PC gaming is great. Customizable controls, player mods and enhanced graphics are only a few of the benefits that many niche pc gamers enjoy. While hunching over a desk with keyboard and mouse in hand remains my favorite way to game, there are some days when you just want to sit back on your coach and play on a big screen TV. Well, usually this entails buying an additional console; however, with Steam’s new Big Picture Mode, PC enthusiasts may have another option.
Big Picture Mode isn’t necessarily Steam’s answer to console gaming. It’s not going to replace your Xbox 360 nor is going to make your PS 3 obsolete; instead it simply looks to extend your PC catalog into the living room.
With Steam’s Big Picture Mode now in live beta, anyone who opts to be a part of it (accessed through settings) can now give this new mode a try. Toggling between the normal steam setup and Big Picture Mode is extremely easy; all users have to do is click on the large big picture icon located at the top right of the browser.
Steam has mentioned that Big Picture mode can be used with either a controller or keyboard and mouse. While a keyboard and mouse works just fine with the new UI, the layout was clearly made with controller in mind, and it works wonderfully with a gamepad. Upon entering the new mode, the home-screen interface is reminiscent of Xbox 360’s, though it is devoid of ads making it feel far less cluttered.
From there, users will be able to access the store, their game library, interact with Steam’s new community feature, or surf the web. Entering any of these features will draw up a tile layout that looks beautiful on television and navigates well with a controller.
Honestly, there are very few gripes to have with this new setup. Even surfing the web or Twitter is a breeze. In fact, in many ways, Big Picture Mode turns your television into a smart TV allowing users to quickly and easily browse their favorite websites at the click of a button and all from your living room. While Big Picture Mode is still in Beta everything feels so responsive and quick even exceeding the speed of console UI’s, the product is much more akin to a finished product than something still in development.
So it’s obvious the infrastructure of Steam’s new mode is clean, but how do games run on the big screen? It is hard to say at this point just how well Steam Big Picture Mode will perform on televisions. Personally I got a chance to test out the mode this weekend and found myself enjoying it immensely, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t run into a few speed bumps along the way. Performance for the most part was solid as I found the image not only looking pristine on my TV, but there were no hiccups despite a very slight input lag, which was only noticeable because I had my computer monitor next to the television. Other than that, the experience was great; it was a luxury to have my graphically enhanced version of Borderlands 2 there on my TV with controller in hand.
The only serious problem I ran into with Big Picture Mode was that certain games bogged down or failed to respond when I went to quit the title and return to Steam’s standard interface. Whenever I tried to shut down a game, I would get the “program not responding” message which would cause the game application to have to be manually shut down. At first I was worried that this may corrupt my game data, but everything seemed intact when I booted the game back up. However, consumers should be aware that there is still a chance that this error could cause players to lose data. Still, I can overlook this flaw for now because Steam Big Picture Mode is still in its Beta, and if I know Steam they will iron that problem out before this mode is finalized.
Everything considered, Steam Big Picture Mode is great and its something I will certainly look to use in the future, but I cannot help but ask; will the general populace find this as useful as I did? Let’s face it I’m not the norm, I have a man cave at my disposal complete with PSWii60 (all three major consoles), a big screen HD TV, and an up-to-date gaming rig. Thus me being the man-child that I am, my HD television was already in the vicinity of my gaming computer, but what about the average consumer who wants to play in their living room?
Steam currently offers a number of solutions, though I’m not so sure how sufficient they are. Consumers can connect their normal rigs to their TVs, but this would likely cause more hassle than it is worth if people are forced to disconnect and reconnect their computers every time they want to play a game. Of course there is always the option to use a laptop instead, however most laptops (with exclusion of gaming specific rigs) will struggle to run a majority of games, especially at full graphical integrity. Finally Steam suggests that players use a designated rig, but given the price of gaming machines that is an expensive option that many of us unfortunately cannot afford to employ.
Hopefully in the future Steam comes forth with either a full console to support Steam Big Picture Mode or a way to wirelessly connect your PC to your television. However, until then it is difficult suggest using this mode if it entails users disconnecting and reconnecting their devices. Still, regardless of whether or not you are able to hook a gaming machine up to a television I would recommend giving Steam Big Picture mode a try. While it is of course intended to run on televisions the new UI still works wonderfully on computer displays as well. While hooking a laptop up to your TV may not give you the full functionality of a gaming machine, it can still turn that normal television into a smart one, allowing consumers to watch their favorite YouTube videos or check Facebook.