Steam Big Picture Review and Guide

Back in 2011, Steam announced that it was working on a “Big Picture” mode. Steam Big Picture was to turn Valves flagship software Steam into a 10-foot user interface. Basically, allowing your computing device to be used as a gaming console. Fast forward to today and Big Picture is live in beta. Instead of buying a console, Steam Big Picture allows you to leverage your existing setup. Pair that up with Steam functionality and you have a one of a kind gaming experience.

Setup is simple, especially for those who have a dedicated PC or Mac HTPC in place. Here’s what you need:

  1. PC or Mac with Steam installed. Found here
  2. HDMI cable to connect your PC or Mac to TV
  3. Gaming Controller

As long as you have Steam installed, no additional installation is required. The beta is included right in the system. Just hit the “Big Picture” button as seen in the picture below.

Go “Big”

Steam Big Picture Layout

The system is a breeze to learn. Just like Plex or XBMC, the interface is very user friendly and makes the whole experience a pleasure to use. The layout appears to contain a minimal amount of options but underneath it all is a ton of functionality. In the middle you’ll see a row of three main buttons:

  • Store – Access to the massive Steam library. Make sure you have some money to below.
  • Library– Contains a catalog of all the games you own
  • Community – Brings up a listing of all your friends with options to interact

Down on the button you will find an option to access the Web with a browser that Steam claims “doesn’t suck”. And they are absolutely correct. One thing that really stands out is the ability to Tab browse.

To that right of that you find the Friends button. That will give you access to chat with anyone on your Friends List. Voice or text, you decide.

Finally, on top you’ll find access to your profile, paused or active downloads, news, settings, and of course the power button.

Rich, clean, simple layout

The browser – Great addition to Big Picture

The game library

Okay, enough with the screenshots.

Game Controllers – What to use for Steam Big Picture

Steam Big Picture is designed to be used with a game controller. Any other way would be doing it wrong! There are a ton of options out there, even some that you might have at home right now. Xbox 360 controller comes to mind.

The list below contains some great options. All the testing done by us was completed on SteelSeries 3GC which is probably the best choice if you are looking for something economical.  Just keep in mind that the device is poorly rated due to bad functionality with a Mac. However, it worked great on our Windows 7 machine.

Ultimately, the best choice would be a wireless controller, especially if your box is hidden or in another room. If you have a wired control but having problems with the length of the cable than purchase a A-Male to A-Female USB cable. It can be picked up off Amazon for $5.99. Quick and easy solution.

Now let’s move to wireless keyboard and mouse. There are so many options out there that really any decent combo will work. Even a wired set would be fine. Just have something in case input is required that the gaming controller isn’t capable of. For example, closing a pop up from Microsoft auto-update.

For typing, Steam has implemented the Daisywheel. It contains 8 leaf peddles in a circle containing 4 characters each. Our experiencing with this solution has been stellar. Nothing will ever be as fast as using a traditional QWERTY keyboard, but this design is ahead of the keyboards we’ve come to know with gaming consoles. You will find your typing to flow better and be much quicker than you’d expect.

The Daisywheel

Thoughts on Steam Big Picture

We are thoroughly impressed with Steam Big Picture. It is a fantastic addition to any existing HTPC enthusiast and is a must for the hardcore gamer with a high end rig. It truly satisfies both ends of the spectrum.

Here’s why. HTPC aren’t exactly the most well suited gaming system. However, with Steam, you get access to an extensive library that any HTPC enthusiast will get plenty of enjoyment out of it. I jumped on Steam Big Picture this morning and got to play the original Sonic. Any level HTPC is more than capable to handle that.

Now let’s not forget about the hardcore gamer with the high end system. Just think about it. A top gaming PC can kick the crap out of any console on the market. Steam Big Picture leverages that greatly. Graphic intensive games look absolutely stunning on the big screen, especially if you have a top video card that can put out the horsepower to max out settings. This is one gaming experience that you do not want to miss. We tested Steam Big Picture on a mid level build with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit as the game. Not the NFS from the 90’s that you played on your PS1, but the NFS released in 2010 that got a 9/10 on IGN. It was awesome. It felt like a console experience. The only reason I knew I wasn’t playing on a console was because the graphics absolutely took a massive dump on anything my Xbox 360 ever put out (sitting in pieces on the floor due to failed RROD repair – Still a bit bitter about it).

Need For Speed on the tube

Pictures don’t do it justice

But with all things said, we need to point out one downside. The Steam Big Picture experience might just need to be left for single player / coop gaming. , Some PC gaming (especially multiplayer) just needs to be played with a keyboard and mouse. I wouldn’t dare enter a Counter-Strike server with a gamepad in hand. You’re going to be in the house of pain.

So what are you waiting for? Go big with Steam Big Picture! As always, let us know what you think below!

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