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PC gaming at E3 2014: Picking up where consoles falter

Hardware and software companies are pushing PC gaming as the only place to truly get next-gen visuals.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With the new living room consoles from Sony and Microsoft still so fresh, it may be difficult for PC gaming to garner much attention at E3 2014.

Or, will it? With lingering disappointment over the so-called next-gen console graphics in hot, new games, people are looking to the PC versions to really push the visuals.

In fact, if there's one consistent story we've heard since the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launches in late 2013, it's that content for these specialty boxes is largely not there, or else disappointing when it is. Hence a number of articles and discussion threads recently on how the graphics in the buzz-heavy new game Watch Dogs on next-gen consoles look suspiciously like previous-gen games, and how to really get a next-gen feel, you've got to get the PC version cranked up on a high-powered gaming PC.

Another knock was when high-profile MMORPG The Elder Scrolls Online saw its Xbox One/PS4 version pushed back until at least the end of this year, leaving at as a PC exclusive for now.

What this all means is that, while the category doesn't benefit from a dedicated major press conference at E3, as the Microsoft and Sony consoles do, you can be sure cross-platform games will have their PC versions emphasized as well, and there will even be a decent amount of PC hardware and accessories on display.

The slim Razer Blade 14 broke new ground for gaming laptops earlier this year. Sarah Tew/CNET

We expect to see new PC gaming hardware, especially gaming laptops, which are growing in popularity as mobile GPUs get ever better. Breaking the big, black box mentality has proven difficult, but gaming laptops will definitely need to become thinner, more stylish, and more flexible as dual-purpose PCs in order to thrive. Already this year, we've seen good examples of that, with the revamped Razer Blade 14 and the MSI GE60 breaking new ground in no-compromise gaming laptop design.

Nvidia is pushing hard to keep PC gaming at the forefront of the industry (it helps that rival AMD makes the graphics chips for both the Xbox One and PS4). The company is hosting its own E3-adjacent event, called the Nvidia Gaming Expo, at a parking lot across the street from the Los Angeles Convention Center -- which may feel familiar to any attendees who recall of the classic Gathering of Developers GoD Lot (yes, my first E3 was in 1999).

Some of the gaming laptops we've tested recently (including models with dual Nvidia GeForce 8000-series cards) can even push past 1080p into 4K resolution -- coincidentally just as 4K monitors are starting to become more affordable. Look for new monitor models at the show at lower prices.

Don't expect to see much of this guy at E3 2014. Sarah Tew/CNET

But, despite the rosy outlook, there's one major PC gaming development that we won't be seeing much of. Steam Machines, also known as Steamboxes, running high-end PC games on Valve's Steam OS, have been much talked-about and demoed in the past year, with a major collection of Steam Machine hardware announced at CES 2014. Besides doing an end-run around the difficulties in hooking your PC gaming rig up to your big-screen TV, the Steam Machine platform also promised a revolutionary new controller , bridging the gap between gamepad and mouse.

Well, it turns out that controller -- notable for its two concave circular control zones -- still needs some work, and according to Valve, the controller, and presumably the hardware platform tied to it, is being pushed back to 2015, making it a candidate for lead PC gaming story from next year's E3.

Check out all of GameSpot's E3 2014 coverage.