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Valve's Steam Machine prototype to ship early to 300 lucky players

In the second of three announcements, the game developer and digital distributor is inviting 300 Steam users to beta-test a prototype this year.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
3 min read
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On the heels of its SteamOS announcement, Valve has confirmed the existence of its living room PC hardware called Steam Machines. To test its early prototype, Valve is giving out 300 machines to eligible Steam users who apply for its beta test.

As for the final Steam Machines, "We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS," Valve says. So it's unclear whether or not the prototype Steam users will be beta testing this year will eventually come to market as a Valve-branded piece of hardware, or if third-party Steam Machines will be the only finalized products available for purchase.

To qualify for the early prototype, Steam users must complete Valve's "eligibility quest." That involves joining the Steam Universe community group; agreeing to the company's hardware beta terms and conditions; having or making at least 10 friends on Steam; creating a public Steam Community profile; and, lastly, playing a game with a gamepad using Steam's Big Picture mode.

All of this must be done before October 25 to be eligible to receive a Steam Machine prototype and participate in the hardware beta. Valve will choose the 300 participants, starting first with 30 individuals chosen based on past community contributions and beta participation while the rest will be random.

As for what the hardware will look and play like, details are scarce. Valve offered no specs for its machines. Our best visual cues at this point remain centered on the unofficial Steam Box variants that have hit the market this year.

However, this morning chipmaker Nvidia revealed that its long-standing relationship with Valve continues with SteamOS.

"Nvidia engineers embedded at Valve collaborated on improving driver performance for OpenGL; optimizing performance on Nvidia GPUs; helping to port Valve's award-winning content library to SteamOS; and tuning SteamOS to lower latency, or lag, between the controller and on-screen action," the company wrote in a press release. So potential hardware components likely would come by way of Nvidia as well -- though nothing is certain on that front.

Valve did confirm that games on SteamOS can utilize a game controller or a mouse and keyboard. The company also confirmed that players will be able to build their own machines to run SteamOS, and that any official Valve hardware will be completely hackable.

As for why Valve is going so far as to make hardware, the company explains: "The specific machine we're testing is designed for users who want the most control possible over their hardware. Other boxes will optimize for size, price, quietness, or other factors." The third and final announcement from Valve is slated for Friday at 10 a.m. PT.