that size would be epic :D
Lockinvar 10th January 2013, 23:40 Quote
Good article however nothing I've read prior to this made me think that the piston was THE steam box.

I won't lie - I want a steam box bad. It will probably take over the current household duties of my WD TV and my PS3. And it makes me want to massively expand my 100 game steam library... well played Mr. Newell.
musicrab 31st January 2013, 13:24 Quote
This still doesn't make sense to me. 2014 for a box to will play Linux AND PC games. So does Newell believe that PC game requirements will level out in the next 12-24months? I know things have got easier in the last couple of years (blame all the ports I guess) but has PC h/w engineering reached a performance plateau? Surely that's the only way a box (or boxes like this) will succeed.
Bindibadgi 1st February 2013, 02:15 Quote
Quote:
Newell told The Verge that as well as Valve-licensed devices from third party manufacturers, his company will be launching an own-brand device - a similar approach to Google's Android ecosystem or Microsoft's Surface family. 'We’ll come out with our own [Steam Box] and we’ll sell it to consumers by ourselves,' Newell told the site. 'That’ll be a Linux box, [but] if you want to install Windows you can. We’re not going to make it hard.'

You either support your partners or you do it yourself, Gabe, there's no half-way house. What customer would want to buy a 3rd party instead of Valve's own, with Valve's own marketing and premium placement on Steam? Basic business sense states you couldn't compete with that. Yet, Valve doesn't have the hardware distribution network to do sell its own products unless he plans to do co-operative agreements with hardware vendors like Google does with Nexus? That kills the open market and any price competitiveness. Why not make the specs open-source and let anyone meet them, so at least real PC gamers and small-market SI's can then just build their own?
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