Valve's long awaited TV-friendly interface hits beta and is ready to take on the consoles.
Given the age of the current generation of consoles, the best looking games are currently found on a PC. Given that most also support Xbox controllers, the only thing making the PC a viable TV gaming box has been the lack of a suitable UI.
Microsoft tried hard to bring Windows to the television over the past decade, with Windows Media Centre Edition a long and painful effort in developing the type of UI that works on a big screen at a distance. In the end it gave up, Media Centre Edition is now an optional extra in Windows 8, and Microsoft is now focusing on the Xbox 360 as its beachhead in on the television.
Seeing this gap in the market, Valve has been working on big picture mode for Steam. This is a redesigned UI for the service, designed to work on the TV and be controlled from the couch. With the beta launching today, Valve has shown off a video highlighting some of the features that make this work. This includes the expected large icon based navigation of the Steam store and game library, but it also includes a browser and new keyboard concept, both designed to work with a controller.
Valve's onscreen keyboard is especially nifty, and unlike anything on consoles. It uses a 'lotus design', where you use the left stick to select a cluster of letters, then the face buttons to select the specific letter. It looks highly intuitive and we suspect that it wont take long until it is a very fluid and comfortable way to type.
While this isn't the oft rumoured and denied Steam console, it would form a core part of anything the company did come up with in the future. For now it is designed to work on any PC. With Steam turning into a viable lounge room solution, we are keen to get into the labs and try out some system builds. We figure that with Big Picture mode you'll be able to put together a reasonably priced gaming box that will give the consoles a run for their money in both power and useability.