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Valve makes the Steam Box official

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'Piston' device (Credit: Xi3)

Valve, the creators and caretakers of the incredibly successful PC game distribution service Steam, has been hinting around its plans to move into the living room for more than a year. Apparently, the company has finally put its money where its mouth is.

Valve has invested in the fledgling hardware company Xi3, the maker of small desktop PCs, to create a mini gaming PC.

The project’s called “Piston,” and while the specs haven’t been released yet, the system is specifically designed to play Steam-based games in the service’s Big Picture mode on living room TVs. Xi3 is showing a prototype at this year’s CES show.

It's small, that's for sure, roughly the size of a grapefruit. Details are still sketchy, however. How much did Valve invest in the company – and was it enough for a majority ownership? When will Piston go on sale, and how much will it cost?

It’s certainly not looking like it will be cheap. Xi3 told Polygon the system will feature a 1 TB hard drive and offer modular components, making it easy to upgrade the RAM and CPU. It further noted Piston is based on its "performance level" X7A device, which costs $999.

That sort of pricing might scare away mainstream customers, though there’s certainly some wiggle room – especially if Valve and Xi3 choose to sell the system at a slight loss with the goal of making up that money through Steam game sales.

Either way, Xi3 is optimistic.

"Today marks the beginning of a new era for Xi3," said Jason A. Sullivan, founder, president and CEO of Xi3. "This new development stage product will allow users to take full-advantage of their large high-definition TV displays for an amazing computer game experience. As a result, this new system could provide access to thousands of gaming titles through an integrated system that exceeds the capabilities of leading game consoles, but can fit in the palm of your hand."

Sullivan has reason to be happy -- Valve could be the company’s saving grace. Last year, Xi3 tried to raise money via Kickstarter, but fell far, far short of its goals. A cash infusion by Valve is just the sort of health pack the company needed to get the product to market.

However, more products could well join it, as the company reportedly brought other prototype systems to share with hardware makers at CES.

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