While the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have stolen the lion's share of hype surrounding next-gen gaming consoles recently, Valve has continued working away on its own entry into the console market. Last week, the company shipped Steam Machine prototypes to 300 beta testers and made the first release of the open-source operating system that will power it, SteamOS, available for download.

The Linux-based SteamOS has been developed with the aim of establishing PC-gaming as a permanent fixture in the living room. While the Steam client itself is proprietary, the platform is open-source, leaving users free to upgrade and modify the software with Valve hoping feedback will result in a more polished version.

Before you rush off to download the 960 MB installer, Valve says that with SteamOS in beta mode, those without experience with Linux may be better off waiting until the software is further refined. "As an early release, much is changing, so expect rough edges. In its current state, SteamOS is definitely not a finished product ready for a non-technical user," the company says.

Furthermore, the company provided specific hardware requirements necessary to run SteamOS: Intel or AMD-64 bit capable processor, minimum 4 GB RAM, minimum 500 GB hard disk, NVIDIA graphics card (although AMD and Intel graphics support will be added in the future), UEFI boot support and USB port for installation.

Anybody that meets these pre-requisites is free to download SteamOS, though the Steam Machine itself has been built specifically to run the platform, aiming to make it more digestible and enhance its mainstream appeal. Slated for a 2014 release, prototypes of the console were shipped to 300 beta testers around the US last week, with several documenting and broadcasting its unpacking on Youtube.

The machine came packaged in a wooden crate accompanied by the wireless Steam Controller with USB port in the top and a cable for charging, a user manual, HDMI cable, power cord, Wi-Fi antenna and a recovery USB key.

Although Valve will sell its own Steam Machine, the company also provides instructions on how individuals and OEMs can make their own, either for personal use or for sale. Just as with desktop PCs, this will mean that Steam Machines will come in all manner of shapes and sizes. Valve says that from 2014, there will be multiple SteamOS machines to choose from, made by different manufacturers.

Source: Valve