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Valve working on Steam Box gaming hardware and biometrics-based controls

The Piston modular computer from Xi3 has been optimized to run Valve's Steam game service and Big Picture Mode and may give us a glimpse of what Valve's own gaming hardware will look like down the road.Xi3

The long-rumored Steam Box game machine from much-loved gaming company Valve has become more of a reality at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Valve hasn't actually shown off any new hardware and has only a small presence at the show. However, the company behind the online PC games distribution platform known as Steam (not to mention hit games such as "Portal" and "Half-Life") has stirred up a lot of excitement among game enthusiasts by making it clear it has big plans for living room play.

In an interview with The Verge, Valve’s co-founder Gabe Newell confirmed that the company is working on its own gaming hardware for the living room — hardware that's specially designed to leverage its hugely popular Steam distribution service to deliver PC games and other media directly to your HDTV and perhaps other screens in the house.

This is big news, especially considering that Steam boasts some 50 million users worldwide — many of whom would probably love to have a convenient, comfortable way to play their favorite Steam-delivered PC games on their living room TV.

So what will this so-called Steam Box look and operate like, exactly? Newell and Valve haven't released much in the way of exact details. But the Valve head honcho did say the box would be based on the Linux operating system — perhaps not a surprise since Newell has a now-notorious dislike of Windows 8.

"We’ll come out with our own and we’ll sell it to consumers by ourselves," Newell said of their hardware, adding, "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.

Newell said the smart minds at Valve have been attempting to improve upon the standard game controls in some interesting ways.

"I think you'll see controllers coming from us that use a lot of biometric data," he told The Verge. "Biometrics ... 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 to turn out to be super important."

As far as other details go, Newell mentioned that the company is looking at making the so-called Steam Box capable of delivering games to up to eight different screens in the house simultaneously.

"So you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it," he said. "We’re used to having one monitor, or two monitors — now we’re saying let's expand that a little bit."

But perhaps the best glimpse of what an official Steam Box might look something like is from PC-maker Xi3. Valve has invested in the company , which revealed its new modular Piston computer. The Piston, pictured above, is the size of a grapefruit and still in the development stage. The cube-shaped PC that has been optimized to play games on HDTVs using Valve's Steam service and its new Big Picture Mode. 

Remember, Valve has already taken its first steps toward delivering PC games to home HDTV's with the newly launched Big Picture Mode. Big Picture is designed to simplify the process of getting PC games onto the TV by redesigning the Steam interface specially for use on a TV screen and by highlighting PC games that can be played using a standard button/thumbstick-sporting game controller.

But Valve representative Tom Giardito told PC Magazine that, in fact, Xi3 is just one of many hardware partners working with Valve. He said Valve attended CES this year primarily to meet with manufacturers and explore how a Steam Box-type interface or standard could be set up across many devices. Furthermore, he said that Steam Boxes — whatever shape they take — won't be available until after a lengthy testing.

With Sony and Microsoft expected (thought not confirmed) to reveal their next home game machines sometime this year, it will certainly be interesting to see if Valve times the arrival of its own hardware to compete.

Then again, the folks at Valve are known for doing things their own way in their own time. So while all the Steam Box talk is exciting ... gamers should prepare for more waiting and wondering ahead.

Via -- The Verge

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.