Steam’s movie streaming service should reach for luxury

There’s a growing collection of movies to rent and buy on Steam. You can watch every Scream and Scary Movie. You can watch Apocalypse Now: Redux. You can watch Pi, which I recommend, because it’s about math trying to kill a guy. I decided to watch Mad Max: Fury Road, which is available as a $20 purchase.

The experience was just fine. The player is simple, frilless. It didn’t buffer for too long, and the video and 5.1 surround sound quality were both acceptable. The available formats depend on the movie, but Fury Road comes with both a subtitled version and theatrical version, both of which are available in the standard HD 1.78:1 (16x9) aspect ratio and the original 2.40:1 ratio. I have an ultrawide monitor, so I watched Fury Road in 2.40:1. Disappointingly, it’s not a high resolution version with the original aspect ratio, but an 800p version meant to appear on 16x9 displays with black bars. I got to watch it without the bars on my ultrawide, but it was still at the lowered resolution it would be on a Blu-ray. 

I could’ve gotten the same experience from Amazon Instant Video for the same price, so Steam’s movie section feels redundant right now. In the future, maybe Valve hopes to build an all inclusive media store, where games, movies, TV shows, software, music, and virtual reality Taylor Swift concerts live together in sweet harmony. I’m OK with that, but I’ll ignore it unless it offers something better than I have now. My TV has built-in Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu apps, so why would I stick a PC under it to watch a movie?

Maybe Valve hopes to build an all inclusive media store, where games, movies, TV shows, software, music, and virtual reality Taylor Swift concerts live together in sweet harmony.

To be fair, Steam is still getting off the ground as a movie provider—Valve has toyed with the idea for a while, but its library has only just started to really expand. I’m not trying to tear down its current efforts so much as imagine a better future for it, where I do want to watch films on Steam. One way for that to happen is with a greater focus on quality, which other movie streaming services aren’t all that bothered with. Most are fine with how Netflix streams look on a decent 1080p TV. I am too, for the most part, but if I'm in the gaming mindset, I'm thinking about quality. I play a lot of PC games, so I have a fancier monitor than most, and I have some pretty decent speakers and headphones, and I’ve invested in a comfortable chair, so it follows that I want media to match.

These are the highest settings for the 16x9 version.

These are the highest settings for the 16x9 version.

I don’t expect Warner Bros to suddenly start releasing films in new formats just because Valve says so, but in this hypothetical future, let’s say Valve did acquire more movies, higher resolutions, more aspect ratios, and better sound. Ideally, we’d also get a download instead of a stream, and the extra features you’d find on a Blu-ray, maybe with the soundtrack thrown in for good measure—the kind of things we’d expect from a special edition game on Steam. Even if it were a bit more expensive, I’d definitely consider buying a deluxe version of Fury Road on Steam rather than owning the regular 1080p version on Amazon.

In the meantime, Steam’s collection of Lionsgate, Miramax, and Warner Bros. films is just sort of there. It’s an experiment I doubt many use (though Fury Road does have 86 reviews) and I can’t see a great reason to. To compete with Amazon by offering the same service, Valve would have to vastly expand its library and livingroom Steam boxes would have to become as ubiquitous as smart TVs and Amazon Fires—either that or everyone buys Steam Links to stream to their TVs, but I don’t foresee a rush of orders because Valve scored Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. If Steam were to Amazon and Netflix what Vimeo is to YouTube, though, I'd be plenty interested.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.