Following Valve's Monday announcement of SteamOS, an operating system designed for living room use, the creators of Half-Life followed up by detailing the actual hardware that will take advantage of the new operating system, including a beta program for select users.
The whole idea of "Steam Machines" was a bit hazy during the SteamOS announcement - Valve never went into detail on what exactly those machines would be, whether it's a streaming a device or a set-top box or a full-blown console. Today, there's a bit more clarity:
Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world. We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.
It's similar in concept to the Ouya, the Android-based console: Valve aims to make the boxes customizable with options for modders to change the hardware, operating system, and install specific software. On top of that, a variety of Steam Machines will be available from a variety of manufacturers. What effect the different models will have on performance or price hasn't been addressed yet, but Valve promised that more details will come soon.
Most surprisingly (or maybe not surprising at all, considering Valve), Steam Machines will be going into a small, controlled beta sometime in the near future. Valve has already opened registration, and will be choosing 300 users to test-drive the new system.
While these products are still in development, we need your help. As always, we believe the best way to ensure that the right products are getting made is to let people try them out and then make changes as we go. We have designed a high-performance prototype that’s optimized for gaming, for the living room, and for Steam. Of course, it’s also completely upgradable and open. This year we’re shipping just 300 of these boxes to Steam users, free of charge, for testing.
There's still quite a few questions left unanswered - mostly concerning pricing and performance - but it seems that Valve has confirmed many long-standing rumors. With next-gen systems making their debut later this year, it's interesting that Valve chose now, of all times, to make their living room debut.