Once there was a world where PC gaming was at the desk, console gaming was in the living room and never the two shall meet. That's all coming to a close now, as Valve prepares to bring Steam to your HDTV thanks to the Steam Box.
If you're unfamiliar with Steam, think of it as iTunes for video games, with a buddy list and chat for joining your friend's games. It started off on Windows PCs, but now has a healthy number of titles for Mac, too.
Valve's rumored Steam Box is a bit more ethereal. It's still unclear whether Valve, the Washington-based gaming mogul behind game series like Half-Life and Portal, will be designing the hardware, or simply create the means via software and let third-parties do the assembling and hawking of physical tech.
Valve Steam Box release date, news and features
Valve's vision for your living room, cat not included
Theories now lean toward the latter as Valve has unveiled plans for the SteamOS. As the name suggests, SteamOS will be a sort of operating system for running Steam, and it will be based on Linux. This is all detailed on Valve's official SteamOS page.
Valve already took a big step into the living room with Steam's Big Picture mode, but that still required putting a computer in your entertainment center, or running a really long HDMI cable, at the very least.
Perhaps because of that, a lot of the phrasing in Valve's SteamOS reveal treats Steam and the upcoming OS interchangeably. Therefore it's unclear which features will be integrated into Steam as we now know it, and which will be part of an upcoming release.
Valve Steam Box release date, news and features
Valve would probably like to see this as a metaphor for the console's grip on your TV
Still, Valve's goals with Steam Box and SteamOS are clear. Give PC gaming the ease and accessibility that console jockeys already enjoy, and do so in a way that lets OEMs make the hardware and compete. And put Steam right at the center of it, ready to vacuum up the cash like it's the Steam summer sale all year long.

Wait, how will a Linux-based Steam Box play my Windows games?

Through streaming, at least that's how Valve describes it. There aren't a lot of specifics here, but we've seen gaming products side step OS restrictions using WiFi streaming before. The Nvidia Shield does just that, allowing you to stream a Windows game from your PC to an Android device.
Valve Steam Box release date, news and features
Team Fortress 2. On your TV. And not the outdated console version either.
We're assuming that the Steam Box and SteamOS will work similarly. On Valve's SteamOS site it says, "Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have."
Of course, having the Steam Box be dependent on the PC we assume you own is not without its faults. First off, it's tying up that machine, so no one else can use it. Second, you're still caught in the expensive upgrade cycle of PC gaming. Of course, this may not be the only Steam Box in town. Some could be capable of running a games all on its own.

So there will be Steam Boxes, plural?

Yes. Valve's open SteamOS will be available to whoever will have it, and they can create whatever sort of machine they like to run. At least Valve hasn't publicized any planned restrictions.
It won't be like the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, where you have the Sony system and the Microsoft system with their own libraries. Multiple configurations mean competition, which will hopefully drive innovation and keep things affordable.
It will also means a lot of different models all claiming to be the best Steam Box for your money, so picking one won't be as simple as deciding if you like Uncharted better than Halo.
Hopefully you'll check back with us for some Steam Box reviews when deciding on which model to go for. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

But what will be in the(se) Steam Box(es)?

It's really hard to say. Because Valve plans to be open with the SteamOS, companies can slap together any sort of compatible configuration they like and put it to market. It could be a lot like Android, where you have devices of varying sizes, internal power and price.
We expect to see two types of Steam Box. First, a high-end beefy machine capable of running games locally. The second would be a less expensive configuration that relies entirely on streaming for gaming.
Emulating Windows or running Android on either system could be a possibility, although that may not be officially sanctioned and could be the realm of hackers and modders, like playing Nintendo games on the Ouya.

Music and movies on the Steam Box

Watching football and Netflix are a part of the console experience, and not something that Valve will be leaving out of its Steam Box. On the SteamOS site it says, "We're working with many of the media services you know an love. Soon we will begin bringing them online, allowing you to access your favorite music and video with Steam and SteamOS."
Valve doesn't name any names, but we expect the usual suspects to assemble. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, basically anything you can get at right now on your Xbox 360 right now is almost guaranteed. NFL Sunday Ticket and cable apps like Xfinity seem like a remote possibility, as cable companies and traditional media conglomerates tend to move slowly and cautiously. iTunes is right out, since it never shows up on a device without an Apple logo.

The Steam Box will have family sharing and account controls

Placing a machine in the living room means everyone in the house is welcome to it. This isn't a personal device like a cell phone or even a tablet; this is something everyone can log into. Of course, the Steam Box is guaranteed to be more nuanced than grandpa's VCR.
Valve has made that clear on its site, saying, " Soon, families will have more control over what titles get seen by whom, and more features to allow everyone in the house to get the most out of their Steam libraries."
Valve Steam Box release date, news and features
It seems plans are in place for multiple users on a Steam Box. Whether or not those will all be linked to one Steam account is now the question that arises. Having it all on once account might be best, since that way everyone can share all the games the family has purchased, and mom and dad can keep little Johnny from playing GTA V by altering permissions, while still having it on tap for themselves.
Of course, moving games between multiple Steam accounts might not even be a big deal. Valve's SteamOS site details plans for a family sharing plan. Valve says, "Family Sharing allows you to take turns playing one another's games while earning your own Steam achievements and saving your individual game progress to the Steam cloud."
It's not terribly dissimilar to what Microsoft had planned for the Xbox One. Don't worry Xbox fans, that feature may actually make a comeback.

But when is the Steam Box release date, and the SteamOS release date for that matter?

That's also pretty unclear, but we're confident it will be before the end of 2014, likely sooner. Valve has said requested the public to, "Watch for announcements in the coming weeks about all the AAA titles coming natively to SteamOS in 2014."
Valve Steam Box release date, news and features
More to come, says Valve and the mystery cat
That's the closest to a release date we can give. It'll be really interesting to how and when Valve does get the Steam Box and the SteamOS out there, as the new console generation will be in full swing by then. Cue the Michael Jackson eating popcorn gif, cause we can't wait to watch.