The Best Steam Machine Is a Long-Ass HDMI Cable
Valve might be giving up on the dream of the Steam Machine, but there's still a good, cheap way to bring your PC games to the living room TV.
Monday, several game websites noticed that Steam, Valve's giant PC games digital store and platform, got rid of its Steam Machines section, seemingly giving up on the experiment that was meant to make PC gaming on the living room TV easy and affordable. Wednesday, Valve responded to the reports, saying that its "reasons for striving towards a competitive and open gaming platform haven't significantly changed," but admitted that "Steam Machines aren't exactly flying off the shelves."
Valve pitched Steam Machines, which were first announced in 2013 alongside the Linux-based SteamOS, as an easy solution to an obvious opening in the market. PC games are traditionally played at a desk with a mouse and keyboard, and offer the best graphics and widest selection of games. Console games are played in the living room, on a TV, and are cheaper and easier to get into. How do you take the best things about PC gaming and bring them into the living room? Valve's answer was Steam Machines: small computers that look like game consoles but that are designed to run a TV and controller friendly version of Steam.
Steam Machines never took off. There are several reasons for this, like the fact that a Linux-based operating system never supported all the games on Steam (Windows is still the favored platform). Steam Machines were also manufactured by several companies so there was never an obvious choice of who to buy from, and Valve's haptic feedback controller never worked for games like Dota 2 as well as players wanted.
But I have a solution for you in case Steam Machines leave this world and you still want to play video games on your couch: A long-ass HDMI cable. I've said this before, but it's worth repeating now that the Steam Machine experiment is apparently fading.
Here is a 50-foot-long HDMI cable on Amazon for $14. You can find more expensive cables or shorter cables, but it's not going to cost you an arm and a leg either way. Hook that sucker up, from your PC to your TV, and switch Steam into the TV-friendly Big Picture mode. As long as your TV is within range of the wireless Xbox One controller PC adapter (30 feet according to PC Mag's testing), you're PC gaming on your teevee. If you want to be neat about it, you can buy a variety of cable concealing solutions, including a flat, white HDMI cable. If you want to be a monster, like me, you can just let it snake on the floor throughout your apartment whenever you're gaming on the TV.
This will essentially let you do everything a Steam Machine does, and better, because it's not some dinky, less powerful box that has to make compromises on performance and compatibility to fit into your living room. It's your regular PC on a big ass screen in a different room, with a couch. It's not a Steam Link either, which simply streams the PC to your TV wirelessly and never consistently offers the same quality.
I've played many games that are better with a controller this way. If it's a first-person shooter or a strategy game, I still prefer to be at my desk, even though many of those games now support controllers. And if you insist on playing with a mouse and keyboard on your couch at all times, there are solutions designed to rest on your lap. I reviewed the Razer Turret in 2016 and it wasn't bad.
I still think that there's a hole in the market that a PC designed for the living room could fill. It's a much better platform to play games on because it offers so many games, often for much cheaper than what you can find on consoles, and if you already own some beautiful 4K OLED screen it's a shame not to use it as much as you can without having to drag a cable through your home.
But the Steam Machine wasn't the device to make that a reality, and until a better solution comes along, a $14 HDMI cable will do the trick.