During CES 2013, we assumed, like many news outlets, that the Xi3 Piston compact PC was indeed Valve Software's rumored Steam Box. We couldn't get anyone to cough up an actual confirmation during the show, but Valve's involvement with the handheld PC seemed to validate our assumptions. But that all changed on Monday when Xi3 opened up pre-orders, revealing a pricetag that Valve didn't have in mind with its PC-based "console" system.
The Steam Box rumor seemingly solidified into an actual project when Valve and Xi3 said that a modular computer game system optimized for Steam's Big Picture Mode would be revealed at CES 2013 in January. Even more, Xi3 said that it received an investment from Valve. Put two and two together, and you have Steam Box. Boy were we fooled.
Or maybe not. To some degree, both parties were up front and honest about Piston. It's a $1000 compact, modular gaming system optimized for Big Picture Mode and packed with a Radeon 7000-series GPU, a 3.2 GHz AMD Trinity Quad Core (R464) processor, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, and an SSD with capacities ranging from 128 GB to 512 GB. The beauty of this rig is that it's easily upgradeable thanks to its modular design.
What nuked the rumors linking the Piston to Valve's mystery PC gaming console were several factors: (1) the price, as Valve planned to offer initial pricing competitive to new consoles; (2) Gabe Newell said he plans to release Steam Box prototypes to consumers later this year for feedback; and (3) Newell said back in January that there will be a variety of Steam Boxes, one of which will be offered directly to customers by Valve.
Now Valve's Doug Lombardi is actually distancing the studio from Xi3 Corp., saying that Valve at one point had some dealings with the compact PC maker, but those days are over. "Valve began some exploratory work with Xi3 last year, but currently has no involvement in any product of theirs," he said.
That comment is somewhat strange given the seemingly buddy-buddy relationship they shared during CES 2013 -- even their booths were in the same neighborhood. What is a little annoying about the whole Piston-Steam Box story is that when asked if the Piston was indeed Valve's PC gaming console, the Xi3 rep provided a "no comment". Was it too hard to say "no, this isn't Valve's Steam Box"? OR did something change between now and January?
Now we're back to square one.