The discussion in the last couple hours has mostly been concerned about whether or not this is the fabled Steam Box: the near-mythical console rumored to be in development by Valve. I’m not sure what the Piston is exactly, but I do know that Valve are going after the next generation of console gamers in a big way.
Between the Lines
There are a couple things going on here. First, Valve is just an investor. Their branding doesn’t appear on the device and it doesn’t seem so far like they have had any say in the development of the Piston. Of course, ‘Piston’ falls in line with the locomotive-naming of Valve but that could be coincidental. Xi3 has made this device to work with Steam and its Big Picture More, not the other way around (although the device is being showcased in Valve’s booth at CES). I think this is an important distinction that I’ll clarify in a minute.
Another thing worth pointing out is how expandable this device seems to be. Lot’s of ports, three different mother boards all point to plenty of room for expansion and customization. Hardly in line with tinkering-averse consoles.
What Is the Piston?
The Piston, I think is meant to be a hybrid PC gaming and console device. I’m guessing Xi3 wants you to use this guy to play games on your TV but keep it at home on your desk, running wires from your Piston to your PC monitor and your TV. I do not think it’s meant to be a standalone console or a more traditional-use PC. This is a theory, of course, and a big problem with this theory is that the Piston is currently a Linux device – not an OS I would choose for a hybrid device to steal consumers away from easy-to-use consoles.
What Isn’t the Piston?
More abstractly, the Piston seems to be a beachhead for Valve into gamer’s living rooms. I don’t think this is THE Steam Box (as conceptualized by the rumor mill to be a device specifically by Valve as a console replacement). The Piston isn’t going to be Vavle’s only entry into living rooms – it’s going to be one of many. Like I said above, Valve is investing in Xi3 with this project but Xi3 are making this device specifically to work with Steam. This is all theorizing, again, but I see the Piston as one entry point among many more to come. Steam will be the platform on which other gaming PCs come storming onto your television.
“Valve will be at CES to meet with hardware and content developers in our booth space,” Lombardi said. “We are bringing multiple custom (hardware) prototypes as well as some off-the-shelf PCs to our CES meetings.”
Lombardi described the prototypes as “low-cost, high-performance designs for the living room that are great candidates for Steam and Big Picture.