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Valve's Newell details the future Steam Box

Biometric controllers central to internal project known as Bigfoot; company also working on mobile spin-off Littlefoot

In a lengthy interview with The Verge, Valve chief executive officer Gabe Newell provided some insight on Steam future set-top box. Despite working with other partners like Xi3 on Steam-focused PCs, Valve is still working on its own hardware.

"We'll come out with our own and we'll sell it to consumers by ourselves. That'll be a Linux box, [and] if you want to install Windows you can. We're not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination. We also think that a controller that has higher precision and lower latency is another interesting thing to have," said Newell.

Valve will be skipping motion control on its hardware offering, but Newell says that biometrics could be the Steam Box' silver bullet.

"We think that, unlike motion input where we kind of struggled to come up with ideas, [there's potential in] biometrics. We have lots of ideas," he explained. "I think you'll see controllers coming from us that use a lot of biometric data. Maybe the motion stuff is just failure of imagination on our part, but we're a lot more excited about biometrics as an input method. Motion just seems to be a way of [thinking] of your body as a set of communication channels. Your hands, and your wrist muscles, and your fingers are actually your highest bandwidth -- so to trying to talk to a game with your arms is essentially saying 'oh we're going to stop using ethernet and go back to 300 baud dial-up.'"

"Biometrics on the other hand is essentially adding more communication bandwidth between the game and the person playing it, especially in ways the player isn't necessarily conscious of. Biometrics gives us more visibility. Also, gaze tracking. We think gaze tracking is going turn out to be super important."

Valve sees the Steam Box connecting to more screens within the home and offering a wide variety of experiences. The company is already working with Nvidia on its Shield portable to provide another vector for the Steam platform within the home.

Xi3's Piston, the first of many hardware prototypes from Valve's partners

"The Steam Box will also be a server. Any PC can serve multiple monitors, so over time, the next-generation (post-Kepler) you can have one GPU that's serving up eight simulateneous game calls. So you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it. We're used to having one monitor, or two monitors -- now we're saying lets expand that a little bit," Newell told The Verge.

"The thing we're working on with [Nvidia] is that you'll be in your living room and your TV will potentially be connected either through wireless or ethernet. You'll pick up a controller and Big Picture will come on. It'll be integrated into all the TVs after a certain point, it's like HDMI+. The problem to solve is how to interact with a web browser, how to get all the games to support controllers, and how to make it all seamless."

Finally, Valve is cognizant of the growth in the mobile marketplace and Newell teased his company's work in that area.

"So this [Steam Box] is called 'Bigfoot' internally, and we also have 'Littlefoot.' [Littlefoot] says 'what do we need to do to extend this to the mobile space?' Our approach will be pretty similar. We also think there's a lot that needs to be done in the tablet and mobile space to improve input for games. Once we understand what the role is of multitouch in these kinds of applications then it's easy to say you can use your phone for it."

The Verge's full interview with Newell is here.

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Mike Williams avatar

Mike Williams

Reviews Editor, USgamer

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.