The first thing any product shows off is the package, regardless of whether that is an online webpage for a digital product, or in the Steam Link’s case, an elegant, minimalistic design. The Steam Link is a product built to network to any computer running Steam in your house, then stream that image to your TV. This eliminates you having to carry around needless technologies, and risk damaging your computer. It’s quite fitting that the package reflects that.
With three USB plugs, you can plug in a keyboard and mouse, a wireless connector for the steam controller, or other optimized controllers. Xbox One and Xbox 360 controllers both work with the system, and, given the Steam Controller being priced at another $50 by itself, it would be a much safer option to buy only a Steam Link one and see if you like it first.
Continuing with the minimalistic design, the Steam Link device is actually quite small, which is only a negative if you are the type of person who manages to lose everything and anything, regardless of whether its in a safe spot or not. It is thinner then the Apple TV, and about 50% longer. It’ll fit neatly next to an LED TV, on a shelf, or anywhere else you think you might want to place it.
Steam Link’s set up is as easy as connecting a few cables, plugging in an AC adapter, and turning it on. Getting connected to your PC is even easier. Ensure that your PC is turned on, and it should show up within a few moments of the Steam Link plugged in. After setting up Steam Link, your computer will then enter ‘big picture mode.’ From big picture mode you can install games remotely, launch games, talk to friends, purchase items, essentially everything you could do on the Steam client were you at your computer. It should be noted though, you cannot run Steam on your TV via Steam Link and use Steam on your PC, you are mirroring your PC to the TV.
Steam Link excels in couch co-op settings. If you’re interested in picking up the Steam Link, I suggest stocking up on multiple 1-4 player games. Steam Link will provide an easy way for you to access the library that you’ve accumulated, and, if you aren’t new to console gaming, you’ll most likely have compatible controllers you can use already on hand.
Although the Steam Link itself only costs $50, it requires you to have a computer that can run games. Depending on the specifications of your PC, it might not actually be worth investing the money. However, if you are comfortable with the way that your computer runs games, it should work fine.
Reviewing technology like the Steam Link, we have to take into account the current setup. Using a desktop that has little to no problems running games on a high specifications, and both being hardwired, this is close to the optimal setup you could have for Steam Link. The only possible improvement would be to have a current top of the line computer.
Using the Steam Link to stream, the latency is almost non-existent. This was tested out on two different TVs in two different parts of the house. When Valve announced there would be ‘little to no latency’ they weren’t lying. Though I have heard of others having issues, I have yet to experience any myself. If set up properly, you should be seamlessly streaming from your computer.
The game that sold me on this aspect was Crypt of the NecroDancer. Being a rhythm based dungeon crawler, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a game that requires you to move to the beat of the music. The experience I had was watching this game, but after discussing with the two playing it, once they calibrated the sound, it was fine. Calibration is something that you’ll experience on any device, so I see no problem with having to do so when using the Steam Link.
The Steam Link, as mentioned previously, has a lot to do with the set up you currently run. Your PC and Steam Link are the same. Think of Steam Link as an Apple Airplay, just stable and well-functioning. You aren’t running two separate instances of your iDevice, but instead mirroring the content onto a TV. You can run the Steam machine wirelessly, but connecting it to a router is going to be a more optimal setup. Having a stable Internet with high speeds, and using a computer that runs well, its hard to imagine how I could cause an issue to happen.
So far, the trial has been on games that are optimized to play with the Steam Controller: Spelunky, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Speed Runners, and Crypt of the NecroDancer. All of these games streamed flawlessly through the Steam Link, further proving that the Steam Link and Steam Machine could imaginably replace consoles. Being able to play with all of your friends rather then just the ones who own the same console as you would be something revolutionary for the industry. Just one weekend with Steam Link and it is all too easy to imagine Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo designing their own Steam Machines, or simply moving solely to software, turning all first party titles to the PC, eradicating the exclusive wars we currently see today.
Steam Link functions great in the aspect that you can enjoy an experience of even a single player PC game and still be with your friends. Watching two family members play the 2-player co-op of Crypt of the Necrodancer, I didn’t feel ‘out of the loop’. With the gaming being designed the way that it was, and all being together on the couch, it felt like a return to the days of retro gaming. We weren’t hooked up to online friends or trying to ‘shrekt all the noobs’. It was more about being in the moment, with people you love, and having an enjoyable time trying to beat some games. We can enjoy these great games all together without crowding around a PC uncomfortably, or fiddling with wires, set ups, and moving around the computer.
Early on, I thought PC gamers might feel ‘uncomfortable’ with the console-esque feeling that Steam Link brings. Playing with it over the weekend however, I now strongly disagree with that initial feeling. It is important to remember that a majority of gamers started on the console, and only now will we start to see a majortiy of gamers brought up on the PC alone. Couch co-op excels in the nature of having your friends in the room, rather then connecting over VoIP and online games. It won’t fix the problem for friends who are across the country, or sometimes even the world, but if you’re playing with your neighbour, consider inviting them over for a change.
Whether the Steam Link actually helps to migrate console players over to the PC, or if its just another device for PC gamers to pick up, it does its job very well. considering the technologies we have at our disposal today, it does it perfectly. Would it be nice to run it wirelessly as well as it does wired? Sure. But I’m also much happier to hook my Steam Link up to a wired connection then I am lug a computer around to link up to the TV.
This is the future, and it looks good.