Steam Machines and Android boxes, it’s an idea that’s remained very niche after nearly three years of concepts and throws of OUYA and M.O.J.O microconsoles. However companies like EMTEC know that these device still have a niche following but are still going in strong with their Play Cube family of gaming devices, namely the Android GEM Box and their Steam Box
For the GEM Box I should reference Cory Galliher’s opinion of Android consoles; is this another device clamoring for home mobile gaming crown (ie: playing mobile games on your TV), which is fine if the hardware can handle it and there are games compelling enough to enjoy on a bigger screen. The GEM Box by comparison plays it safe with an ARM Cortex-A5 1.5GHz CPU (quad-core), 1GB RAM, 8GB of flash storage, and a very Xbox-like wireless gamepad.
I briefly played a few games and it was rather enjoyable with performance wasn’t strained with a custom UI that gets you directly to your content, and the ability to stream a library of PC and console games through the Playcast service. Of course, Google Play comes standard so you’ll have access to much of your apps, including Netflix, Hulu, and Facebook to name a few. It’s a nice package but considering the other microconsoles that have come and gone, along with Cory’s impressions of the equally robust Razer Forge TV it’s going to be an uphill battle for the GEM Box even at $99.
The EMTEC Steam Box otherwise covers the more traditional crowd that are interested in PC gaming but want everything in the most compact form possible (think Xi3 piston, Zotac Zbox, or Alienware Alpha), and that’s no surprise with Gigabyte supplying everything from the motherboard to the shell itself. However, the specs of an Intel Core i5-4200H CPU, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, and a powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 GPU belies its miniaturized stature. It’s also a bit of a multitasker with Windows 8.1 and SteamOS capable of running on the same machine.
Speaking of SteamOS, it’s been well over a year since I even bothered to follow Valve and the rumblings of their Steam Machine initiative which was widely celebrated and hyped with their private appointment-only booths and various concept controllers. Then just as quickly the buzz gradually wore off as allied companies were left sitting on the sidelines and gamers moved on, but this ironically leaves EMTEC in a unique position without too much pressure.
My hands-on experience was relatively smooth with next-to-no lag as I played Ryse: Son of Rome. Aside from my waning skills (I am getting older after all) I was able to get a solid feel as to how fluid the streaming performance while running at 1080/60p, and it was quite impressive to everything running without the system being overtaxed from all-day usage, with very little heat emanating from the compact box. The only catch is that the Steam Box does cost a lot upfront, like $899 upfront, and you’ll have bring your own controller and/or keyboard. Fortunately, it can also work nicely as a discreet HTPC and supports 4K resolution output.
As it stands now, EMTEC is attempting to play in a market that’s not so much competitive as it is specialized. It’s a bold move that others have handily tried and failed at, but then again maybe with the right timing, and right packages EMTEC might stand a better chance than most. Regardless, look for both Play Cube variants to drop later this year in the summer (Android GEM Box) and fall (Steam Box).