The Steam Link was a fantastic piece of kit, streaming all the joys of your gaming PC to a screen of your choice. As of last year, Valve no longer makes Steam Link hardware, focusing instead on the Steam Link app, which is available across a large number of devices.
Beyond streaming your entire Steam library, the Steam Link can also be used as a general in-home streaming device to stream Netflix, do some Web browsing, or play non-Steam games from within Steam Link’s “Big Picture” interface.
You can even play emulated old-school games directly through your Steam Link. The following tutorial will show you how.
Minimize Steam Link to Desktop
Even though Valve hasn’t made much fuss about how easy it is to exit Steam Big Picture to your Windows desktop (presumably because they want to keep you gaming and spending in their little ecosystem), it’s actually very simple – whether you’re on your phone, TV or another device.
Once you’ve connected Steam Link with your PC and are in Big Picture mode, click the Back icon at the top-left corner to leave the library and get to the main Steam Big Picture screen.
From here, click the power button at the top right, then “Minimize Big Picture.”
That’s it! You should now be on your Windows desktop and able to control it using your phone touch-screen, keyboard or controller.
If you’re using a small touch-screen, you may want to press the mouse trackpad icon at the top left and change from “Direct Cursor” to “Trackpad Cursor” or “Trackpad Cursor,” which will give you direct control over the mouse. Tap the keyboard icon at the top-right corner when you want to type things.
If you have any trouble with the graphics at this point (green or black screen, etc.), try updating your GPU drivers.
Create a Notepad File If You Can’t Minimize Steam Link
Quite a few users have reported that the Windows desktop doesn’t function after minimizing Big Picture mode. One possible solution here is to link an outside app (even something like Notepad) to Steam by adding it as a non-Steam game on your Steam Link. To do this, follow the instructions below because it’s exactly the same process.
Stream Non-Steam Games on Steam Link
It goes without saying that if you have access to the desktop, you can run pretty much whatever you like on your PC, but if you’re confined to a gamepad, then you want to set yourself up to run non-Steam games from Big Picture Mode.
This isn’t too difficult, thankfully. You can even do it from Big Picture mode. Click the cog icon (Settings) at the top right, then under the System heading click “Add Library Shortcut.” (The equivalent action in the desktop version of Steam is to click “Add a Game” at the bottom left of the Steam window, then “Add a Non-Steam Game.”)
From these lists you can add pretty much any game or other program from Windows to your library, then run it using Big Picture mode and, by extension, Steam Link.
Stream Emulated Games on Steam Link
Unfortunately, the previous tip won’t help if you’re trying to play your favorite old-school games through an emulator because the Steam Link won’t identify your controller when you try to use them (i.e. the Steam Link only recognizes your controller as a game controller with the Big Picture UI).
To stream emulated games is a bit more complicated, as you’ll need to set up parsers using an excellent tool called Steam Rom Manager. If you want to do this, check out our dedicated guide on streaming emulated N64, PS1, SNES, and other games through your Steam Link.
Steam Link has grown in popularity over the years, and there are now plenty of people who use it to stream their games, desktops and beyond across their various devices. For more Steam-related stuff, see our list of fixes for when Steam isn’t working, our excellent guide on how to play Windows-based Steam games on Linux, and our tutorial to find and change your Steam ID.