Valve is testing a new version of its Steam gaming platform for TVs, just a couple of months before the Steam Controller goes on sale. You can check it out for yourself by opting into the beta channel in Steam’s preferences, but here’s the main change in the tweaked Big Picture mode: a much-improved way to navigate your sprawling library of games that you will probably never get around to playing.
The new Library section, and much of the rest of the interface, seems to take influence from living room media center software such as Plex by using a left-aligned column to sort everything into simple categories. The first thing you see when choosing Library from the largely unchanged Start screen is a page called “Resume and Explore,” which gives you a quick way to access games you’ve recently been playing, as well as games in your library that your friends are also into — though the bar seems to be pretty low, as many titles that only one or two friends own popped up for me.
Elsewhere, there are reformed search modes for both your library and the store, which pop up potential results as you type, sort of like predictive text for PC games. Individual game pages have also undergone a reshuffle, with a similar left column to the Library view letting you access DLC and other options. Overall, browsing your library is much smoother and logical than the previous version's unadulterated stream of content, and it might just help you find something new.
The new interface is still a little buggy — that’s what the beta channel’s for, after all. I saw UI elements rendered halfway off the screen in the Windows version, and while the Mac client seemed more visually stable sometimes it’d load as a black screen or crash altogether. The UI is also clearly targeting 16:9 TVs above all else, as it shows black bars on my 1920 x 1200 monitors. But it’s clear Valve is thinking hard about how to make PC gaming easier from the couch, and hopefully the issues will be ironed out in time for the Steam Controller’s launch. A Steam Machine may not be a wise purchase for now, but more and more people may find that it's not the worst idea in the world to just hook up a PC to your TV.