Tag Archives: hardware

SteamOS, a Mini-ITX based Machine, and a Controller

SteamOS on a Mini-ITX based Steam Machine

Not content with building Steam, the world’s most successful games delivery platform, Valve have released the first beta of #SteamOS – a “free operating system designed for the TV and the living room”.

SteamOS is effectively their own strain of Debian #Linux bundled with #graphics drivers and a Steam client capable of downloading and playing a growing range of #games.

Valve are well positioned to create an entirely new gaming platform for big screen devices – their Steam client has been in existence for over 10 years, has 40+ million registered users and over a million users in-game at any point.

SteamOS adds playable game streaming from another Steam client and the obligatory streaming media services to the mix.

Valve do not intend to build their own hardware, instead leaving it to 3rd party manufacturers and retailers to produce their own Steam Machines (aka Steam Boxes) running SteamOS..

The hardware specification is not fixed – meaning a Steam Machine could be just powerful enough to stream games from a Windows or Mac running Steam, or be much more powerful and be the primary games machine in a household.

In December 2013, Valve built a limited run of 300 Steam Machine prototypes. iFixit have a tear down – rather sensibly Valve decided to utilise the Mini-ITX form factor.

The minimum specifications according to the official SteamOS FAQ are very achievable with current Mini-ITX hardware:

  • Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
  • 4GB or more memory
  • 500GB or larger disk
  • NVIDIA/AMD/Intel graphics card
  • UEFI boot support
  • USB port for installation

A modern Mini-ITX board and any half-decent graphics card in a mid-sized desktop chassis meets these, but we expect the industry to adapt slightly and refine for the living room experience.

Almost all early Steam Machine prototypes have been Mini-ITX based, combining a range of powerful Mini-ITX boards with a graphics card.

A new Mini-ITX based console style chassis design pattern has already started to emerge: such chassis have a low profile FlexATX or SFX PSU to power a full sized graphics card whilst maintaining the pizza box shape. The graphics card is usually connected offset to the board through a PCI-Express riser card or ribbon cable, giving a case with an average volume of around 10 litres.

These console designs carve a new niche somewhere between the smallest Mini-ITX cases (around 2.5 litres) and full size traditional PC cases (20 litres and above).

Additionally, “Mini-ITX sized” graphics cards are already beginning to hit the market, packing the functionality of full-sized cards into the 17cm depth of a Mini-ITX motherboard, potentially shrinking case designs further.

To take the place of (or next to) a traditional console in front of the TV, a Steam Machine needs one final piece of the puzzle – a standardised controller.

Valve’s Steam Controller will be available for purchase separately and is a dual high resolution trackpad device with haptic feedback so precise it can play audio waveforms through the trackpad itself. A centralised touch-screen was originally planned but has been replaced by regular buttons.

Consoles are by necessity feature-locked on release. The hardware in an Xbox One or PS4 is already technically obsolete. With a Steam Machine we can simply upgrade the hardware for a better experience. We’ll be first in line for 4K Gaming with one of these machines.

Reblogged from: mini-itx.com

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AMD and CryEngine to integrate Mantle API

CryTek has announced another big tie-up with the hardware manufacturing giant AMD. At this year’s Games Developer’s Conference, CryTek officially announced that they will be integrating AMD’s Mantle APIs in to their #game #engine.

According to Matt Skynner, Corporate VP and GM of Graphics Business Unit at AMD, the German gaming #developers have formally pledged to integrate AMD’s proprietary Mantle APIs into their game engine, the Cry Engine. This would be an added advantage for developers looking to develop games for the consoles, since both the next generation consoles, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 uses semi-custom AMD APUs. Thus games built using the CryEngine would be automatically optimized from the get go for AMD hardware.

Mantle is what’s known as a low-level API, and it gives game developers “closer-to-the-metal” access to the PC hardware they’re developing for. It streamlines communication between a gamer’s CPU and GPU. Essentially this results in significant performance uplifts when compared to DirectX 11 on AMD hardware.

This move from AMD kind of gets development world a bit skewed towards their hardware and if pitched right, they could very well get the hardware segment titled to their favour. With a lower monthly subscription along with being royalty free, the CryEngine was an already tempting offer, and now with the integration of low level APIs that would optimize the games automatically for AMD hardware, which includes the next gen consoles, might be just the thing development houses are weighing before deciding on an engine. Add to those arguments that the CryEngine is already licensed to over 35 game studios already with about 50 games using this engine; AMD just might be in for a major market share.

AMD goes even further inn announcing that in addition to the integration of low level APIs, AMD also encourages and releases all their source codes of the various tools, like TressFX, available to the developers. According to Skynner, this kind of Open Source technique versus the “Black Box” technique which is practiced by their competitors (no cookies for shouting nVidia), allows both the developers and AMD to learn, adapt and evolve the various technologies that is leading the game industry today.

All of these talks of Open Source beg to ask one very important question, will the Mantle API be available on Linux? Given that the CryEngine is going to be on Linux, it seems obvious. Skynner had this to say “Those developments are unrelated,” Chris Hook answers. “But right now we’re doing a feasibility study to determine how and when to bring Mantle to Linux. Regardless of the trajectory, you can see our efforts to support it. AMD cards got added to the main SteamOS build this January, and we’re making a load of contributions to the Linux kernels to improve power management, performance, features, and all that good stuff. We take the SteamOS movement very seriously.” Seems like it is on queue and will get attention when the line reaches it.

Reblogged from: muktware.com

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Linux gaming revolution: SteamOS available to download tomorrow


The time for Linux gaming is finally almost upon us! Valve has confirmed that SteamOS will be released tomorrow, December 13. On the same day, 300 prototype Steam Machines and Controllers will be sent out to participants of the Steam Machine #beta test. With sorrowful catch in its throat, Valve says that the hardware beta test will only take place in the US, due to the “regulatory hurdles” of sending prototype hardware out of the country — everyone and anyone will be able to #download SteamOS to make their own Steam Machine, however.

SteamOS is essentially a custom version of Linux that boots into Steam’s Big Picture mode — an alternative interface for Steam that’s designed for lean-back control with a gamepad, rather than a mouse and keyboard. The general idea is that, by definition, a Steam Machine is any computer that runs SteamOS — and because SteamOS will run on virtually any modern x86 hardware, there will be a very large variety of Steam Machines. You’ll be able to buy a ready-made Steam Machine from Valve’s hardware partners (more info is expected at CES in January), or alternatively you can make your own by whacking SteamOS on some compatible hardware. Presumably you’ll be able to buy Valve’s Steam Controller separately.

A collage of various Steam Machine and Steam Controller prototypes being built

A collage of various Steam Machine and Steam Controller prototypes being built

Steam Machines are essentially living room PCs. SteamOS will eventually have support for game streaming (from your normal Windows/Mac gaming PC to your TV-attached Steam Machine), media streaming (music, TV, movies), and family sharing /parental controls. The version of SteamOS being released tomorrow, though, will probably have a very limited feature set. On the website announcing SteamOS’s imminent availability, Valve says:  ”… Unless you’re an intrepid Linux hacker already, we’re going to recommend that you wait until later in 2014 to try it out.” To begin with, it will probably just be a barebones Linux install that loads Steam, and not much else.

Steam Controller

The eventual goal of SteamOS and Steam Machines is to bring PC gaming to the living room. Originally, much like the Linux desktop, we thought Valve didn’t stand a chance — realistically, native Linux gaming is never going to take off, and generic PC hardware is simply too expensive compared to a PS4 or Xbox One. Game streaming could change all that, though. With game streaming, all you would need is a relatively cheap Steam Machine (think Roku or similar) and a Steam Controller to play your Windows PC games in the living room. Such a setup will probably be available for around $200. Whether it makes more sense than running a long HDMI cable from your PC to your TV, I’m not so sure. If SteamOS and the Steam Machine is going to revolutionize Linux gaming, it’s going to happen very, very slowly.

Reblogged from: extremetech.com

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Valve hardware developer creates controllers for your butt and tongue

Valve hardware developer butt and tongue controllers

Regardless of how you feel about Valve’s Steam Machine and Steam OS , it’s tough to argue that the truly innovative (for better or worse) aspect to the #Linux #gaming initiative isn’t the #SteamController . A traditional gamepad silhouette that replaces analog sticks with touchpads, as well as adds a small touchscreen in the center, is certainly weird. However, a Valve employee is working on even weirder methods of control, in the form of a butt-pad and tongue-mouse.

Thankfully, these are two separate gamepads, and you won’t have to put a controller in your mouth after your friend has been sitting on it. The two controllers were created by Valve hardware developer Ben Krasnow, who once developed a see-through rocket engine. The tongue controller is simple enough. It’s made of a repurposed optical mouse fitted into a retainer, which is then put into your mouth. You use your tongue to manipulate the device by swiping over the optical sensor — just like you can do with your finger — but it’s not currently accurate enough for anything other than extremely simple applications, such as scrolling or swiping through pages.

The butt controller is about as simple as the tongue controller. It’s made out of a repurposed bathroom scale that can turn a character left or right when you rotate your body, and can move the character forward, backward, or side-to-side when weight is put on corresponding areas of the scale. While obviously hilarious, this controller seems less practical than the mouth-mouse since you’ll have to constantly fidget in your seat in order to manipulate anything on-screen. However, as shown in the video above, it does appear to work accurately when paired with a mouse.

Either controller is not quite made for serious gaming input — at least, not at the moment. The inherent humor of butts aside, the controller is actually the result of a clever train of thought. In most gaming situations, we’re almost always sitting down — using our rear ends as much as we’re using our hands, eyes, and ears — so game developers would want to capitalize on that untapped area. Basically, your butt has a lot of unused potential.

Aside from giving gamers more methods of input, these ideas could also benefit disabled gamers. Using your tongue or fidgeting in your chair could be an acceptable alternative when you can’t move your arms or fingers, and many games don’t require the split-second timing that a tongue or butt controller couldn’t provide.

For now, though, we’ll be awaiting Valve’s Steam Controller rather than some kind of lick-and-sit paired device, but it’s nice to see Valve thinking outside of and perhaps underneath the box.

Reblogged from: extremetech.com

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Linux Is The Future Of Gaming as Valve Joins The Linux Foundation

Valve and +TheLinuxFoundation have today announced that Valve will be joining the the nonprofit Linux Foundation organisation which is tasked with advancing and advocating the Linux #open-source operating system.

This time last year Valve started rolling out their Linux #Steam client and now provides 198 #games for users to enjoy. Valve also earlier this year announced the launch of its new Steam OS which is Linux based and also its new Steam Machine hardware platform that will run the new Steam OS software.

Mike Sartain, a key member of the Linux team at Valve explained : “Joining the Linux Foundation is one of many ways Valve is investing in the advancement of Linux gaming,” “Through these efforts we hope to contribute tools for developers building new experiences on Linux, compel hardware manufacturers to prioritize support for Linux, and ultimately deliver an elegant and open platform for Linux users.”

In the video below you can see Valve’s Gabe Newell talking about the role Linux is playing in the company’s development strategy, and Linus Torvalds talks about the significance of this for Linux and the Linux desktop. For more information on the new Steam OS and Steam Machine hardware jump over to the Valve website for details.

Reblogged from: geeky-gadgets.com

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