There's a lot of talk going around about Valve's "Steam Box" at CES right now. Most of it's bunk, because until Valve says, "This is our Steam Box," then it isn't really a "Steam Box." What's causing the confusion is actually Valve itself, along with a hardware specific hardwarer product from Xi3 named the Piston. The fact is, Valve is at CES showing and discussing a number of hardware concepts and prototypes. Whoa, right?
Valve PR demigod Doug Lombardi responded to a question from Polygon earlier today, pertaining to whether the Piston was actually the mythical "Steam Box":
"Valve will be at CES to meet with hardware and content developers in our booth space. We are bringing multiple custom (hardware) prototypes as well as some off-the-shelf PCs to our CES meetings."
In other words, we don't really understand how deep the rabbit hole goes. Valve is not only in talks with a number of companies, but is actually funding and helping develop prototypes like Xi3's Piston. While I personally don't feel comfortable calling anything an actual "Steam Box" until it's a single product released directly from Valve, with Valve branding and licensing. Still, these early concepts and prototypes deserve recognition for likely inspiring what will eventually become the "Steam Box".
As for the Xi3 Piston, it's personal computer that fits in your hand that comes in various versions, an entry level $399.99 version and a gaming "performance level" version at $999.99. No word on what OS it will run on, though a comparable product from Xi3, the $4.99 X5A runs on Linux. Of course, the thing has a DisplayPort/HDMI port and an assortment of other knobs and buttons.
Look forward to more news into Valve's hardware shenanigans as we hear about it, or at least after a bit of time to figure out what's actually going on so we don't sensationalize the topic.
One final note, when Destructoid's Dale North referred to the Piston as a "Steam Box" the booth attendent said, "You called it that. Not me."