When Valve announced a new range of hardware – a range of steam machines designed to fit in a living room as opposed to a study – much debate began over whether the company could really get off to a good start. Questions were asked, but the hardware definitely looked impressive. One of that range, the Steam Link, was of particular interest to me.
Costing about 1/10th of the price for an Alienware machine (for example), this little black box would sit discreetly in your living room, and allow you to stream directly from any PC on the network with a Steam Client enabled. Now, my own PC isn’t a bad one – not outstanding by any means, but certainly not bad – but one thing it has always seemed to struggle with is any kind of in-house streaming. Trying to stream videos to my X-Box 360 was very hit and miss, and let’s not even get started on trying to wirelessly mirror my screen to one of the WiFi enabled TVs in the house. Suffice to say, my hopes were not high, but I thought at £39.99 it was worth a punt – especially considering I knew my Dad was providing me with one of these little boxes on Christmas Day.
The day came and went, but finally – just as the little one was settling down to sleep, and my wife was having a play with some of her presents, I got the chance to plug it all in and give it a whirl. My initial experience wasn’t great – the thing kept jamming, struggling to do anything. One thing I would say was that the setup was one of the simplest and most straightforward I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing, but otherwise my earlier concerns appeared to be well founded, and I quickly abandoned the idea of playing my Steam games in the living room and made my way to the PC.
Now, what some of you may have probably already realised (but it took me a worrying length of time to have this particular epiphany) was that this was Christmas Day, and the box had only been released a matter of weeks previously – the servers were probably having a bit of a hard time. So, no hard feelings, I figured – I’ll have another go some day soon.
Leaving it for a couple of days, I finally got a couple of hours spare after work and thought I’d have another shot. What I was met with could only really be summed up in two words: get in!
The box launched smoothly, and easily connected to my PC. It was around this point I also discovered that I could stream my PC desktop to the TV fairly easily too, though playing any videos using this method was very iffy. Venturing back into the Big Picture, I launched a game I hoped would work well with the controller that Santa had also provided me. And hey presto – it worked.
Now, the resolution was a bit jumpy to say the least – my screen would jump from a pixelated mess to a pretty crystal image, and back again – but them’s the breaks when you are talking about wireless I suppose.
The controller responsiveness was impressive – perhaps the tiniest of lags, but certainly not enough to affect any enjoyment of the game. Having enjoyed a short session on that one, I figured I’d move on to one of the games I purchased recently which was a point-and-click adventure. I had purchased a wireless mouse and keyboard using my bonus from work in anticipation of getting the Steam Link, and found I was quickly reaching for them upon discovering the trackpad on my controller was incredibly unresponsive. However, much like earlier, I eventually decided to give it another go.
God only knows what went wrong the first time, or perhaps I just needed time to get used to it, but by jove it also worked well, though it does take a bit of getting used to having to hit the right shoulder button as a left click. Once that little hurdle was out of the way, I was soon enjoying the game in a fantastically crystal clear vision on my tellybox screen.
I am not the most technically minded individual, so I won’t go into one of those sections talking about FPS and response rates in too much detail, as I will frankly probably get the numbers wrong and end up offending someone in binary or something. One thing I will say, however, is that when my network was clear enough to stream my games comfortably, the picture was arguably even better than on my PC screen, despite the occasional and possibly inevitable syncing issues.
All in all then, it’s not perfect by any stretch, but for the money you pay for it compared to many other boxes designed for similar tasks, it’s one of the best investments any keen PC gamer can make – I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who dreams of playing their PC games with their feet up on the couch. Even if the steam controller isn’t for you, there are alternatives – wireless keyboard and mouse sets work straight out of the box, and apparently there is even support for X-Box controllers too, though I haven’t tried that out yet.
A word to the wise though – ordering this hardware direct from Steam will mean you can be hit with some heavy shipping and handling costs depending on where you live – to the UK I think I paid about £7.40 per item – but they are available in some retail stores, usually bundled with a Steam Wallet topup for a smidgen more on the price front – perhaps better paying that than the shipping costs though!