If you’re a PC gamer who longs for the ability to play on the go, Steam Link may be the answer you’ve been looking for. With this on your Android phone, you can stream games from your PC to your phone.
What is Steam Link?
In a nutshell, Steam Link is a way to stream games from your Steam library to another device. The original Steam Link is a physical set top box that you connect to your TV and then use to stream games from your gaming PC to your TV. The Steam Link app is a new Android app that lets you stream games from your PC to your Android device (phone, tablet, or Android TV).
Note: Steam Link was also developed for iOS, but Apple rejected the app. At this point, there’s no word on whether Steam will resubmit the app in the future, so for now, it’s Android only.
When you stream a game, it still runs on your PC and uses your PC’s more powerful hardware. The display and control signals are streamed over your local network to your Android device. That part’s important. Your phone (or tablet or Android TV) must be on the same local network for Steam Link to work. You cannot stream games over the internet.. Steam recommends using a 5 Ghz Wi-Fi connection if you plan on streaming wirelessly. If you’re streaming to an Android TV, a wired connection is even better.
Of course, Steam isn’t the first company to offer something like this: NVIDIA has been doing it for a while with its GameStream software, though that is of course restricted to NVIDIA cards and SHIELD devices, serving only a small niche of gamers.
Steam Link opens game streaming to most Steam users as it doesn’t require a specific GPU or Android device—if you already use Steam and have an Android device, the odds are it will work for you.
Note: A compatible game controller is recommended to use Steam Link. You can use touch controls, but a controller will be a much better option.
So, is the Steam Link app worth the trouble? Well, in our opinion, playing you Steam games on your mobile device is pretty cool, but you’re limited to playing on the same local network as your PC. That brings up the obvious question: why not just play on your PC?
Perhaps you have some games you really want to kick back with and play on your tablet with friends. Or maybe you have an Android TV and want the big screen experience. Whatever your reason, the app is free, so why not give it a try?
How to Set Up and Use Steam Link
First things first: you’ll need to install the app on your phone or tablet. So go ahead and do that now.
Next, you’ll need to set up streaming on your PC. Fire up the Steam client, and then click over to Steam > Settings.
In the Settings menu, choose the “In-Home Streaming” option.
If you’re using an NVIDIA graphics card, click that “Advanced Host Options” button, and then enable the “Use NVFBC capture on NVIDIA GPU” option. That should improve streaming performance.
Click “OK” to leave the Advanced menu, and then click “OK” again on the main Settings window.
Now, go ahead and fire up Steam Link on your device. If you haven’t already paired a controller with your Android device, you’ll need to do that now. You can optionally use the touch controls on your phone or tablet, but the experience isn’t that great. You’ll have a much better time with an actual controller, and the app is compatible with many popular Bluetooth controller—including the Steam Controller.
Steam Link immediately starts scanning for computers on the network that are running Steam. When it’s found the PC (or PCs), just tap the one to which you want to connect.
Your Android device will provide a PIN. The Steam client on your PC will ask for this PIN, so go ahead and key it in now.
The app then runs a quick network test and gives you the result—if your network isn’t fast enough, it will let you know that the experience may not be good. It will also let you know if you’re running Steam Link on an untested device and warn you about potential performance issues.
Either way, you can still connect to test things out—even if Steam Link hasn’t been tested on your device or your network doesn’t meet the qualifications. Tap that Start Playing button to give it a go.
You’ll get a quick controller guide letting you know how to control Steam Link, but it’s pretty intuitive. Tap “Continue” to move on.
If there are any issues with the remote connection, you’ll get a notice here. During testing, I had to update Steam’s audio driver before Steam Link would work, for example.
Once connected, Steam’s Big Picture mode fires up, and you can play just like you were sitting in front of your PC.
So, How Well Does the Steam Link App Work?
During my limited testing, Steam Link was responsive enough and most games were very playable. Despite the app claiming my network speed wasn’t good enough, I was able to play just fine.
Obviously, the more detail the game has to stream across your network, the more of a performance hit games will take. Still, even bigger games run pretty well. There’s also going to be a bit of latency in controller response since your commands have to be transmitted across your network and back. It’s barely noticeable in more casual games, but don’t expect to the same kind of response in your shooters that you get when sitting at your PC.
Our feeling about the Steam Link app is that it’s pretty cool technology. It works just fine for many games, but it’s probably best for killing time on your phone, or playing casual games with friends in your living room—especially if you’re streaming to Android TV. For bigger, more intense games, you’re just going to wish you were at your PC.