The greatly anticipated and hyped Steam link is upon us, as well as the controller. With Steam machines pushing the couch experience with friends, we will see more and more games and peripherals trying to make your gaming life easier. The Steam link and Steam controller were being developed simultaneously with Steam machines to help facilitate this process. Here are my thoughts so far.
Talk about a sleek and stylish looking machine. Valve designed this baby with style, and unobtrusiveness in mind. You could put this on a living room desk in the corner and no one would be the wiser. A+ in this category. You might not be able to pull off the living room table with the hookups, but even the cables are of small and sturdy form factor. You have the power cable, ethernet, HDMI output and two usb ports. There’s not even a light to tell you if the thing is on or not. Some might not like this, but it is great for keeping the device undetected. Chances are you will place it on your entertainment center with the HDMI and power cords hidden behind. Depending on your ethernet placement it will look good while being extremely simple and hassle free.
I have to confess something a little embarrassing for an avid gamer . At home I run on a mobile wireless network. Highspeed cable or DSL is not an option for where I live. It’s not bad for playing games (40-80 ping usually) but not great for a fast downloading network or blazing speed. Also Steam iterates over and over a wired network is extremely recommended, although it supports 802.11n wireless networking. Well that means my results should be at the low end of the spectrum and a good indicator of bare minimum working performance. With my wireless dongle in a usb slot, I plugged the Ethernet in the my PC port and to the Steam link. Then my television, and the Steam Controller USB. Steam link and Steam Controller total setup time: 7 minutes. Also worth noting: The Steam link currently supports the following inputs:
- Steam Controller
- Xbox One Wired Controller
- Xbox 360 Wired Controller
- Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows (with wireless receiver)
- Logitech Wireless Gamepad F710
- Keyboard and mouse
Well that’s the menu for you. Straight to the point. You can set bandwidth limits, resolution limits (1080p is max), as well as a “Fast, Balanced, and Beautiful” stream setting. Although I didn’t see much of a difference from any of these settings. Games looked great, and performed great.
So I fired up 8 Bit Boy, a simple platformer. The controller setup worked with the joystick but not the A,B,X, and Y for jumping. I had to use the stick. This is a game that has full controller support. I had to reconfigure the controller a bit (more on that with the controller review) and it worked fine. Except for it didn’t. Platformers usually need precise movements and timing, especially demanding ones like Electronic Super Joy and Super Meat Boy. It wasn’t off by much. Maybe a tenth of a second. But it was noticeable, and enough to impact performance. FPS’s? I fired up counter-strike Global Offensive. And I got a kill! Don’t believe me? Check it out HERE . Again it is kind of playable for casual, but I most certainly wouldn’t want to go competitive with it. This is not what we’ll use it for anyway. I also played Project Cars and GRID: Autosport. Ahh. Now here’s something we can do. If you don’t mind playing casual games or racing titles, and in general games that don’t require precision or precise timing, then this setup will work for you. I have no doubts this is something Steam will work on for the future, but as of now the reality is streaming is still streaming, and there will always be a small amount of latency either with controls or connection. Even games that lack controller support (Like FTL which Ryan Shrout over at PCPER stated) you can control them with the Steam controller and Steam link, which is a fantastic plus on that front. In more demanding games such as Witcher 3, it seemed almost spot on. No FPS drops, no tearing, no problems. It seemed any games I tried with the exception of First Person Shooters and Platformers were streaming well enough to not be an issue at all. Even non-steam games you add to your Steam library play for the most part. I added Guild Wars 2, complete with its own launcher, and had no problems whatsoever running and streaming the game. This was astounding to me. The link and controller basically allow a good part of your computer to be controlled remotely, even playing songs by looking through your file system, no pre-folder loading necessary.
Now for the not so good. My monitor is a 1440p, and on my Mitsubishi television I could tell it was cutting off just a bit of the screen. Now playing at 1080p is something that fixed this issue, but I then had to deal with games that did not look as intended because of the resolution of my monitor. Some games with a predetermined and unconfigurable input layouts will not run. Akane the Kunoichi and Remember Me were two such titles. Also after hitting the Home button to end the game, it instead shut off my Steam link and controller, making it an issue to get everything up and running again. There was an instance or two that I had a program pop up, and I had to physically go to my computer to fix it. One time I lost connection and had to restart the Steam link. In an hour of trying out different games and programs I had to physically go over to my computer three times, although with normal use playing one or two games this would not be an issue. One big picture mode breaking aspect was Windows fault, not the Steam link to be fair. The network popup for “allowing the app to connect for online capabilites” was one of these errors. One that was the Steam link was when I was quitting a game, and the stream was stuck on the “unsaved data will be lost” dialogue, while my computer was out of that and back on the main Big Picture menu.
If this thing can run on a wireless connection, with minimal latency issues and fantastic looking streams, I would consider the Steam Link without a doubt worth the purchase. My overall experience was good, and this thing just released. Already with a small update. One thing is for certain, if it’s this good now, look for Steam to greatly tweak and update it in the future. My pre-order and early adoption of the product did not backfire. I’m extremely pleased and satisfied with the product, and think you will be too. I highly recommend the Steam Link and Steam Controller together, as the controller allows for these inputs and configurations to be possible. The Steam Controller review will be coming soon. Pre-order now for $49.99 and receive it around November 10th, just in time for Fallout 4. You also get a copy of Rocket League and Portal 2 as a pre-order bonus.