Does Nvidia Hold the Key to a Linux-Based Steam Box?

Gabe Newell is confident about Valve's Steam Box running Linux, but it may not be possible without a little help from Nvidia's latest products.

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In an interview with The Verge's T.C. Sottek, Valve's Gabe Newell confirmed that in addition to working with third-party manufacturers, Valve is internally developing its own Steam Box:

"We'll come out with our own and we'll sell it to consumers by ourselves. That'll be a Linux box…"
Source: The Verge

For Newell to confidently position Linux as their platform of choice takes guts. Presently, Windows is the default operating system for the majority of Steam users thanks to DirectX, Microsoft's proprietary software for rendering in-game visuals. Since Valve's proposed Steam Box will be in direct competition with Microsoft's Xbox business, in addition to supporting a competing desktop OS, it has a huge hill to climb if it hopes to elevate Linux as a viable gaming platform.

It wouldn't be unreasonable to doubt Valve's ability to do so on its own, though. The current Linux version of Steam illustrates the huge gap in software support: out of the 1,868 games available on Steam, only 41 are playable within Linux. Considering this, there has to be something going on behind the scenes for Newell and Valve to feel so confident about launching their cherished brand into retail.


Nvidia, one of Valve's partners in regard to Linux support, may be the key to its success.

During Nvidia's press conference at CES, co-founder and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang revealed the next generation of their cloud platform, now called the GeForce GRID. Quite simply, GRID lets users stream PC games from external servers that handle all rendering and processing tasks to a wide range of devices. In this scenario, end users can experience best-in-class visuals independent of their hardware's specifications.

GRID probably reminds you of other services like OnLive and Gaikai: it's basically the same, just from a different provider. However, the cloud-gaming market has changed quite a bit in the last year. OnLive's fate is up in the air after a buyout last August, and Gaikai was picked up in July by Sony. This leaves Nvidia in an enviable position with GRID being the only independent and viable cloud-gaming service available for Valve to license.

It's safe to assume that anyone interested in a Steam Box will have access to a broadband Internet connection, and consequently, the ability to access Nvidia's GRID. Steam has always relied on digital distribution, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. For detractors of the cloud, the problem is that once the Internet is down, the cloud and your games go with it. Understandably, this isn't ideal for most users, but if Valve is up front about the limitations of a cloud-based Steam Box, it has nothing to worry about, especially if the Steam Box is cheaper than current- and next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

For some users, the occasional lack of Internet access won't be an issue--again, thanks to Nvidia. When Nvidia showed off its new handheld at CES, Project Shield, one of its key features was the ability to stream games from a PC connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately, it comes with strict requirements: a 600 series Nvidia GeForce GPU. Valve can't realistically rely on users to own separate products for base-level Steam Box functionality, but it's an attractive prospect for anyone who already owns a modern Nvidia GPU.

It's also an enticing opportunity for Nvidia from a business standpoint. Though PC gaming is moving toward the living room, desktop PCs aren't going away anytime soon. If Nvidia can leverage its tech as the best suited for Steam, it can hit the desktop and living room in one fell swoop. It could even package Steam Boxes and graphics cards together, giving Microsoft, Sony, and ATI some seriously formidable competition. Valve gets the tech it needs for a cloud-based Steam Box running Linux, and Nvidia gets a killer partnership with Valve, a brand synonymous with PC gaming.

This is all speculation, of course. There are still plenty of reasons to believe third-party manufacturers will be able to build non-Nvidia Steam Boxes while maintaining support from Valve. It's a lot like the Wu-Tang Clan: individual members were able to seek solo contracts outside of the group's record label, Loud, without jeopardizing that initial partnership. Valve may also deliver a traditional computer with dedicated hardware that will be both small and relatively affordable, but it's unlikely if Newell's commitment to Linux persists. As an OS, it's not a suitable fit in the short-term.

With the industry steadily moving toward a "games as a service" model, the duo of Nvidia's tech and Valve's Steam is almost too perfect to fail, giving the likes of OnLive and Sony's Gaikai a serious run for their money. Still, one question remains: What is Microsoft's answer?

Discussion

94 comments
drgribb
drgribb

lol @ the Wu-Tang reference/analogy

Judging from the comments I read on any gamespot article that even mentions hip-hop (the most recent one that comes to mind is the article announcing the Bigboi and B.O.B. feature on some new game; I suppose the Random Encounter show with Kingpin: Life of Crime, counts as well), I'm pretty sure the majority of gs readers don't even know who Wu-Tang is lolol.  Still, it's obvious that those of us that do, appreciate your taste, as the comment with the (currently) second largest number of "likes" on this article is from someone giving you (Peter Brown) props for the analogy.

Motroucet
Motroucet

Pretty amped about the Steam Box (boxes...?) but the whole cloud service thing is kind of harshing my buzz. Internet ain't exactly the best down here in Australialand...and we got a long way to go before the NBN becomes mainstream; plus we always get shafted when it comes to local servers.

Juguard
Juguard

Soon you wont need to buy or build  your own computer, your computer will be rented, and streamed to your monitor.  Tablets will have sweet screens and huge battery life, no need for cpu/ram/gfx power.  The day where you don't own anything anymore will come to reality. :(

ScouseLemon
ScouseLemon

But I already have Steam on my PC........Why would I want this?

snaketus
snaketus

Suddenly I'm very interested about this.

bennypeepants
bennypeepants

This sounds pretty awesome. Does Steam have a monthly fee and what are OnLive and Gaikai? If they are the same thing are they not awesome already? I only have a laptop so I have never looked into this stuff but if the GeForce Grid will make games look good on my mediocre machine I'm in! Especially if it's less expensive than a PS4 and more reliable than a 720.

HammerStrike11
HammerStrike11

I must be missing something, because I don't see how this is anything but a HTPC with a different name.  Sure, they are talking about cloud streaming services and perhaps a Linux platform, but both of those items are already out in the wild - neither are anything new.  Also, the pictures of the Valve Box look cute, but how much horsepower can you fit in there?

Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of Steam and I hope this succeeds, I just don't see what this is providing that already isn't available.

haedrianz
haedrianz

the steambox looks already really promising ... but with this nvidia thing .. if it truly delivers , i dont know how it could not kills everything on it s way .... now can they deliver an experience as good as they say ?? cause the latency is gonna be a b*tch .... 

haedrianz
haedrianz

holy sh*t !! Nvidia-Steam horse power graphics grid the fu*k craziness ! with Open source steam / Linux amazing evolving platform. Games companies able to fully optimized and break the limits through this graphic stream. Valve genius way of doing business. this and Oculus rift with Leap motion. What is going on ! my nose is bleeding ! 

silvergol
silvergol

Nvidia is The best at making super video/graphics should become a gaming company this shit.

freesoulvw
freesoulvw

Could someone build a USB/FireWire device,like a portable hard drive size that could turn any PC into a gaming machine? I know in the Audio industry we have external boxes like the Apollo from UAD that runs multiple processors to take extreme DSP loads off the main CPU. If the same concept could be applied to graphics processes as it is to the audio processes in heavy weight audio software then acceleration could be applied to even the weakest net books to power AAA titles.

freesoulvw
freesoulvw

I joined Steam a while back. I couldn't buy/play AAA titles since I couldn't support them with my PC/Laptop. I did buy some indies. It's been about 3 years since I've logged on to my steam account though. If Valve had a "steam box" I would support their effort and purchase the hardware. Until then I get my tenticle raping/gaming enjoyment from Sony.

jonaadams
jonaadams

I see the features, but I don't see the benifit to any of these products. Why would I want to stream to a tiny screan of my home wifi? If I'm at home, then I would rather play on my amazing PC. Why would I want a Steam box, will my games look better or play better? Why would I want to stream a game with GRID, to loose out on 3D, and deal with band width issues?

All of these product seem to be a downgrade, not an upgrade.

jonaadams
jonaadams

Ok so can you get stereoscopic 3d with GRID or the Steam Box?

Granpire
Granpire

I'd rather see Valve focus on local gaming. I'm still hoping that's the future.

ggregd
ggregd

They HAVE to be able to run Windows games for this to work, there's no way around it.  How are they going to do that?  MS won't let them run them on an emulator, they have no incentive to sell them the license.  If they tried to hide some low level emulator in the OS Microsoft would sue them and get an injunction against the system.  Emulators have a lot of overhead anyway.

Maybe some free developer tool that facilitates converting your game to Linux?

holtrocks
holtrocks

I am looking to get back into PC gaming and the $1000 dollar model would be much cheaper than building that exact PC so i am excited about the steam box and i plan on buying it has soon as they are available to the public.

osirisx3
osirisx3

the guy who invented linux hates nvidia

chechak7
chechak7

can i play GRID/GRID 2 on nvidia GRID :D

LAnoirFAN
LAnoirFAN

I SEE SKYRIM IN THE PICTURE!

crashmer
crashmer

Well with only "41 games playable on Linux" and Nvidia Grid with the bandwidth and latency problems involved I don't see it happening so soon. 

neotheinstein
neotheinstein

http://us.gamespot.com/news/gabe-newell-discusses-valves-steam-box-intentions-6402156 

In an interview with The Verge, Newell confirmed Valve's intentions to use Linux on its own machine but that users would be freely able to install a different OS, such as Microsoft's Windows, if they wish. "We'll come out with our own and we'll sell it to consumers by ourselves. That'll be a Linux box," Newell said. "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."

HonorOfGod
HonorOfGod

Hey look its Obito ....Sharingan and Rinnegan.

CaesarIIII
CaesarIIII

Could this be connected to NVIDIA's "Project SHIELD" some how ? I won't be surprise if that is the case. 

Poodlejumper
Poodlejumper

If I had money to invest in this I'd be doing so now.

Sadly, I do not.

dicosoul
dicosoul

that weird, most of the game developed by Valve recommend an ATI card. Now they are going with Nvidia.

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

Okay the problem I am seeing is with the linux itself. How many games are available in linux now? Very very few compared to Windows which every developer supports. Even if Developers slowly move to Linux, steambox will still make the current massive crop of windows games unplayable. Or am I wrong here? I am so confused with the inclusion of linux.

Vorheez
Vorheez

wow the Wu-Tang metaphor at the end is priceless.

dmarkonije
dmarkonije

As long as they stay with PC too I'm ok with it. PS : Windows 8 sucks.

monoalvarez
monoalvarez

@ScouseLemon I think this is intended mostly to persuade console gamers in the next generation. However, I have Steam on my PC but would probably buy a SteamBox instead of investing in a high end PC when the time comes to upgrade my machine (which will be pretty soon), if that's cheaper and works well.

wexorian
wexorian

@freesoulvw you sees don't understand how pc works, there can be extrenal gpu,cpu but it will work too slow compared to PCI slot :)

cogadh
cogadh

@ggregd Not to mention, products like Wine/CrossOver, which are not emulators, have little to no overhead and already offer the means for publishers/developers to "port" their games to Linux right now. It's not the best way to get a game on to Linux (not everything works well), but it is an option that MS has absolutely no say over at all.

SporkFireXPS
SporkFireXPS

@ggregd 

You wouldn't need an emulator on Linux to run directx games on a cloud-based gaming service.  The only thing that needs to be running Windows is the servers that are running the games.

y3ivan
y3ivan

@osirisx3 True, that why this article puzzled me even more.

gt350tsc
gt350tsc

@LAnoirFAN  If skyrim makes it to linux without wine I will be the happiest man ever and dump windows like a....

cogadh
cogadh

@rgrambo When did devs "embrace" DirectX over OpenGL? You do realize that practically every game that is not on Windows (i.e. all consoles and devices besides the Xbox) use OpenGL, even games that also do have a Windows/Xbox version. Every major game engine out there already has the option to utilize OpenGL or DirectX interchangeably. Devs default to DirectX on Windows because it is the easiest option on PCs right now, plus it makes "porting" to the Xbox that much easier, but they have not in the slightest chosen it over OpenGL entirely.

juboner
juboner

@rgrambo I remeber the days when you could switch your game between opengl and directx and there was also voodoo. And you had A3D sound PC gaming back then was exciting so much development going on. now they have gone backwards with the sound

anfunny
anfunny

Those are almost always paid adverts.

mav_destroyer
mav_destroyer

@Gamer_4_Fun I think (and hope) that it won't be a pure linux system but rather a custom OS built on linux similar to the PS3's OS. It's still going to be tricky to get existing games compatible with this new system. I guess we'll have to wait and see how Valve will approach this issue. They might provide their own SDK for developers to use for new games though.

larkin-54
larkin-54

@Gamer_4_Fun not at all a dedicated linux box will be able to run most anything given proper set up, you have to understand that unlike apple or MS linux is wholly open source the flavor that will be on the box will not be a standard distro im sure valve has many tricks up its sleeve regarding cross OS compatibility.

ggregd
ggregd

@cogadh @ggregd Wine might be the answer but it does run Windows games slower than native.  Most of the commentary I was able to find claiming Wine was as good as Windows was from biased sources.  This guy seems like he's being objective:

http://jeffhoogland.blogspot.com/2010/01/wine-cxgames-and-windows-7-performance.html

With Valve brainpower getting involved there could be improvements.  MS doesn't care about Wine now because it's niche.  If a Wine powered Steam Box started eating into their XBox profits in a major way they would find a way to sue for patent infringements or something and try to get injunctions.  They have a way of litigating their competition out of the picture.

ggregd
ggregd

@SporkFireXPS @ggregd So far streaming performance hasn't been up to par.  Nvidia's new server platform might work better but that has yet to be proven.

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

@larkin-54 Majority of the games use DirectX, which is a Microsoft API instead of Linux's OPEN GL API. How are they gonna work around that?

cogadh
cogadh

@ggregd As I said, Wine is not the best performer (it's biggest issue is still DRM/copy protection), but the blanket statement that it runs Windows games slower than native is simply wrong. With some games this is certainly true, but not all games. Besides, your "unbiased source" is over three years old and with Wine releasing a new version roughly every two weeks, it is severely out of date in its testing and comparisons. He tested Wine 1.1.35, while the current stable release is 1.4.1 and dev release is at 1.5.21. Massive performance improvements have come to Wine since the old 1.1.x series was retired. Additionally, the CXGames 8.1.4 software he refers to has been discontinued and long ago merged with CrossOver, which is currently at version 12.


MS doesn't care about Wine because they have no legal grounds to fight it. It is not an infringement on any of their code and it falls cleanly into nearly all legal exceptions for compatibility purposes (such as the DMCA exceptions). How would Wine or a Linux-based Steam console eat into Xbox profits any more than Steam already does on the PC? There is nothing illegal about Wine or legitimate competition, MS would have no leg whatsoever to stand on if they were to try and litigate this.

chronocommander
chronocommander

@Gamer_4_Fun@larkin-54The main thing is SteamBox is not closed in the traditional sense, you can just install Windows on it and that's that. One correction there @Gamer_4_Fun, OpenGL is not a Linux-specific API, it's cross-platform and works across all major gaming devices such as all consoles and smartphones as well as Mac, Linux and Windows. Sure, personally I find DirectX superior but most games are built for OpenGL first and foremost, it is possible that Linux may gain traction, I just hope the usability kinks get worked out. I still remember the pain it was to upgrade a firefox install a few years back, Linux is awesome, it just needs some more tweaks to make casual consumers consider it viable.