The 2013 International CES isn't typically a big event for the video game industry, but this year is proving to be something of an exception. On Monday, NVIDIA surprised lots of show-goers with its first dedicated handheld gaming system, Project Shield. Tuesday saw the introduction of yet another piece of gaming hardware, this time titled "Piston."
Piston is developed by the manufacturer Xi3 and designed specifically to play games from Valve's online service Steam on a high-definition TV. Steam boasts more than 50 million subscribers and sells games digitally to those who sign up for the service. The console itself is about the size of a grapefruit, houses a quad-core processor, and holds up to 1TB of storage.
"Today marks the beginning of a new era for Xi3," said Jason A. Sullivan, founder, president and CEO of Xi3. "This new development stage product will allow users to take full-advantage of their large high-definition TV displays for an amazing computer game experience. As a result, this new system could provide access to thousands of gaming titles through an integrated system that exceeds the capabilities of leading game consoles, but can fit in the palm of your hand."
Since Valve was listed as an investor in Xi3, speculation began that Piston actually represented the company's attempt to break into the hardware business. According to reports and interviews on Wednesday, though, Valve will be building its own Linux-based console while still offering support to any third party willing to create and sell its own product.
"We'll come out with our own and we'll sell it to consumers by ourselves," said Valve's Gabe Newell in an interview with The Verge. "That'll be a Linux box, [and] if you want to install Windows you can. We're not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination. We also think that a controller that has higher precision and lower latency is another interesting thing to have."
In addition to considering the use of biometric controllers, Newell sees these Steam-powered systems as having the ability to tie multiple televisions to a single box.
"The Steam Box will also be a server. Any PC can serve multiple monitors, so over time, the next-generation (post-Kepler) you can have one GPU that's serving up eight simultaeneous game calls," said Newell. "So you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it. We're used to having one monitor, or two monitors - now we're saying let's expand that a little bit."
As for why Valve's Steam Box will run Linux rather than Windows 8, Newell had harsh words for Microsoft's latest operating system.
"Windows 8 was like this giant sadness. It just hurts everybody in the PC business. Rather than everybody being all excited to go buy a new PC, buying new software to run on it, we've had a 20+ percent decline in PC sales - it's like 'holy cow that's not what the new generation of the operating system is supposed to do.' He went on to say, "There's supposed to be a 40 percent uptake, not a 20 percent decline, so that's what really scares me. When I started using it I was like 'oh my god...' I find [Windows 8] unusable."
The rest of the interview is well worth reading and includes discussion of mobile devices, NVIDIA's Project Shield, and more. There's been no word on availability or pricing.