Valve released their "Big Picture" Steam interface from beta several weeks ago and I am very impressed.
Frankly, it puts to shame the dashboards on both the xbox360 and PS3 that have had years of development.
I started playing PC games when my dad bought our first Mac with a CD-ROM and I checked out Myst from the library. Despite using the original Xbox for a few years, I've always preferred the versatility of a PC. That being said I now spend hours a day in front of computer screen at work and plopping down on the couch in front of my 42" HDTV sounds a lot more relaxing than taking on the zombie horde with my mouse and keyboard.
Although Gabe Newell & Valve are now in the process of developing their own Steam Box console, I didn't want to wait that long. So with a little Googling and the help of the websites listed at the bottom, I came up with a way to run Steam Big Picture as a shell under its own user account.
This post gives instructions on how to set up a second user account on you Windows 7 PC that will boot straight to Steam Big Picture with no extra clicks. It will also let you use XBMC to manage your media library.
The method outlined below works by replacing the explorer.exe shell (the normal windows desktop) with Steam Big Picture (So you will run Steam Big Picture as a shell).
There are easier ways to accomplish this, but this method has the advantage of reducing system resource drain of the explorer.exe shell, as well as keeping the Windows Taskbar from popping up when its not wanted.
To set this up you will need:
A Windows 7 PC that you can plug into your TV.
An Xbox360 controller and USB dongle.
This will also involve modifying and creating Windows registry keys.
Part 1: Create a new Windows user.
1. Go to Control Panel, and under 'User Accounts and Family Safety' click on 'Add or remove user account.'
2. Select 'Create a new user account' and name it MediaCenter, or whatever you want it to be called. I recommend leaving it as a standard user, not an admin. See the first article cited below for more information on admin and standard users.
Part 2: Setting up Steam.
1. Log out of your current account and log into the new one you just created.
2. Install Steam and create an account if you haven't already.
3. On the main Steam window click on the 'Steam' menu and select settings.
4. Go to the 'Interface' tab and uncheck 'Run Steam when my computer starts.
5. Check 'Start Steam in Big Picture Mode.'
6. Click OK.
Part 3. Making Registry Edits so that Steam runs as your shell.
1. Click on the Start Menu and type regedit. Hit enter.
2. Navigate to [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon]
3. Right click in the folder pane to the right and select 'New > String Value'
4. Name it 'Shell.'
5. Right click on 'Shell' and select 'Modify.'
6. Type in the path to Steam.exe. (This will be C:\\Program Files (x86)\\Steam\\Steam.exe” unless you moved it.) This will make Steam Big Picture Mode run instead of you normal Windows Desktop when you log into that user account next.
Part 4: Setting up your Xbox360 controller
1. Plug the usb dongle that came with your Xbox360 controller for Windows.
2. Install all the drivers from the CD or Microsoft's website.
3. Set up the new user to recognize your Xbox360 controller automatically. To do this create another registry string, this time in [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run]. Name this one XboxStat and paste "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Xbox 360 Accessories\XboxStat.exe" silentrun into the value.
Part 5 (optional). Installing XBMC.
1. Download and install XBMC 12.0 'Frodo' from xbmc.org. Do not download 11.0 'Eden', as it does not natively support an Xbox360 Controller.
2. Go back to Steam and under the 'Games' Menu select 'Add a Non-Steam Game to My Library'.
3. Find XBMC and add it.
Part 6. Finishing Up & Troubleshooting
Now restart your computer and click on the new media center user. If you want to eliminate this step you can set that user to auto log on, but I leave it this way since I use my computer for other stuff besides gaming.
Steam big picture should now fill your monitor or TV screen and be controllable by your xbox controller.
If you get only a black screen with a cursor instead, or your gamepad doesn't work, click control+alt+delete. and select 'Start Task Manager.' Go to File>New Task (Run) and type explorer.exe This should bring back your regular desktop until you log in again. Go back and check that you made all the registry edits exactly right.
Thanks to the following websites for helping me figure this out: