Given the 2021 launch of Nintendo’s OLED Switch, it may seem a little surprising that we’ve had to wait nearly two years after the original Steam Deck launch for today’s announcement of an OLED-equipped version. In interviews surrounding that announcement, though, Valve said that an OLED screen wasn’t in the cards for the original Steam Deck, given the timing involved.
Valve designer Jeremy Selan told IGN that “the display technology for the HDR display, we kicked that out before it even shipped first (Steam Deck).” Selan added to Rock Paper Rifle who works on this OLED update begins “basically immediately” after the original unit has been released.
“We knew we needed a better show, even from day one,” Selan told RPS. “It just takes years, it takes a lot of money.”
“The screen, I think (is) the biggest example of something that we would have sent in the first generation model but we could not do that because OLED screens with these characteristics in this size do not exist,” Steam Deck Product designer Greg Coomer told Eurogamer. “Back then, we couldn’t partner with the display manufacturer to exactly what we were after because they didn’t really understand the product feature, or who would buy the screen, or why it would be important. Now the picture is. changed and that we are able to do custom work.”
Coomer expressed a similar sentiment to The Washington Post, saying that Valve “just doesn’t have the hardware or access to the components that we would like to put in,” for the OLED Steam Deck last year. “There are certainly real concerns that we have around supply and access to components that are driven by existing success. Being able to develop that custom screen with popular display providers is only possible because Steam Deck is in the wild, and the feature is established. “
Selan expanded on the source timeline a bit with IGN, noting that “technology is always a moving target, and because something is available today, it often takes 12, 18, 24 months to put them into products. ” Selan also summed up OLED’s timing issues to Rock Paper Shotgun: “We would have delayed the original Steam Deck by 12 to 18 months, if we wanted to try to do this kind of technology.”
At this point, though, the Steam Deck OLED includes everything “we really wanted to have, all the things we have right now as a real first-generation Steam Deck for sure,” Valve designer Jay Shaw told IGN. “This is everything on our immediate wish list that we want you to do,” Selan added to IGN.
Years to go for 2.0
We’ve known for a while now that improvements to battery life and screen quality have always been Valve’s immediate focus for the long-term Steam Deck upgrade. Now, that the Steam Deck OLED brings those kinds of improvements, Valve is still emphasizing that a Steam Deck with more pixel pushing capability is still a few years away.
“Obviously we’d love to have more performance in the same power envelope, but that technology isn’t there yet,” Valve hardware engineer Yazan Aldehayyat told Eurogamer. “That’s what I think we’ll call Steam Deck 2.0.”
The first Steam deck launched when portable GPU technology had not yet reached the point where it could fully support the Steam library, Aldehayyat continued. For a true upgrade that can support high-end games that have been launched since the first Steam Deck, he said that “we would love for the trend of perf-per-watt to improve quickly to do that, but not yet. “
Speaking to Rock Paper Shotgun, Selan said Valve may have focused their new OLED APU model on performance, rather than battery life. Right now, though, “when you look at how those things are going to balance out, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, I think, for our customers.” Progress Selan says that Valve is actually looking for Steam Deck 2.0 — “when we feel like the processor and the GPU technology is at a level where it’s appropriate to make a new performance goal” — is still “years away away.”
Inside interview with Polygon, Valve’s UX designer Lawrence Yang said that Valve is not interested in such a sub-annual update for the Steam deck line. That said, Yang wants to commit to Valve supporting new Steam Deck models beyond the “Steam Deck 2” event and “well into the future.”