Valve uses Steam to show players Big Picture

Valve, the creators of the “Half-Life” and “Portal” series, recently released a new view mode for their digital distribution application, Steam, called Big Picture which allows the interface to be displayed on larger screens like those normally found in living rooms.

It wasn’t impossible to hook up a PC or Mac to your big-screen TV before Big Picture was introduced, but the layout of an application made for small computer screens didn’t translate well to a display that was between five and ten feet away from players.

Big Picture mode changes the entire Steam interface, and does away with all the tiny details normally displayed to users in favor of highly-simplified, large buttons and a virtual keyboard.

All of these new features make gaming through Steam with a gamepad much more accessible than ever before.

Big Picture’s virtual keyboard is mapped to gamepads for simple text input

Using a gamepad to play video games on a large TV in the living room. That sounds a lot like console gaming. 

Steam’s Big Picture mode is a major step into the home gaming console market, and it only requires players to connect their PC to their TV with and HDMI cable. All of these things are most likely already owned by most gamers, so the initial investment for this pseudo-console is arguably $0.

Not all of the people who play games have a computer capable of running “Skyrim” or “Crysis 2” on even medium settings, but, in the long run, investing a little bit more money into a new computer than a new gaming console is a better investment because computers can be used for more than consoles.

We may be entering an era where Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have to take on Valve in the console wars, but the features of the Playstation 3 and the next Xbox have yet to be seen.

Big Picture mode also includes a web browser that is also navigable by gamepad.

It could turn out that PCs will remain the go-to devices for more dedicated players and home consoles make the transition to all-in-one entertainment boxes geared toward families and casual players. The technical specs of the next generation of video game consoles has yet to be seen, though, so it’s anybody’s guess what the next few years will bring for the industry.