Sep. 10, 2012 at 3:15 PM ET
Valve Corporation is giving PC gamers a good reason to take over the living room. Starting today, Valve is launching Big Picture mode for its online Steam PC gaming service.
As PC gamers will tell you, a killer home computer is the best gaming machine there is. But there's a catch — you don't usually play your PC games on the biggest screen in the house or in the most comfortable room in the house. That is, while PC gamers are often tucked away in an office, hunched in front of a computer monitor, the console gamer — who plays on the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3 for example — is stretched out on the couch, enjoying the prime real estate afforded by the living room and the sprawling view offered by the television.
But Valve is hoping that Big Picture mode — a slick, full-screen user interface that officially goes into Beta testing later today — will convince PC gamers to set up shop on their couches and TV screens.
"PC gaming continues to be the leading edge of entertainment, whether it's social gaming, MMOs, graphics hardware, free-to-play, or competitive gaming," said Gabe Newell, president of Valve, in an announcement. "With Big Picture for Steam, we are trying to do our part to give customers and developers what they want — their games, everywhere, optimized for the environment in which they are playing."
While PC gamers do currently have the ability to lug their PC into the living room and get it up and running on the TV, Big Picture is designed to simplify the process. Valve says it has entirely reformatted the user interface for the popular online Steam game service (used by more than 50 million gamers worldwide) and optimized it for use on a TV screen and with a game controller in hand — though a keyboard and mouse are still more than welcome.
You'll still be connected your Steam account and all the games you've purchased and friends you've acquired there. But now you can sit on the couch and dive in from there. Some of the features include a new, more intuitive way of typing with a game controller.
Valve is also touting "a Web browser for the TV that doesn't suck" and that has also been designed for game controllers. Valve calls it "the world's first first-person browser." But here, check out the video preview below.
Perhaps the easiest way to get Big Picture up and running on your TV is to carry your computer into your living room, connect it to your TV with an HDMI cable and fire up Steam. Steam can be switched to Big Picture mode with one click. But Valve also talks about getting your laptop connected to the TV or connecting your home computer to the TV wirelessly right here.
Of course, whether PC gamers really want to set up shop in the living room remains to be seen. I could see making room for a second gaming tower beneath the TV (and beside the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) for when you're feeling more social and want to easily jump into that robust Steam environment. But many PC gamers enjoy their office cave as a way of escaping the hubbub of the household.
Though it is possible Valve could jump into the hardware/console business in one way or another (after all they have been trying to hire industrial designers to work on hardware) there are no firm plans for such a thing at the moment, Coomer told Shreir.
"What we really want is to ship [Big Picture mode] and then learn," Coomer said. "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. It could be that the thing that really makes sense is to build the box that you're describing. But we really don't have a road map."
PC gamers, what do you think? Do you want to play your games on a TV? Will you use Big Picture in your living room?
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti, and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.