It may not be the true offering yet, but it's a promising glimpse of what's to come.
How long have the rumours been circulating? Month at the very least, that's how long it's been since the idea of a Steam Box started circulating on the Internet. A Valve powered console could be something that would fundamentally shake up the console race on a level not seen since Microsoft's entry into the fray over 11 years ago.
While not the definitive be-all and end-all of the concept, the fact that CES saw the unveiling of the Xi3 Piston, a specialized PC that could be one of the many contenders for the title of Steam Box.
If you didn't happen to catch what I said back there, let me reiterate: there could be more than one kind of Steam Box, made by completely different manufacturers. Valve director of marketing Doug Lombardi basically said at this CES that "We are bringing multiple custom (hardware) prototypes as well as some off-the-shelf PCs to our CES meetings." This means that unless this is a competition to see which final design will be endorsed, that there could be multiple Steam Boxes with different concepts, price points, and features.
Moving back right now to the Piston, the selling point behind it, other than the plug and play features of it, is that it's a module PC. Basically there's three components that you can swap out with whatever you see fit for either more or less muscle. I'll grant you that upgrading as absolutely nothing new to PCs, but this form of it is meant to take an obviously less intimidating stance for those that are more used to consoles which get less, if any, hardware upgardes.
It's not all roses and sunshine granted. Right now according to the first article I linked the price point is a bit of a doozy:
Starting at around $1,000, the X7A packs a Quad-Core processor with
384-core integrated graphics, which I'd haphazardly guess is AMD's A10
series. It boasts 4GB or 8GB of RAM, oodles of USB ports, and four
eSATAp ports for extra external storage. Now, Piston's specs and price
won't necessarily line up, but this gives a fair idea of what to expect.
$1000 is a very precarious total cost. My thoughts on it are that it's far, far too high of a price for anyone who would be interested in it as a potential console contender; after the $599 US dollars debacle I don't think that anyone is going to want to set the price point too high again, and for a fledgling console that's unproven it might prove to be the only detractor that people need.
Secondly is the idea that in some regards $1000 is far too little. Before your brain explodes from the paradox allow me to explain. That kind of money is nothing for people that are trying to build a bleeding edge PC gaming machine. The problem is though, that if you have people willing to spend thousands of dollars, they're going to just build their own PCs, which will have more functionality on top of merely being gaming rigs.
Getting down the price point is going to be one of the largest concerns that I can see at this point in time. Whether or not there will be factors that will ultimately mitigate the current cost is something that I can only guess at, but I can say at the very least that this seems like quite a promising start.