Full-screen mode has an interface designed for TVs and wireless game controllers
Steam has just released its Big Picture beta — it's a different interface for the popular game download service, designed to suit anyone using their gaming PC with a big-screen plasma or LCD TV.
The Big Picture beta re-jigs the Steam interface to suit anyone sitting at a distance from their screen — this '10-foot' GUI is already popular thanks to the Xbox 360's Dashboard.
This is the regular Steam interface, designed for a small-screen PC, when viewed on a big-screen TV. You can see the pop-out button for Big Picture mode on the top right of the TV — you'll need to have Beta access enabled in your Steam settings to access this.
This is the Big Picture interface. It's much cleaner, with much larger icons that are far easier to see from a comfortable TV-viewing distance.
The main screen of Big Picture mode has three options: Store, Library and Community. This cuts out the News tab that's available in the regular Steam interface, streamlining things significantly.
The player's user icon is shown in the top left corner along with notifications, while the other top corner shows a settings icon, the Big Picture toggle button, and a link to beta information.
The Store menu shows popular titles — this is where the Big Picture interface looks very similar to the Xbox 360 Dashboard — and has pop-up menus for genre browsing, top sellers, specials, imminent releases and just-released games.
The Library tab defaults to the games that you've played most recently — this information is stored in your Steam profile.
You can also opt to view all the games in your library, with options to sort by favourites lists and other descriptors.
Select a game in your Library, and you're shown the standard array of game information — whether it's installed, how long and how recently you've played it, what achievements you've completed, and which of your friends play it.
You can also download through the Big Picture interface, although there's little to tell you when it'll be complete or whether you're downloading several titles at once.
The Community tab shows how many friends you've got online, with their user icons. From each user's icon you can view their Steam profile, send them a message, start a voice chat and so on.
Select a friend's icon and you're able to message, voice call, check their profile or block them.
Below the Online Friends list is the Activity Feed, which shows what achievements your friends have unlocked recently.
If you select the Friends button that's in the lower right corner of most screens, you're taken to a full-screen, Google Talk-style chat interface that's similar to the Friends List in the regular Steam interface. You can easily chat with multiple friends here.
The Friends button also allows access to the Groups screen, where you're able to interact with the various groups you've joined during your Steam tenure. You can join group chats or leave groups from this screen.
Back to the Store menu, the Genres screen lets you browse title by a range of differentiators — you're able to drill down to particular game types that you enjoy.
The Store's Top Sellers list shows popularly-selling titles, with big imminent releases (like Borderlands 2) often feature prominently.
If you select a game in the Store tab, you're taken to a page showing its screenshots and promo videos, with pricing, description and other info. This is all the content that's normally available on the standard Steam interface, just better presented for TV viewing.
Game promo videos are shown in full-screen by default.
The Specials tab usually shows titles that are heavily discounted, or popular franchises that are having one-day sales or that have just dropped in price.
The Coming Soon tab shows games that will be released shortly — usually within a day or two — on the Steam Store.
Similarly, New Releases is for titles that are barely a day or two old.
You're also theoretically able to search the Steam Store using the Search box that's in the lower centre of the screen, but we weren't able to get it working.
The lower left button on most screens is for direct access to the Web browser that's built into the Big Picture mode. There are five pre-set, default favourites — every gamer's go-to list of Google, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube and Facebook.
Here's the Google home page running in the Steam Big Picture Web browser.
You can hit the More button to access less-popular commands for copying URLs to the clipboard, adding pages to the Favourites tab, and so on.
Here's the front page of Reddit as seen through the Big Picture web browser.
The Current tab of the Web section shows you what you've got currently running through the Big Picture browser.
The Big Picture mode's Settings menu (top right, the little cog icon) gives you full-screen access to the usual swathe of Steam data — account details and preferences, friends info and so on.
Here you can see that we've selected the Steam Beta Update that enables Big Picture mode.
Try and select the Languages & Text Entry option, though, and you're unable to — it'll apparently be ready soon.
You can set Big Picture to run in 720p mode, best for older non-Full HD big-screen plasma and LCD TVs, and a 1080p mode for Full HD panels. Our slideshow was done in the 1080p mode.
Finally, you can click on the 'Beta' stamp on the Big Picture main menu to be taken to a Web page with info about the beta, including guides on how to set your gaming PC and TV up, and a link to support info.
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