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Old 11-04-2013, 11:53 AM   Topic Starter
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11 things we learned from Valve’s latest Steam Machine PR push

11 things we learned from Valve’s latest Steam Machine PR push

From case design to haptics, new details emerge about Valve's prototype hardware.

by Kyle Orland - Nov 4 2013, 12:30pm CST
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Yup... it sure is a black box, all right.
The Verge
Recently, Valve invited a few select news outlets to its headquarters in Bellevue, Washington to get some hands-on time with the recently announced prototype Steam Machine and the companion controller. While Ars wasn't among the outlets included, that doesn't mean we can't scour the reports for new information about Valve's upcoming hardware plans. Here are the most important tidbits we've discovered.
What the prototype box looks like

We already knew Valve's prototype box was going to be 12" × 12.4" × 2.9", making it roughly the same size as the upcoming Xbox One. We didn't know the box itself would look so much like Microsoft's upcoming consoles: a black rectangle that has heat-dissipating grating covering about one half of the case. The front sports a large circular power button and two USB ports, and the back features an array of ports like you'd see on any gaming PC, from USB, headset, and Ethernet ports to monitor and HDMI outputs.
Cooling is a priority

All the reports highlight just how much Valve is working to keep all the internal components air-cooled despite being packed into a console form factor. Components are kept in "thermally isolated zones" with their own thermal intakes and outtakes, Wired says. They're separated by what The Verge calls a 3D-printed "plastic shroud." And The Seattle Times describes "a series of baffles to better handle cooling and airflow in its Steam Machine PCs."
Valve went through many controller prototypes

The dual touchpad design of Valve's current Steam Controller was not the first design the company tested. The team built multiple prototypes using what The Seattle Times says were "tools scavenged from co-founder Gabe Newell’s garage" (controller production has since moved to a factory space in nearby Overlake). Controller prototypes include one with "a sort of hi-hat thumbstick" (Engadget), many with trackballs whose mass provided "built-in haptics" (Wired), and one that resembled a break-apart, modular Xbox 360 controller (The Verge). There was even one design with a trackball sticking way up out of the controller "to expose the back of the ball as well," according to The Verge. Crazy.
The controller haptics are pretty cool

When it announced its Steam Controller, Valve said it was creating "a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback" with "a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement." Hands-on testers came away feeling positive about this feature. Wired noticed a "system of electromagnets under the pad whirr[ing] into action" when the touchpads were swiped with noticeable timed clicks: "If I didn’t know better I’d have thought I was actually rolling a trackball." The Verge described "tiny solenoid actuators" that made it feel "pretty weird to have my thumbs pulsate with haptic feedback as they moved around."
SteamOS is pretty familiar

We consumers haven't seen SteamOS yet, but we kind of have. Engadget says the operating system is "very similar" to the existing Big Picture mode on the Steam app, which isn't really that shocking. Big Picture mode has always been tailored to living room use. The Seattle Timescompared the OS running on top of Linux to Amazon's specialized Kindle Fire OS running on top of Android. The Times also confirms that you can load a local copy of Windows onto a Steam Machine box. That's to be expected since the guts are just generalized computer parts, but it's still nice to get total confirmation on that point.

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