The Steam Link, once Valve’s boldest foray into the living room, is now a humble Android and iOS app that allows you to play Steam games on your mobile phone. In this article, we walk you through every step you need to take on both of your devices to set up Steam Link and get it running with the best performance.
What You Need for Steam Link
- Gaming PC with Steam installed
- Steam Link app (Android, iOS) on your mobile phone. If you have the original Steam Link hardware, this guide should still be helpful, but you’ll have to change Client Settings from your PC.
- High-quality wireless router
- (Recommended) Ethernet cable running from your PC to your router to reduce wireless interference and overhead. Another to run to your client device, if possible, will also result in a great improvement.
- (Recommended) wireless-compatible gamepad for use with Steam Link, synced to your phone via Bluetooth or compatible cable
Once you’ve installed the Steam Link app on your device of choice, head to your PC and get started setting up your Host Machine settings.
Setting Up Steam Link on the Host Machine
First, you’ll want to open “Big Picture Mode” on Steam. You can do this quickly by right-clicking your Steam icon in your taskbar and left-clicking “Big Picture” in the resulting popup.
Once in Big Picture, click your Settings gear in the top-right corner of your screen.
Now, click the “Remote Play” button. This will bring you into the Remote Play settings for your machine.
Once in Remote Play settings, verify that you have “Enable Remote Play” checked, then head into your Advanced Host Options.
Inside Advanced Host Options, optimize all the settings that need to be taken care of on this machine. For the smoothest performance, we recommend having “software encoding threads” set from 2 to 8 and having “Hardware encoding enabled” for your particular GPU provider. If you have an Nvidia GPU, you’ll also want to check “Use NVFBC capture.”
“Change desktop resolution to match streaming client” can also improve performance, but this will ruin the layout of your desktop icons, and, if you also use Steam Remote Play Together, your local gaming experience will be noticeably worse.
Now that you’ve set up everything on your PC’s end, it’s time to pop out that phone and open your Steam Link app.
Setting Up Steam Link on the Client Device
Once you’ve opened the Steam Link app on your phone, you’ll want to click the Gear Icon on the top right of the main screen to get into Settings.
Once you’re in Settings, click the Streaming Button. You’re now in Streaming Settings. Below, screenshots and bullet points explain each setting.
- Video: Fast, Balanced, Beautiful – Fast or Balanced recommended for minimizing input latency.
- Audio: Stereo, Quadrophonic, 5.1 Surround, 7.1 Surround – Should be kept on Stereo for most devices. Change in accordance to your setup.
- Microphone: Disabled, Enabled – Can enable device microphone to stream voice input to your PC.
- Input: Enabled, Disabled – Keep enabled.
- Controller Overlay – Various button options. “Default Button” recommended.
- Launch Mode: Recent Games, Big Picture, Desktop.
- Bandwidth Limit: Automatic, Unlimited, Increments up to 75 MBit/s – As noted in the app, “Unlimited” may increase latency. “Automatic” works best but only if you run a network test.
- Framerate Limit: Automatic, 30, 60, 90, 120 – Allows you to set framerate limit. If your PC currently doesn’t run games at 60 FPS very well, setting the stream framerate limit to 30 FPS may help improve performance significantly. Medium performance impact: reduce resolution before dropping below 60 FPS, though.
- Resolution Limit: Increments from 480p to 8K, Display resolution – We recommend 480p on a 2.4 GHz network and 720p on a 5 GHz network as a baseline. Higher resolutions shouldn’t be tested until you run your network benchmark. High performance impact: lower this first.
- Performance Overlay: Show Icons, Show Details, Disabled – In most cases, you’ll want Performance Overlay to Show Icons. This is because Details can be fairly difficult to read on a small screen but having some knowledge of when your PC or network is experiencing lag is key to having a good experience.
- Hardware Decoding – Unless something is horribly wrong, this should always be enabled.
- HEVC Video – In our testing with a Moto G Power and a PC equipped with a Core i7 10700K and GTX 1070, HEVC video was best left disabled. Your results may vary, but we’re leaning on Disabled for most people.
- Allow Direct Connection.
Benchmarking Your Connection
Before getting too deep into tweaking your settings, make sure you run a benchmark of your connection.
Go back to the Settings Menu in the Steam Link app. This time, you’ll be going to Computer instead of Streaming Settings.
Your PC should show up after a brief scan. Select it and enter your PIN number.
After entering your pin, you’ll have access to the proper Computer Settings screen. Select Network Test in the bottom left of the screen to run a benchmark.
Below, we’ve inserted screenshots of two benchmarks: one with 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi and one with 5 GHz Wi-Fi. In addition to a better bandwidth score, we personally noticed a much more stable playing experience on 5 GHz Wi-Fi instead of 2.4 GHz.
Once you’ve run your network test, you should have an idea of the limitations you’re working with. If your results are closer to our 5 GHz results, we recommend 720p or 1080p streaming resolution at 60 FPS. We had shockingly good results playing latency-sensitive games like Devil May Cry 5 and Tekken 7 at 720p60 via Remote Play.
If your results are closer to our 2.4 GHz results, we recommend a 480p streaming resolution at 30 to 60 FPS, 60 preferred. Unfortunately, 2.4 GHz is not very likely to give you a good experience here, especially if your PC isn’t hardwired to your router or modem.
What resolutions and framerates have you been able to achieve on your devices? Are you one of the rare few for whom HEVC performs better? Let us know in the comments section below!
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