At 9:30 on the first morning of CES in Las Vegas, Tuan Nguyen walked into the Engadget media trailer carrying two cardboard boxes, each large enough to hold an adult cat. He placed the boxes on a table in a back room and asked me for something to cut through the tape holding them closed. He eventually used his keys. Nguyen unloaded one package, pulling grey foam from the edges of a white rectangle with the Steam logo imprinted on its top, a console just smaller than an Xbox One.
Nguyen started talking about the box - iBuyPower's SBX, a Steam Machine slated to hit retail this year for $500. He told stories about designing the box as a console, working with Valve and how hard it was to keep the budget down. He said iBuyPower was planning to announce a second Steam Machine paired with Oculus Rift that night, but to be honest, the Oculus team was a little behind schedule and the VR headset wasn't ready for console integration. He probably said too much.
At 11 that morning, I had an appointment to see Digital Storm's Steam Machine, the Bolt 2, a Windows-SteamOS hybrid that started at $1,900. The meeting was in Trump Tower, in a room on the 48th floor. The Trump lobby shone gold and dripped fake diamonds from the ceiling, and the doors leading into Digital Storm's room were French - behind them, a trio of spokesmen welcomed me, leading us past a table of branded swag to the ottoman by the window that held the Bolt 2. That spot provided the best possible lighting for photos, Chief Brand Officer Harjit Chana said.
The Digital Storm team was friendly and hit their talking points well, describing the Bolt 2 as a high-end PC and its customers as high-end people. This wasn't a Steam Machine for a wide market - it had a specific, dedicated audience. They knew that, I knew I wasn't in that audience (or that tax bracket), and that was all right. It was an impressive piece of hardware.
Both of the scenarios that I encountered were valid, and each carried their own charm, but they were undeniably the efforts of two disparate companies with vastly different business senses, branded together under one name: Steam Machines. What I learned that day wasn't how Valve would change living room gaming forever - I learned that the term "Steam Machines" was straight-up nonsense.
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