Valve has apparently decided the next step in being a game distribution platform is to move in on the console market. Microsoft got blown out when it announced all sorts of DRM with their new console and eventually had to fall back from that position. Steam has all of those same sorts of things going on. I can't give Robb my copy of Alan Wake to play for a few days even though I'd really like to because it's a fantastic game. If we both had standard consoles that ran the console version of Alan Wake I could easily just hand him the disk and let him play it at his home. (The flip side being that I probably would have paid triple the price for the disk Alan Wake as opposed to getting it on sale super cheap on Steam.)
How are they doing this? Well, it sounds like they've made a console operating system and they're going to let whoever feels like making hardware for it make the hardware for it. Basically it sounds an awful lot like they're trying to convince people to make small, cheap computers to hook up to a tv and pretend like it's a console.
A while ago a new feature cropped up in Steam called 'Big Picture' which made Steam into a full screen program that was very different from the normal interface. I was confused and didn't like it, but in retrospect that interface was very similar to the xBox 360 interface. And with the announcement that they're planning on making their own consoled that all makes sense. It was not a very good interface for someone who wanted to easily alt-tab to a bunch of normal Windows programs, but it makes sense for someone on a console. I even managed to figure out their weird chat interface in order to type a message to Lino with the controller instead of with the keyboard.
The announcement also mentioned that they're going to be giving away 300 console prototypes to get things started. They're going to hand out 30 of them to people active in the Steam community, whatever that means, and 270 at random to people who earn the 'Steam Hardware Beta Candidate' badge within the Steam client itself. Which basically meant filling out a contest form and then trying out the Big Picture mode with a controller. I played a little DMC on my 42" tv and it was actually pretty awesome. It futzed up my Windows display settings though, which made alt-tabbing to chat with Robb and Lino about playing Titan a little awkward.
Which just goes to show... Even for someone like me, who has their computer beside their tv... I could make decent use of a Steam console. Or maybe I just need to configure my computer a little better so my computer just stays connected to the tv 24/7 instead of just when I want to do something on it. And if I lived in an actual house, or had roommates or something, so my computer was not beside the tv it would be pretty sweet.
I hope I win the contest! Only 142,624 people have signed up so far. Hopefully the odds are ever in my favour!