First Thoughts about Valve’s Steam Link

By | 19. November 2015

About 2 years ago after a long period of Xbox 360/PS3 gaming only I rejoined the „PC Masterrace“ by building a new Gaming-PC. A lot of games weren’t even released anymore for the last gen consoles and I wanted to be able to play newer games in a good quality, so I decided to go for a PC again.

Although I like the Steam platform, playing games on a PC in our office is often not very comfortable. I don’t have some fancy, cozy Nerdcave, just a plain and pretty messy office, so from time to time I missed the opportunity to just place my ass on our comfy couch and have some casual „consolestyle“ fun.

So when Valve announced the „Steam Stream“ option a couple of month (years?) ago I was really into that idea but I never had the time or the money to build something to stream to in our living room. I always had the idea in the back of my head but I never pushed to make it happen.

Turns out, that was a good thing, not to do, because just recently Valve released the „Steam Link“. A small little box with WLAN/Ethernet and HDMI  that acts like a Fire TV for your Steam games. No real computing power, but cheap. I paid about 60€ with taxes and shipping. Not too shabby. Any decent stream device based on PC hardware would have been at least twice that price (just considering you really only want to stream games, not do anything more with it).

So that was like a no brainer for me and I ordered a Link immediately. I didn’t order a Steam Controller, as the first reviews were very mixed and the Link can natively be used with Xbox 360 controllers, which I already have.

Ok, now I’ve had the Steam Link for a couple of days and I wanted to share my first experiences with you.

Fist impressions: Very good! The Link is small, size comparable to a Fire TV, and surprisingly heavy. I was positively surprised that the package contained an ethernet cable as well as an HDMI cable. That’s not taken for granted in times when you don’t even get an USB cable with your USB printer. So no need for extra expenses here.

Small drawback: The wireless Xbox 360 controller can NOT automatically speak with the Link. If you dig deeper into the docks, it says in the fineprint, that *wired* controllers work out of the box on the USB ports, but to use wireless Xbox 360 controllers you need to have an PC reciever dongle. I already had a 10€ chinacopy of the reciever from ebay which I used on my PC.

When I connected that to the USB port on the Steam Link it worked good, but well, you need a dongle. That kinda sucks.

Initialization is a piece of cake. You start Steam on your PC (preferably you use the Big Picture mode), then you connect the Steam Link to your TV and LAN environment and  boot it up.

A lot of reviews mention, that the WLAN connection is laggy and not recommended. Since I have a gigabit-switch already on my TV rack for my FireTV and consoles, I hooked the Link up there too, so no idea about the WLAN performance.

The Link finds your Steam-PC and gives you a pin to pair it. After that, you’re settled.

My system is an i5, with an GTX 970 and 16GB RAM, connected to the Steam Link via Gigabit Ethernet and I was not able to see any lags. Mad Max in max details streamed seamlessly, just a few lags when saving or loading environment, but I had the same effects when playing on the PC. I usually install my Steam Games on a magnetic HDD, maybe that is a bottleneck right now. Thinking of getting another SSD where I can install the most played games and using the HDD as an archive. We’ll see.

After a few hours of gaming I just came around one bug. After a longer Mad Max session I quit the game to the desktop. While the game quit correctly to Steam on my PC, the Steam Links kept showing me the Mad Max ingame menu. I had to reboot the Link to get it to working. Not really a dealbreaker but that kind of things can be annoying.

Nice thing is, you can power down the whole PC from within the Steam Big Picture mode. So if you have your PC set up to boot directly into Steam, you could easily set up a WOL tool to have a „one touch“ console like gaming experience with the Steam Link.

That said, it is a very young device, there is probably a lot to fix in further updates. But I can say, for 60€ I have no real problem to act as a „beta tester“.

The Link looks and feels like a quality device, doesn’t take any space in my TV rack and gives me the cheapest option, to have a console like gaming experience in my living room.

Now time will tell if it can hold up with the next wave of premium games. Can’t wait to give Just Cause 3 a ride on that device!

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