I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention that Valve has announced its latest foray into the world of PC hardware, the Steam Deck. This is a gaming laptop, running its own version of SteamOS, and is showing some division among the PC Gamer team. This isn’t Valve’s first hardware reel, though, as creator Gordon Freeman and Steam himself have also got their hands on the technology in recent times.
Certainly with lower or higher levels of success. But let’s be charitable and start with what Valve has highlighted: VR.
The best examples of Valve as a hardware manufacturer are undoubtedly its virtual reality headphones. You might think of Oculus as the company that started it and can even rule the place thanks to its versatile and affordable Quest 2, but if you want the absolute top of PC VR, it’s the valve index you want.
The index is an awesome kit. Beautifully crafted, sturdy, well-fitted and visually appealing when your panels are plumbed right in front of your eyeballs. Sure it’s expensive, but it’s also a perfect combination of VR ergonomics (need a separate connected connection) and style. And these articulation controllers are perfect too, tracking your fingers wonderfully without having to grab anything.
Even the audio is amazing. These out-of-the-ear personal speakers were initially a bit ridiculous until we actually had the Index in our head, then it all made sense. Using a bit of auditory magic, the audio experience is excellent, without bleeding into the larger room, or wrapping your ears with foam or PU leather.
The Vive was the first virtual reality headset Valve had. It was manufactured by HTC but used Valve technology, after a long period of prototyping by Gabe’s band. And it was a great high-end headset of the time.
Installing it was awkward and awkward until then, but it offered a great VR gaming experience and these first generation drivers set the stage for the fantastic Index drivers.
Again, the full package was expensive and made the Vive a very niche product, even within a market as specialized as virtual reality. But there is no denying that it was a very successful technical work by Valve.
And this is where things go wrong. The Deck is arguably the ultimate steam engine, but the original ethos was that Valve created the essential console for the PC living room. Based on their own fork of the Debian Linux distribution, Steam machines ran the first iteration of SteamOS. Well, some of them do.
Unfortunately, there was a long distance between the announcement and the final release of the first steam engines, and when Alienware finally released its Alpha units, they didn’t actually come with SteamOS, as it still didn’t look suitable for Steam. human consumption. But then, neither Falcon Northwest nor Origin PC.
The idea, however, was neat. You have a simple gaming PC that sits under the TV and boots directly into SteamOS and Big Picture mode, giving you a living room console that plays PC games. Unfortunately, the limitations of a SteamOS without the recent Proton compatibility innovations made the console in a living room unable to play 90% of the games already in your Steam library.
Steam machines never started working and were even removed from the Steam Store after a few years. Viously, obviously part of the problem was that Linux was far from ready for acceptance of conventional games, but also because Valve had to foster the wider ecosystem first, gaining the support of key manufacturers who struggled to get a return on the investment they made.
That’s probably why Valve has chosen to make the Deck in the first place, in the hope that this is what encourages other PC makers to make the move with laptops carrying SteamOS 3.0, right now based on a fork of a different Linux distro, Arch. Which means there’s virtually nothing left of Steam Machines.
Along with Steam machines, Valve developed its own controller designed specifically for use with PC games from the couch. In fact, I quite liked the controller prototype when I first tested it at the pre-CES presentation of the first steam engines.
Unfortunately, the final version of the device felt very far from my first experience with the Steam Controller. The idea of haptic dust blocks was innovative, and they have made a comeback on both sides of the cover screen, but on a controller instead of a real analog control lever it was a step too far.
I meant there was an incredibly strong learning curve up to the games with the new controller, which I couldn’t leave behind. There are many, which I’m sure will appear in the comments, who will defend the steam controller and its inch blocks to the grave, stating that you just need to “git gud” and then you’ll appreciate it.
But they are wrong.
Not only do the pads make using the steam controller an almost unpleasant experience, the build quality looks like an Amazon joypad for less than $ 10. It feels empty, with a poorly machined sharp-cut plastic and the feel of a button isn’t really my cup of tea, Earl Gray, hot.
The steam bond is something I have on the fence. It was a transmission box designed exclusively to connect to a gaming PC and bring games to the living room via the home network.
For starters, I don’t think it’s good. The hardware itself is quite poor; using some low-rent Marvell network chip that struggled to be able to deliver driver inputs while transmitting anything above 720p from your gaming PC. In fact, I’ve had a better experience with a bare Raspberry Pi board and Steam’s internal streaming.
But it was cheap. And that made it so much more enjoyable than the often delayed steam engines, and it meant that existing PC gamers could essentially have this room PC console experience without having to buy any other PCs.
The downside is that Nvidia did something far superior to the shield. It’s a powerful streaming box, possibly the best Android-based box, and makes streaming your gaming PC to the living room much easier and looking better. But it’s more expensive and limited to 70% of PC gamers running Nvidia graphics cards on their major platforms.
The Steam Link was discontinued in 2018, but the Shield continues to operate.
So it’s a bit of a checkered story for Valve and its hardware experiments. On the one hand, you have the index, which I love, and on the other, the combined Steam Machine and Controller, which I’ve always hated. Will the Deck be more of one or the other?
Personally, I am of the opinion that it will end up similar to the index. A fantastic device in itself, but so useful that few players you know will have one they use regularly. The Deck looks like a piece of raw hardware, I’m just not convinced it has anything more than a very limited appeal.
That very PC. How much Valve.