Valve’s Steam PC game platform is undergoing an evolution that just might change the way we think of PC gaming. Teased during last year’s GDC, Steam’s newly launched Big Picture mode allows gamers to port the platform to any television, unlocking gameplay on a screen that’s most likely larger than your PC or Mac monitor.
The launch of Big Picture mode comes less than a week after Valve revealed that it has plans to launch its own gaming hardware. Whether this hardware will be the long-rumored Steam Box console remains a big unknown — but the evidence has been stacking up.
Job postings have indicated that Valve has been on a hiring spree to scoop up the best hardware designers and engineers on the market, coupled with the fact that the gaming company filed for a patent on swappable video game controller components just last year. Then there are the leaked photos of a speculated Steam Box prototype that Greg Coomer, a longtime Valve product designer, had published to his personal Twitter account after him and a team of between 5 to 10 people finishing building the console.
You can see where Big Picture mode fits in. Kotaku, which got a first look and a hands on experience with the new made-for-TV interface and asked about Steam Box’s existence, wasn’t told much else except that Big Picture was a learning experience for the company,
“What we really want is to ship [Big Picture mode] and then learn,” Coomer told Kotaku. “So we want to find out what people value about that. How they make use of it. When they make use of it. Whether it’s even a good idea for the broadest set of customers or not. And then decide what to do next.
Big Picture mode ports the Steam gaming experience to a larger screen without sacrificing the user experience. By pressing a button, Steam instantly changes into a TV-optimized platform on your desktop or laptop, and gamers can connect their computers to their TVs via HDMI cable. A USB controller can also be connected, if so desired.
As with tablets, smartphones, and desktops, designers must design a platform, whether an app or website, for specific screen sizes, and that could mean changing the interface altogether. With Big Picture mode, it’s essentially the same concept — and, from the looks of it, the Big Picture user experience is reminiscent of what you’d find on consoles sporting an interface with larger fonts and buttons. It makes it more convenient to play Steam games on your television and even with a controller in lieu of a keyboard.
Big Picture mode is one reason for PC gamers to sit on their couch with a controller in hand. Playing a first-person shooter like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on a 42-inch (or wider) TV screen will be an immersive experience that can’t compare to your conventional desktop monitor. But a question remains: are Steam gamers ready for console gaming? Maybe Valve is in fact testing out the waters with Big Picture mode to see just how many users will make the jump before Valve decides to enter console gaming. Or maybe not…
Update: Valve released a video showcasing Steam’s Big Picture mode, which you can check out below: