First revealed at CES 2014, Valve's Steam Hardware is a collection of devices meant to expand to company's reach from the PC, where it has 125 million active users on its digital games platform Steam, to the living room, the domain of Nintendo's Wii U, Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's PlayStation 4, and other devices you mostly use to watch Netflix.
Today, you can finally pre-order these devices.
They include the Steam Machine, available from Dell's PC gaming brand Alienware and other manufactures. It's basically just a little PC starting at an estimated $449 that is more powerful than the dedicated gaming console listed above, but it only runs Linux and SteamOS, which greatly limits the number of games you can buy from the Steam Store. Currently there are more than 1,000 titles that are designed to run natively on the Steam Machine, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and more.
If you already have a powerful PC, you can also stream any game that runs on it to your TV via the Steam Machine.
The other big piece of the puzzle is the $50 Steam Controller, which Valve believes is the key to allowing you to play PC games from the couch. It works like a traditional Xbox or PlayStation controller, but it also includes dual trackpads with haptic feedback, which theoretically should make it easier to control games that rely heavily on the mouse, like first-person shooters, MOBAs, and strategy games.
And then there's the Steam Link, a $50 device that only does the streaming part of the Steam Machine.
If you pre-order any of these today, you'll get the devices by October 16, weeks before the official launch on November 10.
However, I wouldn't recommend it. The 1,000 Linux game catalog pales in comparison to the 5,000 PC games available on the Steam Store, including some glaring omissions.
The Steam Controller sounds like a really cool solution on paper, but those who play a lot of PC games found that it falls short.
Finally, streaming to the TV is a cool feature, but if you already have a powerful PC, it will never work as well as long-ass HDMI cable you can run from your PC to the TV.
I spent hours trying to optimize my in-home streaming with Steam and never got it to work quite right. Then I bought an HDMI cable ($15) and wireless Xbox 360 controller for Windows ($40) from Amazon and now I'm happy.