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What we want to see from the possible SteamPal handheld from Valve

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You've all seen the rumours by now, and apparent confirmation from Ars that Valve has been working on the SteamPal, a Linux powered handheld that could be released this year. Here's a short list of what we want from it.

Steam Machines and SteamOS were ultimately a failure, for many reasons. The whole thing was confusing for both users and consumers with multiple models, and most of them wanted far too much money. What will be different this time? How can Valve actually make it work?

This time around at least, it looks like Valve are entering a market that's still relatively in its infancy. However, it's clearly popular with more hardware vendors showing prototypes and the GPD Win series continues showing how a smaller vendor can make it happen. If Valve really do enter, they would be positioned well considering they know how to produce their own hardware after the Steam Controller, Steam Link and now the Valve Index too. Doing it directly with only one model or perhaps two with a higher model would already solve a lot of their original Steam Machine issues. Let's say that's the first thing we want: make it clear. Get the marketing right this time, and actually continue marketing it unlike before.

Game support is something that suffered originally. We had porters like Feral Interactive and Aspyr Media come onboard thanks to Steam Machines but they simply weren't enough. This time, we have a vast library of supported indie games, a couple AA/AAA and then there's Steam Play Proton too. However, realistically, we still need that direct support and porting effort from developers to ensure the games work as good as they can on the hardware, especially since this won't be top-end stuff. Still, with Proton, there is at least that ability to play more than what's supported and the ability to is vitally important to make a SteamPal actually worth even thinking on to purchase.

Having good game support is the single most essential thing. People don't want to wait around for shaders to compile when you hit play, stuttering while Proton/DXVK builds up a cache will be very noticeable on the hardware too and no doubt be the source of many poor reviews. Having developers build and optimize for it will end up essential to making it a win overall.

Another serious point to think on is online gaming. This is a sore spot right now. I can only imagine the reviews of "you can't play x or y, the most popular online games" which will be due to the likes of Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye. Perhaps though, since Valve will fully control the kernel they can have it all signed in a particular way that anti-cheat systems can hook into it. However, that could then split things between desktop Linux and a SteamPal. It's both exciting to think on for support and concerning.

A Steam Game Pass, yup, something like that I think would be in some way needed. Other consoles have a form of it, Valve allows it on Steam already with the likes of EA Play, it would make sense for Valve to have one to not only pull in even more money but to give users access to a library of games right away for a SteamPal when they signed up. Either that, or team up with a bunch of developers to give free copies to those who buy one.

Keep the desktop mode. Please. That was actually a highlight of SteamOS originally. You get the console-like experience, with the option to dive into a normal desktop if you want to do other things. That would extend the possibilities of what you can do with a Valve SteamPal. I think removing that would be a mistake, as long as they lock-down the SteamPal SteamOS side of things so that users can't break it and as easy system-refresh option to set things back to normal.

Send loads out to developers long before release. Gosh I hope they're doing this. How do you get people interested in supporting it? Give them developer kits. Other console makers do this for good reason.

Some form of external streaming media support out of the box. Yes, I know, that the main point is gaming but we're long past the point of such single-use devices. People will expect the likes of Netflix and others to work. So get it sorted before release. It was a sore spot for the original Steam Machines.

I don't think I really need to put down "use a Linux operating system" as a thing we want from it do I? It's pretty obvious it will be. So, SteamOS 3? Let's say I want that to be real and to still allow others to download it and install it just like they could before. Oh, and duh: please don't be a failure.

Don't be too big. I can't stress this enough. The Nintendo Switch is just about right (except the terrible to hold Joy-Cons that is when in portable mode). Any bigger and it would be far too unwieldy and likely defeat the point. That is one thing I am genuinely worried about. Valve could get a little too screen-happy with it but I hope they're being smart about this one.

Just a few thoughts to get it out there to stop the mind from spinning on it, no doubt we will all have more we want and expect from it over time. They key though is to not expect too much. It is, after all (if real), a handheld! We can't expect magic from it, as it will be limited in terms of what power it can cram into the casing.

Over to you in the comments: what do you want from it?

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86 comments
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1xok 13 Jun
Quoting: NoStI think Valve will need to whitelist a lot more games for Proton before releasing the device.
You can't expect the users of a portable console to be tinkering with the Proton version or command options.
I hope they are already working on it. Otherwise it could become a source of many negative reviews.

Most games have to be ported for it in the same way as for other consoles, I think. But I also think that the developments of the last five years have made that much easier. Much easier than porting a game like The Witcher 3 to the Switch, for example.
richip 13 Jun
Definitely looking for platform games with high quality sprites and music similar to the Nintendo M*rio series.
Mohandevir 7 years 14 Jun
Quoting: Beamboom
Quoting: MohandevirMobile gaming? You mean like in Android playstore games? Because these are two different breeds of players. I, for one, never ever considered mobile games. Candy crush, June's Journey and touch screens in general are not my kind of fix. My wife though... :)

You need to look into what's actually available for iPhone and Android. It's every single genre. There's RPGs, mmos, strategy games, adventure games, action, puzzle, you name it. Even ported PC games. For instance, Rockstar has put all their earlier Grand Theft Auto games on there. Republique (stealth, great game) is another example.

But this also boils down to what we actually want to play on small gaming devices. Back in the PSP days I had a TON of PSP games, all sorts. But my favourite games on that machine were indeed all small, quick, fun games that worked perfectly on a small device.

Quoting: MohandevirWhat about the Nintendo Switch? With the Wii U, Nintendo was on the verge of going under... The Switch saved them

This is why I wrote further up in my replies:
Quoting: BeamboomThe market will see this as yet another attempt to breath new life into an old market segment that's pretty much dead unless your name is Nintendo.
They are the one single instance that survived the fall of the market of handheld gaming devices. An amazing example, but there's an agreement that it was the insanely strong catalogue of IPs in their fold and their long standing rock solid reputation on portable gaming devices that made this to be even remotely possible.

Remember, Nintendo is primarily a handheld gaming company. That's their home turf. I'm not so sure that a bunch of PC games have that same ability to push handhelds. But we shall see!

Quoting: MohandevirImo the real deal is marketing... Mass products are requiring mass marketing (including support). This thing must be available everywhere it's possible and be advertised on every inches of all visible walls. That's how it usually works.

But the product must also resonate with the market. Sony pushed a hell of a massive marketing power behind the Vita. They had a 100% dedication on that device for years after the rest of us declared it dead in the water.
But they were not Nintendo. They didn't have that insanely strong brand for HANDHELD gaming devices. Even after the great success that were the PSP!

For sure, I can't talk for all, but personnally, it's exactly the fact that I tried to play games on my phone with the Steam Link app that made me crave for a full fledge handheld... To me, mobile gaming is sub-par or with ports of old titles that I have already played, a while back. Imo, saying that handhelds is a dead market might miss the mark... It's probably that nobody found the right combination... Selling a handheld with basic hardware specs at 1000$ just doesn't make sense... Imo, in the handheld market, Nintendo never had any valuable competition (even the PS Vita, from reviews I read, back then). I still believe that Valve is in a good position if they put the marketing and support right.

Just in my close circle of friends, I discussed about the SteamPal to Windows gamers, and it raised a lot of interest, even when I told them it would probably be Linux based (with Proton). It wasn't the same kind of reception with the Steam Machines at all, at that time (even I couldn't find a reason to buy one). It feels like many PC players are ready to get onboard, but are waiting for the right offering (performance/price). But like I said in my other post, gaming hardware is a competitive market. Can't say that you're point of view is wrong either, but I believe that the handheld market is not as dead as many would like it to be (Nintendo probably likes that point of view) and there may be an opportunity for Valve to fill the gap.

Time wil tell... But this time, I'm getting ready to be in the starting blocks, if Valve hit the "sweet spot".


Last edited by Mohandevir on 14 June 2021 at 3:47 pm UTC
CatKiller 14 Jun
Quoting: MohandevirTime wil tell... But this time, I'm getting ready to be in the starting blocks, if Valve hit the "sweet spot".

So this is the sort of target for a "handheld gaming PC." I think that something from Valve could solve a lot of its shortcomings.

I'm sure this device's 2560x1600 display is lovely, but it isn't able to hit that as a render target, pretty much ever. Dropping that to 1080p or 1920×1200 in the same sort of size will help it run at native res more of the time. Gamescope should be able to do a better job of upscaling than a third party using Windows when the device can't render at native res, too, as well as having the ability to run at 30 fps capped, say, without needing to change the game itself.

Xe is better than older AMD integrated graphics, but RDNA 2 is rumoured to be better still. We haven't had a shootout at the very low TDPs yet, though.

LP-DDR5 should have much better bandwidth at lower power draw than the DDR4 used in that device. I suspect that it will still need 16 GB, though, even at 1080p - less seems like too much corner cutting, which would hamper its longevity.

I think that Valve, as a long-term partner of AMD and (hopefully) getting economies of scale, would be able to get a much better price for the components than a crowdfunded company getting them retail from Intel. Valve also don't need to necessarily make a profit on the hardware. They won't want to make a loss, but they aren't relying on profits from the hardware to stay in business. That means that the price to customers of a Valve device should be quite a lot lower.

As I understand it, Windows is free if the screen is small, so the licence price isn't an issue for a handheld. They won't want to use Windows, anyway, though. It caused limitations for that other device. Valve can control the entire running environment of the games as well as the drivers and user interface, which a third party relying on Windows simply can't.
Mohandevir 7 years 14 Jun
Quoting: CatKiller
Quoting: MohandevirTime wil tell... But this time, I'm getting ready to be in the starting blocks, if Valve hit the "sweet spot".

So this is the sort of target for a "handheld gaming PC." I think that something from Valve could solve a lot of its shortcomings.

I'm sure this device's 2560x1600 display is lovely, but it isn't able to hit that as a render target, pretty much ever. Dropping that to 1080p or 1920×1200 in the same sort of size will help it run at native res more of the time. Gamescope should be able to do a better job of upscaling than a third party using Windows when the device can't render at native res, too, as well as having the ability to run at 30 fps capped, say, without needing to change the game itself.

Xe is better than older AMD integrated graphics, but RDNA 2 is rumoured to be better still. We haven't had a shootout at the very low TDPs yet, though.

LP-DDR5 should have much better bandwidth at lower power draw than the DDR4 used in that device. I suspect that it will still need 16 GB, though, even at 1080p - less seems like too much corner cutting, which would hamper its longevity.

I think that Valve, as a long-term partner of AMD and (hopefully) getting economies of scale, would be able to get a much better price for the components than a crowdfunded company getting them retail from Intel. Valve also don't need to necessarily make a profit on the hardware. They won't want to make a loss, but they aren't relying on profits from the hardware to stay in business. That means that the price to customers of a Valve device should be quite a lot lower.

As I understand it, Windows is free if the screen is small, so the licence price isn't an issue for a handheld. They won't want to use Windows, anyway, though. It caused limitations for that other device. Valve can control the entire running environment of the games as well as the drivers and user interface, which a third party relying on Windows simply can't.

Seriously, at 8", I wouldn't be surprised if 720p was enough (I would try it, at least)... It would have the benefit of allowing higher framerates... Just a theory, and I might change my mind if I ever come to own one, but on my 5.6" phone, there is near to no visual difference between 720p and 1080p, while shooting/jumping/fighting, but it's a lot smoother in 720p (Steam Link).


Last edited by Mohandevir on 14 June 2021 at 4:35 pm UTC
slaapliedje 14 Jun
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Quoting: Mohandevir
Quoting: CatKiller
Quoting: MohandevirTime wil tell... But this time, I'm getting ready to be in the starting blocks, if Valve hit the "sweet spot".

So this is the sort of target for a "handheld gaming PC." I think that something from Valve could solve a lot of its shortcomings.

I'm sure this device's 2560x1600 display is lovely, but it isn't able to hit that as a render target, pretty much ever. Dropping that to 1080p or 1920×1200 in the same sort of size will help it run at native res more of the time. Gamescope should be able to do a better job of upscaling than a third party using Windows when the device can't render at native res, too, as well as having the ability to run at 30 fps capped, say, without needing to change the game itself.

Xe is better than older AMD integrated graphics, but RDNA 2 is rumoured to be better still. We haven't had a shootout at the very low TDPs yet, though.

LP-DDR5 should have much better bandwidth at lower power draw than the DDR4 used in that device. I suspect that it will still need 16 GB, though, even at 1080p - less seems like too much corner cutting, which would hamper its longevity.

I think that Valve, as a long-term partner of AMD and (hopefully) getting economies of scale, would be able to get a much better price for the components than a crowdfunded company getting them retail from Intel. Valve also don't need to necessarily make a profit on the hardware. They won't want to make a loss, but they aren't relying on profits from the hardware to stay in business. That means that the price to customers of a Valve device should be quite a lot lower.

As I understand it, Windows is free if the screen is small, so the licence price isn't an issue for a handheld. They won't want to use Windows, anyway, though. It caused limitations for that other device. Valve can control the entire running environment of the games as well as the drivers and user interface, which a third party relying on Windows simply can't.

Seriously, at 8", I wouldn't be surprised if 720p was enough (I would try it, at least)... It would have the benefit of allowing higher framerates... Just a theory, and I might change my mind if I ever come to own one, but on my 5.6" phone, there is near to no visual difference between 720p and 1080p, while shooting/jumping/fighting, but it's a lot smoother in 720p (Steam Link).

Pretty sure the Switch is 720p unless Docked, then it upscales to 1080p (and not even on all games).
Hori 15 Jun
Quoting: Beamboom
QuoteValve are entering a market that's still relatively in its infancy.

I was quite surprised to see this rather odd claim. Infancy?? I would rather say the direct opposite: That this is a market that's long past the adult years of its life span. Hand held consoles USED to be big. PSP, anyone?

Then came PS Vita and demonstrated for the whole world that this market had dramatically changed - and it has not returned to former glory ever since. So, infancy!? It's rather a market that long ago entered it's senior citizen stage of the life cycle.

I also strongly believe that if they are to succeed they can't just run regular PC games, they will need games that utilise the format properly. This has been the case for ALL gaming device, from consoles to PCs to VR to mobile to arcade machines: They need games built for THAT platform.
They never entered the mainstream though, and it was long ago. The only handheld that the masses really know about is the Switch, everything else is too old for people to remember or know about, and too underpowered.

It's (not quite but close-ish) like VR. It existed for a very long time but it's still very much in its infancy.

e.g. the only reason I know about handheld PS consoles is because when I was little a guy in my school had one (the rich f***) .... one guy, in an entire school - a big school
They might have been popular in certain specific areas... but it doesn't really matter. Switch at least has global recognition. It's known by the masses and is very common to know someone that has one. But even it is not mainstream IMO. It's nowhere near close to actual gaming equipment like traditional consoles or PCs.

And even hardware-wise I don't think it's matured yet and there's much to improve on. Hopefully the Valve one will be at least acceptable. Though the root of the problem in this regard is the battery, which is not something solvable by just Valve/Nintendo/whatever... it's a fundamental problem that limits the potential of every single mobile device and we still haven't figured out how to solve it.


Last edited by Hori on 15 June 2021 at 7:27 am UTC
NoSt 15 Jun
Quoting: 1xok
Quoting: NoStI think Valve will need to whitelist a lot more games for Proton before releasing the device.
You can't expect the users of a portable console to be tinkering with the Proton version or command options.
I hope they are already working on it. Otherwise it could become a source of many negative reviews.

Most games have to be ported for it in the same way as for other consoles, I think. But I also think that the developments of the last five years have made that much easier. Much easier than porting a game like The Witcher 3 to the Switch, for example.

I think the whole purpose of Steam Proton was not to force the developers to port their games to a specific platform (Linux in this case). It's supposed to be a "magic" tool that just makes everything work with a couple of clicks.
Otherwise Steam Pal would lose one of its strongest potential selling points, which is having access to your (almost) entire Steam library.
I believe that's the purpose of the whitelist system. Steam already knows which version of Steam Proton you need to run a specific game and automatically selects it when installing the game.
The problem is that the whitelist is currently very short (less than 100 titles, I think). That's why it needs to be expanded.
Hori 15 Jun
Quoting: 1xok
Quoting: NoStI think Valve will need to whitelist a lot more games for Proton before releasing the device.
You can't expect the users of a portable console to be tinkering with the Proton version or command options.
I hope they are already working on it. Otherwise it could become a source of many negative reviews.

Most games have to be ported for it in the same way as for other consoles, I think. But I also think that the developments of the last five years have made that much easier. Much easier than porting a game like The Witcher 3 to the Switch, for example.

I think what they mean by porting is for it to have good controller support and be completely usable without any mouse/keyboard whatsoever, and to work well on small screens.

So it's not really a "port", since it's not specific to any platform.
- a lot of games have controller support
- most modern games support scaling

Obviously you wouldn't see your strategy games there since they don't (IMO: can't) work with a controller, but everything else that can be played with one should ideally work, unless it's an old game or the devs are not nice and the game still doesn't support scaling - which means that even on PC it won't work well if you use a screen larger than 1080p.
I mean sure you CAN play 1080p games on a 1440p monitor, it's not ideal but it's doable, if you have good vision and don't mind ruining it. However, on smaller screens that same amount difference in scale would be just too big and it would suck.


Last edited by Hori on 15 June 2021 at 7:38 am UTC
Eike 15 Jun
Quoting: Horie.g. the only reason I know about handheld PS consoles is because when I was little a guy in my school had one (the rich f***) .... one guy, in an entire school - a big school
They might have been popular in certain specific areas... but it doesn't really matter.


Even my former girlfriend, who was not into games at all, knew both Playstation Portable and Nintendo DS.

Nintendo DS sold 154 million, more than any console except PS2:
https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/160549/umfrage/anzahl-der-weltweit-verkauften-spielkonsolen-nach-konsolentypen/
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