The Steam Link is a device that can be used to stream games from your main PC to other rooms in your house, such as your living room. Unfortunately, the setup process for the device can be a little complicated, and there are some other things you’ll need to enjoy smooth performance and setup. We’ve written this article to clear up any such confusion and to allow you to make the most of your Steam Link, should you buy one or should you have one.
What will I need?
This little box is designed as a cheap way to enable Steam’s In-Home Streaming to another room in the house, typically to the living room TV. The Steam Link provides three USB connections (for gamepads/keyboard/mouse), an HDMI connection (for connection to the TV), and an ethernet port for streaming. While the box does offer onboard Wi-Fi, I highly recommend against using it if you want the best possible performance.
The Steam Link, alongside Steam Big Picture Mode, the Steam Controller and Steam In-Home Streaming, is a part of Valve’s initiative to push PC gaming into the living room. Here’s what you’ll need for the best experience.
- A modern PC capable of running your games at good performance levels. From what I can tell, the In-Home Streaming with the Steam Link doesn’t seem to hurt performance outside of some loading times, but then that could be because my Nvidia card has dedicated CUDA cores to offset a lot of that stress. If you can’t comfortably play the games on your own desktop, you likely won’t get good results on the Link.
- The Steam Link itself.
- Ethernet cables for both your desktop PC and your Steam Link. Wi-Fi is strongly discouraged. You’ll want to make sure both devices are hard-wired into the same router/modem as well.
- A router. The more powerful, the better.
- Gamepad(s). Any modern gamepad will be supported, but the Steam Controller will provide you the best results for using the device.
How do I start setting it up?
Once you’ve done the necessary wiring and plugged in o the device, it should power on automatically. You’ll see a queue to plug in either a KB/M setup or one of your gamepads. Once you do this, the Steam Link will go through a brief setup process (Don’t worry about these settings for now; you can change them all later.) and search for streaming-ready PCs on the network. Select yours be launched into Big Picture Mode which is running on your PC!
There may be a few hitches in this process. If you don’t have a Steam Controller, you’ll need to use a mouse or a wired controller to get through the setup process. Wireless controllers can sync through the Steam Link as well, but I’ve found that functionality to be finnicky at best. An easy workaround is simply to use the wireless controller with the receiver directly plugged into your PC where it’s already set up.
You can go through the onboard Steam Link menu for syncing wireless controllers, but attempting to do so with my wireless Xbox One pad was an exercise in failure for me personally.
Optimizing streaming settings for your machine
Now, let’s dive into the meat of things: optimizing your streaming settings for your hardware. Within Big Picture, head to “Settings.”
Under Features select “In-Home Streaming.”
In Advanced Host Options, enable “Hardware encoding” on Nvidia GPU and Prefer NVFBC capture method. (AMD users: change to enable hardware encoding on AMD GPU. If you’re using an AMD processor as well, disable the Intel iGPU option, too.) Encoding threads should stay at Automatic, and while some routers will give you better results with “Prioritize network traffic”, I found it didn’t make a difference for me, so I disabled it. Be sure to test it on your own machine to see if it helps.
For Client Options, set “Beautiful.” Balanced and lower offered no noticeable improvements for me on Nvidia hardware. In Advanced Client Options, set bandwidth to Unlimited (You’re also welcome to test Auto, but this didn’t make a difference on my end, and other Nvidia users recommend using Unlimited.), and match the rest of your settings to mine.
However, your display resolution is going to change depending on what works for your machine and your network. For me, I needed to limit resolution to 720p to maintain 60fps: I’d recommend starting at a 720p limit as a baseline, then moving up to 1080p or higher if you don’t notice any performance drops.
Additional notes and my experiences
The Steam Link is probably the best $20 I’ve ever spent. Being able to take my gaming experience from my desk to the living room while still enjoying my full library of PC titles and performance has been a joy thus far. Once I’ve upgraded my network and PC hardware to something a bit beefier, I’ll be able to play all my games at full 1080p 60fps from the comfort of my couch, and convenience like that is always worth the money.
Additionally, investing in a Steam Link has also allowed me and my roommate to enjoy local multiplayer games on the couch together, running from my PC. Even though we’re both looking forward to the Nintendo Switch and have a few other consoles laying around, the Steam Link is our mutual favorite for the higher level of performance and visual fidelity it offers. Not to mention the fact we’ve used Steam Family Sharing to share our libraries with one another, so the literal hundreds of titles we both have on Steam are available to us both on the big screen.
Overall, I highly recommend the product. It’s a little bit of a pain to set up and configure, at least initially, but once you’ve gotten past that, you have an amazing gaming experience on your hands. If you’re already a PC gamer, I consider the Steam Link a must-buy if you still enjoy gaming on the couch with friends.