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Steam's Big Picture Mode to launch tonight

Includes brilliant flower-shaped keyboard emulator.

Steam's Big Picture Mode - which will scale the portal's interface and controls to better suit a TV and gamepad - is set to launch later tonight according to Kotaku.

The report details several of the changes from the PC and Mac version of Steam that make it more akin to an Xbox 360 dashboard only without ads and featuring several improvements.

The most notable of which is probably the lotus flower-shaped rendition of a keyboard. Rather than painstakingly scroll through several tiles on a virtual keyboard, the new design - shown below - divvies characters up into eight groups of four characters, with the clusters set in the eight cardinal directions. The groups are listed alphabetically and proceed in clockwise formation. Once you select a cluster with the analogue stick, you select a specific character with the face buttons. It's such an elegant solution that it's a wonder it hasn't been thought of before. Unless of course you did think of it and never told anyone - in which case you're probably kicking yourself pretty hard right now.

This new interface will be used to make web navigation more palatable than it currently is on a console - which let's face it, is pretty awful. You'll now be able to toggle between a game and a web browser at a touch of a button.

Looking ahead, Valve would like to find some way to allows multiple users to sign into their accounts on the same computer, allowing them to play splitscreen on a TV.

While Valve still has not announced any plans to develop a console, head of the team who developed Big Picture, Greg Coomer, said it remains a possibility and this is a test to determine whether that would be something people are interested in. "What we really want is to ship [Big Picture mode] and then learn," Coomer explained. "So we want to find out what people value about that. How they make use of it. When they make use of it. Whether it's even a good idea for the broadest set of customers or not. And then decide what to do next."

"So it could be that the thing that really makes sense is to build the box that you're describing. But we really don't have a road map. And we think we're going to learn a tremendous amount through this first release."

Elsewhere in the report, when asked about pursuing a dual-screen device ala the Wii U, Smart Glass and Vita/PS3 compatibility, Coomer said, "We are really interested in it but it hasn't been any of the focus in our work... Having a secondary experience, driving the primary experience, augmenting it with stuff that's social but ancillary - all those things are great, it's just not at the front of our priority list right now."

See Big Picture Mode in action in the launch trailer below.

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