Valve’s Steam Link is billed as a budget-friendly, hassle-free way to bring the best of PC gaming to the living room by streaming your Steam games from your main computer straight to your TV.
The Steam Link is designed to be easy to setup, but the included Quick Start Guide is pretty uninformative - it’s basically just a diagram of two different hardware setups, with no real instructions. There are a few different configurations to think about, and a couple problems you might run into along the way, so read on to find out how to set up the Steam Link and how to enable in-home Steam streaming.
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If you don’t already have the Steam Link, the best bet is to buy it from Amazon for £38.69 or Game for £39.99. You can also buy it directly from Steam, but be warned: while it’s listed at the same price, there’s a non-optional £7 shipping charge, so you might be better off going through another retailer.
How to set up the Steam Link: Step 1 - Set up your PC
The Steam Link works by mirroring the display from your PC to the Steam Link device, so the first step is to make sure your PC is set up. For one thing, you need to make sure that you have the Steam application installed, running, and logged in to your account. If Steam isn’t running, then the Steam Link won’t be able to find your computer and connect to it.
You’ll also have to make sure Steam is running every time you want to use the Steam Link, so if you think you’ll be getting a lot of use out of it, you may want to consider setting Steam to launch when your computer does. That will slightly slow down your computer startup time though, so bear that in mind.
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You also want to make sure that your host computer is connected to your home network. Steam recommends that you use a wired connection, which will reduce latency, but it will also work over Wi-Fi - you just may notice some occasional graphical or input lat. We noticed occasional lag over Wi-Fi, but nothing we couldn’t tolerate, but a lot will depend on your home network bandwidth.
If you really want to avoid adding extra cabling to your set-up, we’d recommend trying out the Steam Link over Wi-Fi first to see how it performs - you can always wire it up later if you’re not happy with the performance.
Finally, you want to make sure that your host PC has In-Home Streaming enabled within Steam. This should be activated by default, but it’s worth making sure. Open Steam, then click ‘Steam’ in the top-left, then ‘Settings’. Under the ‘In-Home Streaming’ tab make sure that ‘Enable streaming’ is checked, and then you should be good to know.
How to set up the Steam Link: Step 2 - Plug in the Steam Link
Once you have your PC ready to stream, the next thing to think about is the Steam Link itself.
Thankfully, it already comes bundled with most of the cables you need to get it up and running. First you need to connect the power lead from the back of the Link into the mains - the Steam Link comes with adapters for several different global power sockets, so you'll have to select the three-prong UK adapter and slide it into place first.
Then you need to connect the Steam Link to your TV, using the included HDMI cable (or one of your own if you prefer). Again, the Steam Link includes an HDMI socket, which you'll find on the back of the device.
The next step is to once again decide if you'd like to use a wired or wireless connection. Again, Steam recommends a wired connection for faster and more reliable streaming, but depending on your home network and router you may find Wi-Fi is sufficient, and saves you some extra cable mess. If you are using a wired connection, simply plug the included ethernet cable into the bag of the Steam Link, with the other end going into your router.
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Finally, you'll need some way to control the Steam Link. It works with either a console-style game controller or a mouse-and-keyboard combo, since some games will play better with one or the other, and either way you'll want to connect them using the USB ports along the back and side of the Steam Link, either with a cable, or a USB wireless receiver.
Any mouse and keyboard should work as long as any relevant drivers are installed on the host PC. As for controllers, the Link will definitely work with the official Steam Controller and the Xbox One and Xbox 360 controllers, along with any other XInput controllers. Other accessories like driving wheels and flight sticks may work, but there's no guarantee.
The PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 controller will also work, and can be used wirelessly by Bluetooth. You’ll need to use another input device to go to the Bluetooth settings on the Steam Link, then pair the controller by holding down the ‘PS’ and ‘Share’ buttons. You should then see it in the available devices list, and can then connect to it. Because of this, you’ll want to use a different controller or mouse and keyboard to set the Steam Link up, and pair the PS4 controller once it’s up and running.
Be warned: when we tested it, pairing our DualShock 4 with the Steam Link then un-paired it from our PS4, so the next time we turned the Sony console on we had to connect the controller by MicroUSB cable to pair it again. With that in mind, using a DualShock controller with the Steam Link might be a bit inconvenient if you'll also be continuing to regularly use it with your PS4.
How to set up the Steam Link: Step 3 - Connect the Steam Link to your computer
Once you have all the various cables connected, you're ready to begin the full setup process.
Switch your TV to the appropriate HDMI input, and you should see the first Steam Link setup screen. Follow the on-screen instructions to set your language, connect to your network, and if necessary update the device firmware.
You’ll also have to select your preferred streaming settings. The basic options are ‘Fast’, ‘Balanced’, and ‘Beautiful’ - we’d recommend starting on ‘Balanced’ and changing it up or down depending on how you find the performance. You can also delve into the advanced options to alter the bandwidth allocation and resolution if you want to make more fine-tuned adjustments.
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You should then reach a screen that asks you to locate computers running Steam on your home network, so that you can connect the Steam Link to your PC. If you're like us, this might be when you first run into problems, because despite being connected to the same network and having streaming enabled, our PC simply didn't show up on the list. The only fix we found was a simple one: wait. After a few minutes the Steam Link seemed to find the right computer, and let us connect with no more problems.
Once you’re connected, that’s pretty much it. You should now see your Steam library, displayed on your TV in Big Picture Mode, and can play your games or browse the store to buy more.
How to connect a Steam Controller to Steam Link
If you own one of Valve’s own Steam Controllers, you can actually connect it directly to the Steam Link without either a wire or a USB wireless receiver.
Thankfully, it’s a pretty simple process. First, make sure both the Link and Controller are turned off, and remove any other controllers, mice, or keyboards from the Steam Link.
Next, turn the Steam Link on. It will instruct you to connect an input device, so grab your Steam Controller. Simply hold down ‘X’ and then press the Steam button, and it should quickly pair with the Link. That’s it.
How to play non-Steam games with the Steam Link
You might think that the Steam Link would be limited to only supporting games that you’ve purchased through Steam, but in fact you can access any game that you have installed on your PC.
The easiest way to do this is to add the games to your Steam library - essentially creating a shortcut to the application from within Steam.
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To do so, select ‘Add a game’ within Steam, and select the relevant application from the list, or browse through your PC to find it.
Some games will by default open a launcher such as Blizzard’s Battle.net or Ubisoft’s uPlay - to skip this step, simply right click on the game in your Steam library, go to ‘Properties’, and change the target to the game .exe instead of the launcher .exe.
How to mirror your desktop with the Steam Link
One of the Steam Link’s best features is actually something that Valve doesn’t advertise. While it’s primary purpose is to stream your games from your PC to your TV, it does that by sending your computer’s video output to the Link - all of the video output, not just games.
That means you can actually use the Link to mirror whatever’s on your computer, allowing you to browse the web, watch videos, play music, and more, right on your TV.
To access the rest of your computer’s functionality through the Steam Link, you simply have to select the ‘power’ symbol at the top-right of Steam menu, and select ‘Minimize Big Picture Mode’. You should then see your computer desktop, and can go ahead and use it as you wish.
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There are a couple of caveats. For one, you’ll probably want a mouse and keyboard connected to the Link, because trying to use your PC with a controller is likely to be more frustrating than fun once the novelty wears off. Secondly, you’ll still have to always have Steam running on the host PC in order to start and maintain the connection.
Of course, if you already have a Smart TV you may be able to replicate a lot of your computer’s functionality on the TV. But if you don’t, or if you want to use specific apps or programs that a Smart TV doesn’t support, the Steam Link is a great way to bring them into your living room.
If you want quick access to specific applications, you can also add them to your Steam Library using the method described above for non-Steam games, making it even easier to open the programs you know you’ll want to use through the Steam Link.
Can I use my computer while using the Steam Link?
Lots of people have wondered if it’s possible to use the Steam Link to simultaneously play games in the living room and separately use the computer for other tasks.
Unfortunately, due to the way the Steam Link is designed, this is impossible. Because the Link directly outputs the video from your graphics card, it will send whatever is being displayed on your main computer through to the Link - so whatever is happening on one device will be mirrored on the other.
Ultimately, that means that as long as you’re using your computer to stream games to the Steam Link, you can’t use it for anything else.
Can I use the Steam Link with a Mac?
While the Steam Link launched with numerous compatibility problems with OS X, these have now mostly been fixed, and you can use the Link to stream games from your Mac. You will of course be limited to the more narrow selection of Mac-compatible games, and may run into more issues with controller compatibility, but for the most part it should run just as smoothly as it does with a Windows PC.