On Monday, Valve launched the beta version of Big Picture Mode, or what is commonly known as “Steam TV.” Big Picture Mode is a version of Steam, the biggest place for PC gamers to buy and run PC games right now, on their television, with a controller. And WITHOUT a console. The thing about consoles is, they’re not very open. It costs big money to put your product in their stores, and you aren’t able to modify any of the games that you own. Modding is a big reason why a lot of people like to play on PC, because it allows players to do things with the game that the developers didn’t necessarily think of, and share it with others. It has also resulted in the creation of new games, like Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, and Natural Selection 2. (my personal favourite mod is probably the Dragon Age: Origins dance mod, if you must know). But there’s lots to like about the console gaming experience too, mainly being able to use your big TV screen and flop out on your infinitely more comfortable couch. Valve recognized this, and that’s why they came up with Big Picture Mode.
The idea is, with the press of a button, you can turn on Big Picture Mode on your TV, and a TV and controller friendly interface pops up, one that’s similar to Xbox Live’s. You can do everything you can do with traditional stream — buy games, play games, cloud saving and use their chat feature. It also has an infinitely better web browser than consoles currently have.You do still have to have Steam and a PC in order to use this: You can use WHDI to wirelessly connect your desktop to the TV, and allows you to run the service, but you can also just have your computer hooked up to the TV. I’m not quite sure I understand how it works wirelessly — from their website it seems you have to buy a separate device, which is kind of dumb. The best thing is probably if you have an extra laptop or tower around and have Steam on it. Valve is using the beta mode to see exactly how people are going to use the service, and to tailor it in the future, so expect a lot of trial and error. It is definitely a big step towards a more open framework for games, and giving people the freedom to play them in whatever way they want.
The beta is curently only available for PCs, but a Mac version is coming soon. Check out the Big Picture homepage to download and for more information.