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Portal's Valve to release 'Steam Box' console, says report

Company behind hit computer game Portal and popular online game-downloading system Steam is set to shake up industry with hardware-software system rivaling Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and even Apple TV, report says.

An illustration from a patent application filed by Valve last year for a "game controller having user swappable control components."

Valve--the company behind the hit computer game Portal and the popular online game-downloading system Steam--has been working on hardware and software for a "Steam Box," a set-top console that would rival the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and even Apple TV, according to a report.

Citing unnamed sources, The Verge reports that Valve could choose next month's Game Developers Conference or June's E3 to unveil the Steam Box, which could shake up the industry.

The device may ship with a proprietary controller that features swappable components for different game types. It may also feature real-time biometric feedback, and will work with any computer or TV display in a customer's house, The Verge's Joshua Topolsky writes. And through the Steam Box setup, Valve "would place Steam at the center of an open gaming universe that mirrors what Google has done with Android," Topolsky says.

"The actual devices may be made by a variety of partners, and the software would be readily available to any company that wants to get in the game," with no licensing fees to create software for the system, Topolsky writes. And the Steam Box will be able to serve up standard PC titles as well as rival gaming services such as EA's Origin.

As Paul Tassi over at Forbes points out, the system (if more than a rumor) could rock the gaming world, because unlike the Xbox and other consoles, Steam is based on downloads--not physical copies of games--and often boasts lower prices for titles, as well as frequent sales. And because of the system's ability to take advantage of any screen in the house, it puts Apple TV on notice as well. On that score, Topolosy quotes from a Seattle Times interview with Valve co-founder Gabe Newell:

"On the platform side," Newell told the Times, "it's sort of ominous that the world seems to be moving away from open platforms. They build a shiny sparkling thing that attracts users and then they control people's access to those things."