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Valve announces an upcoming line of "Steam gaming machines"

300 lucky ducks will be sent betas this year.

We've known for ages that Valve has been tinkering with the idea of releasing its own hardware and now, after years of speculation, Valve has announced the Steam Box. Or should I say Steam boxes?

You see, there will actually be many variants of the "Steam gaming machines" with different manufacturers. According to the announcement, Valve is working with "multiple partners" to make "a variety of Steam gaming machines." All will be running SteamOS and are expected to start hitting retail in 2014.

In order to decide how to best optimise this in-development series of hardware, Valve will be shipping "a high-performance prototype" to 300 lucky users to beta test later this year.

In order to sign up for this privilege, users must join the Steam Universe community group, agree to the Steam Hardware Beta Test terms and conditions, make at least 10 friends on Steam (if you haven't already), create a public Steam Community profile, and play in Big Picture mode with a gamepad. Then, and only then, will your name be tossed into the ring of potential testers. The deadline to register is 25th October.

Valve was quick to point out that this will be an open platform and there will be various models to suit the needs of its consumer base. "The specific machine we're testing is designed for users who want the most control possible over their hardware. Other boxes will optimise for size, price, quietness, or other factors." The company then added, "there will ultimately be several boxes to choose from, with an array of specifications, price, and performance."

Because SteamOS will be available to all, Valve noted that tech-savvy users are welcome to make their own "Steam box," hack an existing one, run another operating system on it, swap out its hardware or "use it to build a robot."

As far as input goes, the "Steam gaming machines" will support gamepads and mouse & keyboard setups - though the company hinted that it might have another trick up its sleeve regarding controllers. "We have some more to say very soon on the topic of input," Valve said, possibly suggesting that Friday's impending announcement may relate to that.

More details about Valve's various models will be released in the near future. What do you, dear reader, make of this multiple models structure? Do you like its range and customisation, or would you prefer a one-size-fits-all approach, so as to not split the market?

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