Valve just released a pretty exciting feature for Steam called Big Picture. It’s essentially a brand new user interface option, that makes it very easy to use Steam in your living room. Big Picture is optimized for long distance viewing on HDTVs, and it’s designed for ease of use with either a console controller or a mouse and keyboard.
Don’t worry, it won’t replace the old Steam- it’s simply an option, and you can switch back and forth at will. Big Picture gives you access to everything the standard Steam user interface gives you- all games, achievements, friends list, chat, game installation, Steam Store- this is not a dumbed down version.
Valve says “just click a button” but it’s not quite that easy yet, because Big Picture is still in Beta. There will be a tutorial down lower on this page.
Big Picture has an attractive, crisp, well-organized layout, broken into a series of long horizontal rows with high-resolution icons. It’s a little like Xbox Live, if Live wasn’t an offensive mess of annoying advertisements and store links, with games tucked in the corner like an afterthought.
Instead, Valve has made it all about making it easy to access your games, send messages and invites to friends, and of course buy loads more games that you’ll never get around to playing. Big Picture is still organized into Store, Library, and Community sections, like standard Steam, and you won’t have to worry about Valve throwing game advertisements in your face when you aren’t looking for them.
You can still use a mouse and keyboard with Big Picture- the interface switches seamlessly from controller input to mouse and keyboard operation as soon as you strike any key or push a button. When you put down your keyboard and pick up a controller, the cursor disappears, and the menus and button guides change instantly to show you how to navigate Big Picture with the controller. The layout however stays perfectly consistent, which is much appreciated. As soon as you move the mouse or use the keyboard, it switches back instantly.
You can switch to your keyboard to type at any time, but if you don’t feel like getting up, Big Picture has a well-designed rotary joypad input system:
In Valve’s own words, the new web browser included with Big Picture is a controller based web browser that “doesn’t suck.” This is an impressively accurate two word product review. Nothing beats a mouse and keyboard for browsing the web, but Big Picture’s included web browser compensates very well for the limitations of a console controller.
It’s clear that a lot of careful thought went into the browser’s design. Big picture’s web browser passes the litmus test of being less bothersome than getting up, walking across the house, and getting on the computer to use Firefox… an honor few console browsers can claim.
It’s relatively easy to navigate, and decently fast. Valve is also calling it “the first first person web browser”, whatever that means.
Big Picture will be a default option in Steam soon, but right now it’s in beta, which means there are a few steps before you can try it out.
1. In Steam’s drop down menu, go to Settings.
2. Under Account, and Beta Participation, click on the “Change…” button.
3. From the Beta Participation drop down menu below, change your choice from “NONE – Opt out of all beta programs” to “Steam Beta Update”, then click OK.
4. Steam will prompt you to restart. You will then need to wait about a minute while Steam updates, before you can launch the program again.
5. There is now a large button in the top right corner of your Steam window. Click it to launch Big Picture Beta.
Now simply go buy another gaming PC just to leave it in the living room. Or wait for the vaunted “Steam Box” that everyone thinks is in the works.
We have written about Valve-Steam before, and are huge fans. Share your experiences with us by leaving a comment.
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