Steam Big Picture mode launching today
Could signal the end of video games console dominance in the living room
Valve's Steam service is almost ubiquitous with PC gaming, but it now looks set to make its mark on the living room too. In development for some time, tonight looks like the night we'll get our first taste of Big Picture mode, a brand new interface designed for your living room TV, rather than your PC monitor.
Whereas PC owners used to have to contend with issues such as over-scan, resolution and refresh rate when connecting a TV, the proliferation of HDMI means it's now just a matter of connecting a cable to play games on your big-screen TV. There's never been a better time for Valve to launch Big Picture mode, and from what we can see of the preview images it's nothing short of a direct assault on existing games consoles.
The oversized text, picture-heavy layout and large UI elements all share a very similar look to Microsoft's Windows 8 Start Screen, previously known as the Metro interface - it's easy to read, even from several metres away, and will scale depending on the size of your TV.
You'll have no problem choosing which game to play with the new UI
Big Picture mode also aims to remove the need for a mouse and keyboard, peripherals not well suited to the living room. With full controller support, you'll be able to launch games, browse the Steam store, load web shortcuts and open message windows without having to swap back to the mouse. All the on-screen prompts appear as controller buttons rather than mouse buttons or keyboard keys, suggesting you probably won't be using BPM unless you're sat in your living room. There will also be an option to launch Big Picture Mode on Windows start-up, effectively turning your PC into a dedicated games console.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of this refocus is the Lotus flower virtual keyboard, which groups letters together in fours around eight "petals" - tilting an analogue stick and pressing one of the four face buttons on your controller inputs a letter. It's a simple idea that seems relatively easy to grasp, although we'll know for sure once we've given it a try.
It's so simple, we don't know why no-one else tried it first
There are rumours that Valve is working on a Steam Box - dedicated hardware that will sit under your TV and play any Steam game, but for now the company is staying strictly software only. That means you'll have to find a way to run a cable from your PC to your TV if you want to give Big Picture mode a try yourself.
Big Picture Mode promises a lot, so we'll be taking a close look at it when it launches later tonight to see if it can deliver.