Valve has formally announced its plans to enter the hardware market with Steam Machines, the new name for the Steam Box PC-cum-console, in the second of its three announcements planned for this week.
Valve has announced that the first Steam Boxes, now known as Steam Machines, will be coming from manufacturing partners in 2014 - with 300 of Valve's own prototype systems to reach beta testers this year.
Following the announcement of SteamOS, a customised gaming-centric operating system based on Canonical's Ubuntu Linux, earlier this week, Valve has confirmed plans to release SteamOS-based hardware dubbed Steam Machines. As previously reported
, the company has partnered with numerous other hardware manufacturers to licence the Steam Machine branding and produce a range of hardware devices - but also plans to launch its own Steam Box device somewhat earlier.
Before you get too excited, however: the official Valve Steam Box is to be a strictly limited affair. Ahead of the formal launch of Steam Machines in 2014, Valve has pledged to give 300 official Steam Boxes to Steam Users - completely free of charge.
These prototype systems, the company explains, will allow the company to tailor SteamOS and the Steam Machine concept ahead of the full retail launch some time next year. Each will be completely open and fully upgradeable, taking the form of a compact and low-power SteamOS-based PC, and will become the property of each participant.
To be in with a chance, Valve has posted a list of requirements
which includes being a member of the Steam University community group, having at least 10 Steam Friends, and a public Steam Community profile. To ensure that only those who know what to expect are participating, Valve also requires that applicants' Steam Accounts have been used to play a Steam title in Big Picture mode with a gamepad controller at least once. Those interested have until the 25th of October to make their accounts eligible.
The company has also confirmed partnerships with as-yet unnamed manufacturers to produce third-party Steam Machine hardware with a range of specifications, promising everything from microconsole-like low-power systems perfect for streaming game content from a high-performance PC in another room to more powerful boxes with plenty of their own processing power - but has stopped short of releasing names, figures or specifications.