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January 13
2014

Valve Releases Third-Party Steam Box Prototypes

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Steam Machine
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Last week at CES, Valve finally released 13 different third-party versions of their upcoming console, the Steam Machine. The console itself is an incredible idea, giving players access to Valve’s massive library of almost 10,000 games, new and old, on a single console. The funky new controller, which promises to be just as effective as the traditional keyboard-and-mouse setup, is a major selling point to ensure that the games don’t just technically function but are actually playable. One would think that with such promising technology on the horizon combined with ever-increasing consumer sensitivity to aesthetics in their gadgets that the consoles would be sights to behold. And they are…sort of…in the way that a Thor costume made of a garbage bag with old AOL CDs glued to the front is a sight to behold. Let’s take a look-see…   Zotac Steam Box

Zotac

The orange circle appears to be a nice subtle reference to Half-Life, but that’s all that’s remarkable about it. Ultimately, it looks like a wireless router, and a cheap one at that. The external antennas are silly and oh so very 2001, and the front is just a mess of inputs that would be better served on the side, the back, or hidden behind a panel. Also, only one USB port? Really? Here’s hoping you don’t need to charge more than one controller at once or need any external storage.

Alternate Steam Box

Alternate

Booooring. But honestly, that’s not a terrible thing for a console that’s supposed to be sitting among a bunch of other components in your living room. If nothing else, it’ll blend in, but it looks like it’s on the chunky side which means trying to find a place to put this snooze of a design could be a an organizational challenge. Material net Steam Box

Material.net

I can’t tell how big this console is supposed to be, but good god the angle makes it look massive. This. Is. Not. A. Good. Thing. Was no one paying attention to how mercilessly the PS3 was mocked for its size when it came out, gracing the stage while looking like the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey? Tiny is far more impressive than making your behemoth look like it’s going to need a custom reinforced steel pedestal to support its mass.

Scan Steam Box

Scan

This is probably one of the least-offensive designs, but it still ain’t good. It looks like an external hard drive whose brushed chrome would be more at home resting on top of a computer tower or nudged into a corner of someone’s desk rather than hooked up to a television. The apparent length of the thing could be a problem, too. Again, it’s hard to get a judge as to how big this thing is, precisely, but it appears to be constructed to be long, which runs counter to the design every other piece of home theater equipment and furniture on the market (save, perhaps, for the Apple TV) which are designed to be wide. So if it’s as long as it appears to be, your options will be to either turn it sideways and have a wonderful view of all the connector cables dangling out the “side”, or hope that it doesn’t stick out so far over the edge of your TV cabinet that someone walking by might knock it to the ground.

iBuyPower Steam Box

 

iBuyPower

Ok, first off wtf is with the name? “iBuyPower”? Are you saying that you’re buying a powerful system, or that this thing is going to be expensive so you’d better have buying power? Regardless, if the name of your product is i[anything] you have failed utterly at establishing a unique brand. Your hack marketing department should be fired because they obviously couldn’t be bothered to spend the time to think of anything beyond “Hey, let’s jump on the Apple-style naming convention bandwagon that they started over a decade ago and has been copied by EVERY COMPANY ON THE PLANET.” Visually the machine’s turquoise buttons are appropriately subtle, but the bright band around the middle makes it look like an Andes mint dropped by Tron.

Next Spa Steam Box

Next Spa

It looks like a college student’s attempt at making his own custom Xbox emulator after a trip to Fry’s. Not terribly sure why there’s an optical drive as Steam is 100% digital distribution, nor am I sure why there is a headphone jack on the thing as this is supposed to be a living room console and few people have 30′ cables attached to their earbuds. Also, unless the size of this thing is hiding a foot bath for me to soak my dogs in while I play the “Spa” name makes absolutely zero sense.

CyberPowerPC Steam Box

 

CyberPowerPC

Well…it’s not boring, I’ll give ‘em that. At the very least, it’s trying to look like a console. The neon green lights have got to go, though, as those will be an endless distraction while playing. I’m not sure how wild I am about it looking like it fell out of Commander Shepard’s spaceship either as it makes the machine look like a children’s toy rather than gaming hardware worth hundreds of dollars to be hooked up in the living room alongside the blu-ray player. It’s too gaudy for its own good.

Alienware Steam Box

 

Alienware

This one is actually borderline acceptable, depending on how big the final product turns out to be and how bright the glowy blue lights are. The alien head logo on the front is a bit off-putting, however, and Alienware isn’t exactly known for making affordable machines, so expect the sticker shock to offset the halfway decent design.

Falcon Northwest Tiki Steam Box

Falcon Northwest – Tiki

Hoooolleeeeee shit, what an abomination! An over-tall computer tower plopped on a faux-granite base with a Photoshop-101 experiment in gradients and vectors plastered on the side with the Steam logo lost in the midst of a mess of “solar flares.” What on earth do you do with this? There is literally no living room – or bed room or office or game room – that this belongs in that wasn’t designed with the tastelessness of Bobby Trendy. Then there’s the size. The base is not going to allow for you to lay it sideways, and there’s not a TV cabinet on the planet that’s going to hold it, which means it’ll just have to hang out to the side, a neon carbuncle growing on the cheek of your entertainment center. Seriously, what 16-year-old did they hire to sketch this one out?

Gigabyte Brix Pro Steam Box

 

Gigabyte – Brix Pro

Ok, it looks like it’s small, so that’s a good start. The angled grill keeps it from being completely boring, but it just looks cheap. I can’t quite put my finger on what, precisely, it is but I feel like this thing would cause no end of problems within a month of use. Maybe it’s the chintzy aluminum body or the poorly-rendered top faceplate. Maybe it’s the ugly color scheme. Whatever it is, it just looks ugly and cheap and if I’m not going to tolerate those traits in a date, I’m not going to tolerate them in a console.

Digital Storm Bolt II Steam Box

 

Digital Storm – Bolt II

Nope. Nope nope nope. This is not a console, this is a pc. While less tacky than a lot of others on this list, the clear panels and excessive amounts of gratings tell me two things: ugly and loud. I’m not sure how all of those ports are going to be reasonably accessible on the side of the machine like that – remember, this is supposed to be a console that goes in a living room – but I also have to wonder how many of them are even going to be used in the first place. Why does a console for a digital distribution service need 12 flavors of memory card readers? And again with the headphone jack. Listen to me closely when I say, “No one will use it.” Also, with such huge fans and excessive grating I’m anticipating that if this thing is going to need so much ventilation that every time you turn it on it’s going to sound like you’re attempting to summon a greater wind daemon from the air plane of Stratopheria.

Webhallen Steam Box

Webhallen

This one actually isn’t half-bad. Yet again, I can’t make proper judgments based on size as no reasonable scale reference is available, but as long as it’s not a hulking behemoth the way Alternate and Material.net appear to be, it might just fit in a living room. I’m not holding my breath – I’m just waiting for something to gaudily light up or it to transform into some sprawling beast – but this is the first one to give me hope that not all Steam Boxes will need to be buried from sight.

Origin PC Chronos

 

Origin PC – Chronos

This looks like an audio mixer a DJ would be lugging around to Beatbox or DNA Lounge or something. Big, ugly, unwieldy, and I cannot fathom why those four little red slider thingies are there on the front. Are V-Sync and analog tint controls coming back? Odds are also pretty good that consumers who bought this machine are aware of what operating system it runs, so the extra Steam logo and unnecessary “SteamOS” emblazoned on the top should go.

The lack of creativity, insight, or even basic taste is simply astounding. Thankfully Valve is just licensing out their software and doesn’t have to take responsibility for any of the various Steam Boxes seen here; otherwise I would personally have to reconsider my enthusiasm for the new console and wonder if maybe I would be better off buying an Xbone or PS4. The greatest tragedy of all of this is that the demo machine from Valve that was sent out to 300 lucky beta testers – seen up top – is the most gorgeously designed one of the bunch, but Valve has no plans to start manufacturing the console. If we’re very lucky then manufacturers will actually take a look at what Valve did with their console and model themselves after the style of the prototype. In the meantime, I’m suspecting that I’m just going to have to take a trip to Fry’s to build my own and show these professional “designers” how to do it right.

 

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About Christian Walters

(Writer) Christian lives in El Cerrito, CA which is close enough to San Francisco to count. When not busy being unimpressed by press releases and AAA hype, he spends his time singing, finding heavy things to pick up and put down, and occasionally going out on the town in naught but cowhide. He has worked in the industry with companies like Sega of America and Trion Worlds, and one day hopes to design a game of his very own.

4 Responses

  1. avatar Shin Gallon says:

    Not sure I’d give up mouse/keyboard for that…thing…but I could see it being better for FPS games than analog sticks.
    It’s a nifty idea for people that don’t already have a gaming PC but want to see what all the fuss is about/play Bethesda games properly (IE with mods).

  2. avatar raindog469 says:

    A few minor corrections to an otherwise decent survey of terrible case designs:

    While Steam may have 10,000 games, the ones compatible with SteamOS number in the hundreds, due to its Linux foundation. The number is rapidly increasing, but still better suited to indie gamers like me than fans of AAA games (apart from Valve’s own).

    “Hey, let’s jump on the Apple-style naming convention bandwagon that they started over a decade ago and has been copied by EVERY COMPANY ON THE PLANET.”

    iBuyPower actually registered their domain name 15 years ago. The iMac may have predated their brand (and I think camelCase makes for a terrible brand regardless) but they had only a single Apple product to copy. That assumes that’s what they were even doing — I would remind you that “iPhone” was originally the name of one of the first voice over IP apps, which had nothing to do with Apple. iEverything was almost as big as eEverything in the late ’90s, before Apple jumped on that bandwagon and made it their own.

    To be honest, I’d rather a generic black tower case than most of these designs, including Valve’s own (the Alternate and Material.net cases are standouts for not standing out). When it comes time to build my own Steambox, I won’t be getting anything with LED strips or weird cutouts or rabbit ears. I just want something basic and at least as unobtrusive as the 11x11x9″ black box of a subwoofer sitting next to our television already.

  3. avatar Lorewise says:

    This is why I’ll be building my steam box. But that’s not going to be until the Steam OS can work entirely on its own with no need for WinOS streaming; Or someone makes a stable version of wine that’s compatible.

  4. avatar MaxHedrm says:

    iBuyPower – My only problem is tha poor company’s goofy name. I rather like the glow line. It adds some interest.

    Alienware – Not a bad looking box. Oh, you know thos ports on the front? They are USB ports. A clear indicator of the size of the console.

    Falcon Northwest – Tiki – There is nothing for scale, but I am going to guess that it is nowhere near PC sized. I would also be that the base is detachable.

    Digital Storm – Bolt II – Those aren’t clear panels, that is a cutaway to show the innards.

    Gigabyte – Brix Pro – I’m confused. Ugly color scheme? In the photo you have in the article it’s black. With grey letters. Pretty basic and plain, yeah. But way too inert to be ugly.

    I think you may also have the target market a bit off for this thing. A lot of them won’t be in an entertainment center, they will belong to 13 year old gamerz.

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