It could be that the niche it meets is enough for your particular needs as a gamer. If you need a streaming device that lets you play games in one room while your tower is in another, then this is for you. And, despite doubts that the Steam Link would meet expectations, it performs beautifully in that role.
The Steam Link features a sleek, modest design, comparable to the Apple TV, Roku, and other streaming media players. Connectivity-wise, it includes three USB 2.0 ports, one HDMI output, Bluetooth 4.0, controller support for the Steam Controller, Xbox One/360 wired or wireless controllers, Logitech Wireless Gamepad F710, or any USB keyboard and mouse. The Steam Link even allows the use of unofficially supported peripherals via Valve’s beta incorporation of the VirtualHere USB Client. And, if you’re playing a game that involves a mouse and keyboard along with an extra peripheral like a joystick, then that third USB port can be a real lifesaver.
Impressively, the Steam Link comes with all the cables that you’ll right in the box. Providing both a high-speed HDMI and ethernet cable is a nice gesture from Valve that’s sure to win over those looking for that extra something from their corporate overlords.
Streaming to the Steam Link is insanely easy to do. When you turn it on, it’ll automatically find any computer on the network that’s running Steam, and you simply click on the one you want to stream. You’ll have to plug in an authorization code on your PC the first time, but after that, simply click on your computer name on the home screen and you’re done.
Hooked up to your home’s wired network, the Steam Link performs flawlessly, with no noticeable lag. And playing games on a sizeable living room TV is a glorious experience that PC gamers have, for the most part, had to miss out on. Never again. While the Steam Link includes wifi support, Valve recommends a wired network. The company has taken a lot of flak for something that isn’t really a big deal, especially not with the prolific availability of affordable powerline ethernet adapters that can easily wire any device in any room in your house.
The option to minimize Steam to browse the web or do work on the big screen is also a nice perk. While Steam is minimized, you can use your computer just like you would without the Link. You can open programs, stream movies and TV, or compose long, soul-stirring poems about the time your dad finally hinted that he might be proud of you. Paired with the Steam Controller, you can even limit your need for keyboard and mouse inputs for typing, browsing the web, and general OS functionality.
The Steam Link isn’t something that every gamer or tech consumer should run out and purchase immediately. It’s probably something that not many people even need or want. But, if you’ve been jonesing for a way to play PC games on a big screen in your living room, then this is absolutely the tool for you.
While streaming the Witcher 3, the game freezes for five to twenty seconds at a time, at intervals of roughly three to five minutes. During the freezes, the game is still running fine on my tower and not frozen at all on the monitor. Preliminary research reveals that this may be a problem with the powerline ethernet adapters I’m using to wire up my equipment from room to room. The issue may arise due to the adapters’ inability to regulate current and eliminate spikes that interfere with the ethernet signal. I can neither confirm nor deny that at this point, but other games still fun fine. More testing is needed to get to the bottom of this.
Overall Rating 4.5 Swoops out of 5
For those who need to stream to a separate room and are already looking to do so: 4.5 Swoops
Verdict: the only thing better would be to purchase a dedicated tower or Steam Machine just for the living room or designated gaming area.