The home theater PC (HTPC) has wallowed in mediocrity for years, but Steiger Dyanmics is a company that has come along to challenge the norm and offer gamers a new and exiting HTPC gaming experience. We had a conversation with Steiger Dynamics CTO Martin Gossner to discuss what his company’s approach to this market is for gamers and also for tips on what makes for a great high-end home theater PC.
Martin Gossner: My name is Martin Gossner and I am the CTO at STEIGER DYNAMICS. Martin Hehensteiger, our CEO, and I founded the company in 2011 with the idea of creating the ultimate living room computer. We both grew up with games like Doom and Quake and played competitive Counter-Strike for years. We also developed a strong passion for home entertainment early on. Back then, we routed long cables through the house to connect our desktop PCs to our home theater setups so we could use them as music and video players for the living room. But at some point we wanted to use our large TVs and superior audio systems also for gaming. It was in late 2010, when we found ourselves sitting in Martin’s newly installed home theater and realized that there was no perfect solution to our needs for living room gaming and entertainment. There were just too many devices, too many cables, too many remotes and most importantly too many different graphical user interfaces. This was the moment when the idea for STEIGER DYNAMICS was born and when we started to conceptualize the LEET Gaming Home Theater PC.
Gaming Illustrated: The concept of an HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer) has always been a dumbed-down version of your main PC. You’ve challenged that concept with your line of HTPCs. How do you plan on changing the consumer dynamic to make them expect more from an HTPC and the higher price tag that goes along with it?
Martin Gossner: Home Theater PCs are typically characterized by features like silent operation, a form factor tailored to living room furniture, and a sleek looking chassis that allows a seamless integration into a home theater setup. Meeting these criteria traditionally came with a compromise in processing performance, gaming capability, and storage capacity. Our systems break with that tradition and are the first and only on the market to incorporate high-performance state-of-the-art hardware, while meeting all of the traditional HTPC characteristics. The key to this is our sophisticated chassis design, the sole use of liquid cooling solutions, and the consistent implementation of highly efficient components. Another crucial enabler is the increasing spread of TVs with a screen size of 55 inches and above, allowing for the full-fledged use of Windows from the couch. Connected to such a TV, the LEET completely replaces your desktop PC and at the same time integrates home server, TV, Blu-ray playback, and gaming functionalities. This lets you get rid of multiple devices in your household, making the LEET extremely efficient and the center of your digital life. Especially the gaming experience is elevated to a completely new level. The bigger and better picture and the precise surround sound make it incredibly real. And playing from the sofa with your friends is much more social and comfortable than using a desktop setup. We strongly believe that high-end PC Gaming is conquering the living room – and the LEET is paving the way.
Gaming Illustrated: You’ve partnered with some well-known manufacturers that make up the components for your systems, such as EVGA. Could you talk about how you identified these partners and what these relationships mean to STEIGER DYNAMICS … and ultimately your customers?
Martin Gossner: We are perfectionists and pursue an absolute no-compromise approach in all respects. According to our motto ‘nothing but the best‘, we benchmarked products from today’s leading hardware manufacturers in terms of performance, quality, and functionality for each component category. We also considered their proximity and readiness to provide custom solutions for our HTPC concept. Today, we can proudly say, that we have exclusively teamed up with the best-in-category brands. And with most of our partners right around the corner, we can develop innovative custom solutions and bring things together in a very unique way.
Gaming Illustrated: Any PC will only “be as good” graphically as the display it is connected to, and 99% of the televisions in home theaters only support 1080p resolutions, while some monitors support much higher resolutions. That said, all the console systems (PS3, Xbox 360) only support 1080p but with the recent rise of 4K televisions into the marketplace, is there an opportunity for HTPCs where the consoles (even the next gen ones) might miss?
Martin Gossner: It is correct, that latest gen consoles can handle Full HD 1080p resolutions, but resolution is just one of several determining factors of graphics quality. Already at 1080p consoles don’t even get close to a Gaming PC in terms of richness of details and frame rate performance. When it comes to 4K/UltraHD, none of the current consoles can handle these kinds of resolutions at all, whereas the LEET is 4K/UltraHD playback and gaming ready now. Furthermore, consoles are outdated on the day they are announced, they have a shelf life of 5+ years until the next generation arrives, and they are not really future proof. In contrast, our systems comply with standard PC specifications which allows to upgrade critical components like graphics cards at any time.
Gaming Illustrated: The release of PS3 and Xbox 360 years ago was touted as the death of PC gaming. What’s your stand on consoles vs. PC?
Martin Gossner: By now, everyone knows that the people who predicted the end of PC gaming were wrong. However, today the same people claim that PC and console gamers are two completely different types of gamers, and they are to be proven wrong again. We believe that PC and console gamers have similar demands for their gaming systems and that they only differ in the compromise they are willing to take. Today’s desktop gaming PCs offer maximum gaming performance and very precise mouse and keyboard controls while sacrificing convenience and entertainment experience. Consoles on the other hand are optimized for the living room and offer more single-screen multiplayer options while sacrificing performance and control. That being said, our HTPCs bring together the best of both worlds and eliminate any kind of compromise gamers had to accept. The LEET delivers the superior graphics quality of a high-end gaming PC to the big screen and offers the convenience and entertainment experience of a gaming console. In addition, latest games can be experienced best with a PC. Battlefield 3 is a great example with the full 32 vs. 32 multiplayer mode only available on the PC version. And with Steam hitting the market with its Big Picture mode, we expect a steep increase of single- and split-screen multiplayer PC games soon.
Gaming Illustrated: A lot of gamers are concerned about games they traditionally play with keyboard and mouse, something like World of Warcraft or Battlefield 3, on an HTPC. How does STEIGER DYNAMICS approach this situation? On the other hand, we’re seeing more and more PC games released that support the use of traditional console gamepads, specifically the Xbox 360 controller. Will this convert console gamers to the PC?
Martin Gossner: Over the last year, we have tested all relevant wireless input devices on the market today to ensure that the devices we offer deliver an absolutely flawless and lag free gaming experience in a long distance living room environment. For first person shooters and MMO games, our and most PC gamers’ “weapons of choice” are and will remain to be mouse and keyboard. You simply have much better aiming and control. Actually, a wireless keyboard and mouse used with a hard mouse pad works extremely well from the couch, both ergonomically and technically.
In regards to controllers, we have played a couple of current PC games like Crysis 2 and Metro 2033 with the Xbox 360 controller, and it works very well. The broader support will certainly help to convert console fans to the PC. And for multiplayer games like FIFA Soccer and split screen jump ‘n run games, gamepads are essential anyways.
Gaming Illustrated: We imagine that some of the folks at your organization are gamers themselves. What games are popular with the team at after-hour LAN parties in the office?
Martin Gossner: All of us at STEIGER DYNAMICS are gamers by heart and we spend plenty of our free time gaming. Battlefield 3 is still hot, but at the moment we mainly hit off the evening with the Hawken Beta and always fight over who gets to use the living room test setup. We also really like to play FIFA Soccer 13 with four Xbox controllers on our large LED TV. With 7.1 surround sound, you feel like you are in the stadium and that’s tons of fun.
Gaming Illustrated: What separates STEIGER DYNAMICS from other HTPC manufacturers and what should gamers specifically know about your company?
Martin Gossner: First of all, we do what we do because we love it and live it. Our machines are built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, and we believe this can be seen in every single detail of our products. In fact, we will never deliver a system which we wouldn’t put into our own living rooms. Furthermore, due to our strong industry ties and engineering competency we constantly optimize our hardware and chassis concept. We claim that the LEET is and will always be the very best HTPC in the market. To compliment this level of quality, every system comes with a 3 year warranty and lifetime customer care.
Gaming Illustrated: What are some great home theater tips you can give our gamers that represent some common mistakes that degrade the overall experience of watching movies or playing games in the living room / man cave?
First, the picture: For lag free gaming in the living room it is essential to decrease the TV’s input lag to its minimum. Therefore, make sure to deactivate picture processing of your TV by enabling Game Mode in your TV settings. If your TV is connected to an AVR, it’s important to also deactivate picture processing of the AVR by using HDMI pass through mode. Moreover, to get really clean and crisp text on a TV, you should play around with the sharpness setting of your TV. Optimal settings for each TV are usually broadly discussed online.
Second, the sound: proper calibration of the surround sound system makes a huge difference. It lets you locate sounds more precisely, giving you competitive advantage especially in multiplayer games. When it comes to connections, S/PDIF and audio jacks are pretty much outdated and support only up to a 5.1 setup. For lossless Dolby TrueHD or dts-HD, the system should bitstream via HDMI to your AVR.
Third, the control: Whereas most wireless mice and keyboards work well with short distance desktop setups, many of them struggle with random hangs or lags in long distance living room environments. After thorough testing, only Logitech peripherals worked completely flawlessly, especially the G700 Wireless Gaming Mouse, the K800 Illuminated Wireless Keyboard and the line of Harmony Remote Controls. For gamepads we absolutely recommend the Microsoft Xbox 360 controllers for Windows.
Gaming Illustrated: It looks like your systems ship with Windows 8 which has mixed results in penetrating the gamer market. What’s your take on Windows 8?
Martin Gossner: We have been using Windows 8 since the release of its developer version over a year ago and don’t really understand all the flaming about it. It is the most stable and snappy Windows ever and delivers the same if not better gaming performance as Windows 7. It also comes with some great new features like Storage Spaces, a very handy software-RAID utility. The new UI makes a lot of things easier especially on an HTPC, and everyone who doesn’t like it can either completely deactivate it or get to his familiar desktop with one click. The missing Start Button takes some getting used to, but overall we think that Windows 8 rocks.
Gaming Illustrated: Final question – if there’s one message you’d like the gaming community to hear from STEIGER DYNAMICS, what would it be?
Martin Gossner: If you ever have the opportunity to try high-performance PC gaming on the big screen, give it a shot – you’ll love it and you won’t ever want to go back to your “tiny” 24 inch monitor.
We’d like to thank Martin Gossner and the Steiger Dynamics team to get their thoughts on Home Theater PC gaming. To learn more about them, visit Steiger Dynamics.