Steam Link: built to fit into your life


When we spoke with Valve CEO, Gabe Newell, at GDC 2015, he illustrated the company’s multi-faceted initiative to rob the console of its TV rights in terms of what’s “good, better, best” for gamers. The “better” and “best” scenarios can be achieved by plopping down $449 (about £297, AU$637, though official pricing outside of the US has yet to be announced) on a mid-range Steam Machine from Alienware, or up to $4,999 (about £3311, AU$7093) on a high-end model pieced together by boutique PC manufacturers, like Gigabyte, Falcon Northwest, Origin and Digital Storm. Each console-sized machine will get you in the door with SteamOS, the Linux-based operating system built to keep you locked inside of Valve’s ecosystem.

Review: Steam Link

At the bottom of the totem pole – what Newell called the “good” option – is Valve’s own creation, the $50 (£38, about AU$69, but won’t be made available outside the US, Canada, UK and Europe until 2016) Steam Link. It’s a small, unassuming slab of black plastic that, for some, is actually a better choice than the more fully featured (and more expensive) Steam Machines. While it might be similar in name to its SteamOS-packing comrades, its duties on the frontline in your living room (or wherever you enjoy watching TV) are very different. The Link is strictly a game streaming box that acts as – you guessed it – a link between your computer and TV. Despite being positioned as the lowly “good” option, it deserves more credit than that. When used under ideal conditions, the Steam Link not only stands out as the most affordable of Valve’s fleet, but also as the only one that caters to Steam’s loyal customer base, which is largely made up of those who already have a capable gaming PC and a speedy internet connection.

Review: Steam Link


The Steam Link is making its entrance during a time when real estate on our entertainment center has never been more of a precious commodity. Set-top boxes are fighting each other for a spot, but Valve’s streamer does what most others cannot. As a result, it could very easily slip past the scuffle and make a home for itself in your living room. For comparison’s sake, this game streaming device isn’t all that much different in appearance to recent, popular streaming boxes like the Amazon Fire TV or the new Apple TV. Each is no bigger in size than most modern portable hard drives and weighs just about as much a smartphone or two stacked together. And while Amazon and Apple’s offerings might have Valve’s box beat in terms of the devices’ vast multimedia catalogs, the Steam Link totally cleans the floor of the competition with its own expansive game selection. It can stream any (read: any) game in your computer’s Steam library over a wired or wireless connection.

Review: Steam Link

Digging in a little more on the Link’s looks, it’s a modestly built device, clad in plastic on all sides. Valve spices things up visually with a matte texture on its top and a ring of gloss around its sides. Sure, the design of the unit can generally be described as “boxy”: three of its corners come to a sharp point, but one is stylishly rounded-off. The Steam logo is stamped in discreet fashion on top of this rounded edge. On its back, you’ll find a lineup of ports. There are two USB 2.0 ports, an ethernet jack, HDMI-out and a spot to plug in the AC adapter. Around the corner, Valve stuck on an extra USB 2.0 port for good measure. The Steam Link is padded with rubber footing on its bottom to help give it some traction on your entertainment center, or wherever you place it.

Review: Steam Link

Inside the box, Valve includes everything you need to get started. Aside from the Link itself, there’s a power adapter, as well as an HDMI cable, an ethernet cable and some universal plug adapters (types C, I and G are included).


Steam isn’t known for being the most user-friendly application out there, but it’s gotten remarkably easier to use in the past few years. That’s mostly due in part to its Big Picture feature, Valve’s controller and TV-friendly interface that gives gamers a slick, refined view of the Steam universe. Anyone who is comfortable navigating Netflix should feel right at home here. From the time I powered on Steam Link to when I began playing only took a few minutes. That said, there are a few initial steps to run through. Whether you have Valve’s official Steam Controller, a trusty wired or wireless Xbox 360 controller, or just a standard keyboard and mouse combo, setup is simple and intuitive for beginners and experts alike. Xbox One controllers will work, too, but only when wired up to the Link.

Review: Steam Link

On the controller selection screen, the Steam Link passed my first test: it instantly recognized my third-party wireless Xbox 360 controller receiver, the same one that once stumped my computer into a driver-seeking frenzy for a few minutes. Next, I tried connecting a Steam Controller, and, to no surprise, it worked like a charm. Also, thanks to the Link’s Bluetooth support, I was able to have a wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as two wireless controllers, connected simultaneously while only using up one of the USB ports. However, pairing a Bluetooth headset, or plugging one in directly to the Link, is just outside the reach of what’s possible right now. Thankfully, we’ve received confirmation from Valve that these features will be coming soon down the line.

Review: Steam Link

The next step involves connecting the Steam Link to the same home network that your computer is running off of. Valve strongly recommends tethering an ethernet cable to the Link, and after some rough experience streaming games over my Wi-Fi connection, I wholeheartedly agree. On the other hand, if you have an 802.11ac-compatible router (which I do not) and a world-class internet connection, (which I also do not have) I’d definitely opt for the wireless route. Either way you go about it, getting the Link onto your network requires no more effort than plugging in a cable or putting in your Wi-Fi password. From there, you can take time to tweak the streaming quality (between Beautiful, Balanced, or Fast settings). The last step before you get comfortable on the couch is making sure that the host PC is running Steam (this is a must, each and every time you want to stream). Once the Steam Link establishes a connection for the first time, it will spit out a four-digit code to authenticate the tether between the two. From there, you’re all set. This might have seemed more complicated than what I had led on, but it takes far less time than initiating an Xbox One out of the box.


Ultimately, the amount of fun you can have with Steam Link depends on the capabilities of your gaming rig and internet connection. This product serves almost no purpose to someone who doesn’t have either. I say “almost” because, technically, even weaker computers can still get some use out of it: not necessarily on the gaming front, unless you enjoy poor framerates (does anyone?), but with movies. Steam’s growing database of films available for purchase (the selection spans the Mad Max films, a ton of gaming documentaries and unique indie shorts), means that the Link’s use does extend further than just gaming, but not by much. There are many streaming boxes out there that do a much better job at being your dedicated movie player, but, atop its massive catalog of games, any extra functionality that the Link can offer is a plus.

Review: Steam Link

It’s game time

My gear is middle-of-the-road. It’s well above average in terms of performance, but in no way is it anything close to PC Gamer’s Large Pixel Collider. Mine is a custom-built desktop running Windows 10 (the Link is also compatible with Mac and Linux machines), with a quad-core Intel i5 4670K and a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 inside. My internet connection is good, but nothing special. I use a standard 802.11a/b/g/n router at home, which doesn’t take advantage of the cutting-edge 802.11ac protocol that the Steam Link supports. But for the most part, my connection, which averages download speeds of 235Mbps and upload speeds of roughly 23Mbps, does just fine.

To squeeze the most out of my computer and internet, I hooked everything up over ethernet and started playing. My first game to try out? Rocket League. It’s currently one of my favorites and probably will be for a long time. But favoritism aside, it’s a fast game that requires twitch accuracy and speedy specs. And because gamers are of many different tastes, I tried a few other games. I’ve recently dug back into Resident Evil 4, a slower-paced game that doesn’t demand very gutsy specs. I also loaded up a few modern titles that are more taxing, such as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Fallout 4.

Review: Steam Link

Single-player titles worked just as I’d hoped on the highest streaming settings with very few latency spikes. However, the few instances when the Steam Link did end up being more of a nuisance than a blessing was during online gameplay. Rocket League, as I mentioned earlier, is not a system-crushing title by any means. But still, adding the element of online multiplayer on top of the game streaming isn’t something my internet handles with grace. Knocking the streaming quality down to “Balanced” was enough of a load off of my setup that playing Rocket League through the Link felt as fluid as ever.

As disappointing as it is to have to reduce the visual fidelity in favor for smoother gameplay, it’s not a fault of the Link. Instead, the blame falls on the limitations of my ho-hum internet performance. I’m confident that gamers with a faster connection will experience little to no latency while streaming on “Beautiful” settings during online matches.

Review: Steam Link

Stepping away from the computer isn’t something that I have a habit of doing every time I want to play a game on Steam. I do, though, share a computer desk at home, so it’s sometimes necessary (or, at least, polite) for me to head to the couch to get my game on if I want to keep the peace. However, I’ve never been able to bring Steam with me. But now that the Steam Link is a thing that exists, I’m spoiled to the point that I see little reason to return to playing on my desk.

A look at the Big Picture

Steam Link is a product that’s only as good as the sum of its many required parts. I’ve explained how the strength of your PC and internet connection play a large part in that equation. But its Big Picture interface is, and always will be, the backbone responsible for tying each piece together.

I’ve been using this controller-friendly mode since its introduction almost three years ago, which is long enough to witness its marked improvement. Even back then, it showed promise, but it also showed that Valve’s early draft of adapting the features that worked so well on the desktop client over to the TV was a rough one.

Review: Steam Link

The latest version of Big Picture that Steam users see when they boot up is, by far, the best iteration yet, but still not without its share of flaws. It’s been spit-shined to look and respond beautifully when you’re just tinkering around, but, if your Steam usage is anything like mine, you’re likely to run into issues when you run it through some tougher paces. Accepting an invite to join a multiplayer session while playing another game, which is just an example of an everyday task for me, sometimes doesn’t work. Also, certain games take much longer to boot into, resulting in me staring puzzled at a black screen, wondering if I should reboot my system.

Although minor and definitely addressable through a patch, these issues are especially easy to spot if you’re coming from the console realm, a sector of tech that, in recent years, lives and dies by its user interface. I have a lot of enthusiasm for the future of Big Picture, but it’s still early days for Valve in the living room, and it shows.


That the Steam Link exists at all is a thoughtful gesture to the millions of gamers who already have a gaming PC and steadfast internet connection. Buying into a Steam Machine isn’t an ideal solution for everyone, and I’m glad Valve recognizes that.

That said, the Steam Link isn’t the only game streaming device out there. The $99 (£99, about AU$140) Razer Forge TV and $199 (around £130, AU$255) Nvidia Shield can also perform the heavy lifting of streaming from your PC to a TV. These boxes also act as a more comprehensive multimedia solution, thanks to the Android TV operating system built into each.

Steam Link has a leg up on the competition in a few ways. It can stream any game that you own on Steam, whereas the Nvidia Shield can only stream a limited (by comparison) selection of games from PCs stocked with a supported Nvidia graphics card. The Steam Link is more financially viable than the Razer Forge TV because you can supply your own mouse, keyboard or gamepad. Razer’s streaming box requires you to buy into its lineup of accessories.

Comparison aside, gamers who are new to Steam have a decision to make before they invest in Steam Link. Do Valve’s pre-built Steam Machines sound more up your alley, or are you up for the challenge of building your own computer? If you go with the former, the Steam Link becomes a redundancy, as Steam Machines are built to fit into your living room.

The Steam Link makes near-perfect sense if you envision yourself wanting to make serious upgrades to a custom-built PC. You can rest easy knowing that Valve’s streaming box will scale with any improvements you make to your computer or internet service in the future.


50 thoughts on “Steam Link: built to fit into your life

  1. If you could specifically help me replicate the problems I’d be more than happy to try and help you fix them. (Not patronizing you or anything)

  2. Android games work perfectly. However high end PC games seldom turn out well. There is also the problem that you have to use a HDMI cable if you are not running an android game. I’m hoping the new Stream hardware is as good as it looks on paper. I have on item on pre-order, it will be a test case for the more expansive systems they are going to offer. I’m hoping they are a Xbox and PS killer.

  3. That sucks. I’ve not had any problems with my SHIELD tablet. Which one do you have? I hook mine up to the TV all the time and game flawlessly.

  4. I think this would be ideal for a gamer with a good computer that would like to move playing to the living room or bed room. I’ve always hated the console answer because it requires separate games and big expense. I would rather put my money into the gaming computer and then let the edge give my my mobility. I’ll wait until it is proven. I was burnt a little bit with

  5. It’s funny, because depending on some home networks, it may just be one hop. With the awesome experience I’ve had with my Vita with remote play from my PS4, I am totally open to this as I expect Steam to do it better.

  6. worse. but not that different if you’re rocking 1080p 60fps on your normal setup anyway. you could get a bit of stutter depending on your connection

  7. Would this be better/worse on a gameplay only level, than a hdmi cable running from the desktop to the TV?

  8. To help lower worries, I’d suggest getting a home router that allows you to configure QoS so you can prioritize the traffic. With my netgear nighthawk, I was able to do pvp in destiny on my vita with zero lag…and that’s over wireless n

  9. I haven’t done any kind of remote play. I’m pretty sure I’d like to go ahead and buy both the Link and the controller for $100, but I’m worried about latency issues. As I see you mentioned on the comment below (just noticed) there shouldn’t be any problem. Because it’s within the same network it shouldn’t have any problem, but I guess it’ll be up to the design more so than the network it’s plugged into.

  10. This is what makes it tempting for me. Plus, when I get a house, my PC will be no where NEAR my tv and in an office room. After having a great experience doing remote play with my PS Vita with my Netgear Nighthawk (1st Gen), I am all for using this instead…ESPECIALLY since the experience could only be better as my Vita doesn’t support Wireless AC.

  11. It’s using your PC’s computing power. I’m where you’re at. I have my TV in the same room as my PC, but having to change the audio and monitor settings every time I want to play a game on my TV is a little cumbersome. I don’t always want the 3rd monitor (being my TV) recognized on my system so I end up plugging and unplugging regularly. So I don’t really play PC games on my TV much anymore.

  12. Before, I have been connecting using an HDMI cable from my PC. I’m wondering if it is even worth it just to save the hassle of running a cable every time I want to play a game. Another question I have.. I assume it is using the GPU, Ram, and Processor from the PC, or does the Steam Link have some type of video card to push the video to your tv? Just trying to envision how it works over the network.

  13. The longevity of this is great. I am tempted to buy it soley to have….and maybe I’ll actually dig into my PC catalog by simply having the option. I have a spare XBO controller I could sync with this as well (Valve states on the product page that it is supported). This is actually pretty big. I just wonder if it will support the stereo headset adapter as sometimes I like to game while the gf watches tv without bothering her.

  14. Notice how this conversation has been over for 2 whole months and you’re so full of yourself you had to come back and read about it again? Get over yourself jack ass.

  15. Notice how nobody rated this comment up in 2 whole months? Yea…that’s cuz you’re full of it.

  16. your such a douche i bet you still live with P’s. can you believe this moron? If i decorated my house for entertainment it would look like crap, fact is if you had your own home you would know there are only one or two setups per room. then your onto noob home decor with sofas in the middle of the room, probably your kinda thing.

  17. You’ve managed to miss the point. I didn’t bring up any of those things without being asked. My first response in this comment chain was simply agreeing with someone else on something. After that it’s been

  18. the point they are trying to make is that 50 dollars is not a lot of money for the convenience of not moving your furniture everywhere. That’s it. No one gives a shit about your life.

  19. Semi-retired is not unemployed, its having no need to work but doing it just for variety. I’m an artist and my time spent with family or gaming or painting is more important to me than having a full time job that I have no need for. And if you really must know I’m 41. In the last 20 something years I only work once in a while then I take long stretches off to travel or even just to play games, or to paint or whatever I feel like doing. Family, entertainment and creativity are what I spend most of my time on. Work is just something to do once in a while and experience different things. I probably wouldn’t work at all if I didn’t want more variety and experience. I just never stop learning and exploring and expanding what I know how to do. It’s the downside of a 169 IQ, you never stop thinking and needing new experiences.

  20. Hell. My PC -is- in the same room as my TV and I’d gladly pay $50 not to have to fiddle with cabling anymore. Besides, this is in my current bedroom. Upstairs we have a slightly bigger TV with a pretty decent sound system. With the Steam Link if I decided it’d be more comfortable to play upstairs or if I wanted to play multiplayer in an area with more space, it would not take much effort at all to do so. I wanted to say something about that … guy, but instead let us ignore him and be happy in our reasonable attitudes about the diversity of living spaces *peace and love* 😛

  21. lol guy, you’re killing me, don’t ever change. So here’s the thing, I DON’T HAVE ROOM FOR A GODDAMN DESK BEHIND MY COUCH. If I put one there, my couch would be stupid close to my TV. We don’t have the same house, mine would not accommodate The Ultimate Living Room.(I will love you forever if your practical solution is to buy a house with a bigger living room.) Sure I could make up some kind of platform to put my mouse and keyboard over the couch, but that would probably be just as expensive, and a big hassle, and not really ideal for me personally. I think it would be a safe wager to bet that I have spent less on my living room setup, office, and theater combined than you have on your perfect system. I value SPACE more than I do top end gear. My theater is an intimate space, with about a 110

  22. This may be surprising to you, but there are people out there who have other things in their lives going on than just playing games all day long. Not sure why you’re so upset about this product. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. Not everyone wants to look like a man-child with a big gaming PC in their living room.

  23. I’m not a PC gamer? Dude I play PC games 4 to 12 hours a day. I’m semiretired and only work 2 days a week and I don’t sleep much. Aside from the hours I spend with my girlfriend my free time is PC gaming. And you really aren’t thinking any of this through. Yes

  24. Except the part where you referred to everyone interested in this box as idiots right? Your lack of reading comprehension even in regard to yourself is staggering. Go sit on your ass with your girlfriend all day buddy.

  25. The saddest thing about your comment is you do not even realize I attacked no one. I started out simply agreeing with someone else, or did you miss his post? Read the rest of the comment chain and my other replys have been just that: answering people who came at me direclty with comments. People have made incorrect assumptions about me in virtually every reply because they do not bother to read the entire chain or can’t comprehend seeing beyond their own personal scenario. Go troll someone else if you can’t even be bothered to read the entire comment chain and understand it.

  26. The saddest thing about your comments is that it’s clear you really *do* think you’re some sort of genius who has

  27. Even I don’t want a fucking PC in the middle of my living room. Shut up, people. Stop telling us about your houses. Review the product itself or go home.

  28. If your girlfriend is not a PC gamer, get a better girlfriend. Mine has a better computer than me and is even more hardcore with her gaming habits. When we get home I spend a few hours playing games and then sometimes take a break for movies, she’ll keep playing half the night. She even plays at work when her boss isn’t paying attention.

  29. This guy obviously doesn’t have a girlfriend, try living with a woman and suggesting that you move your gaming PC into the living and then come back to us

  30. Ok, Ill start by saying that I’m all for HTPC’s. I’ve been building and using them for years, and I know they’re a great way to put a lot of function into one place. But I think you maybe have misunderstood the purpose of this particular box. It has nothing to do with streaming content like TV, movies, or music. It is only for streaming games IN HOME from a PC to this box. Sound and video are sent from the PC to the box, and controls are sent back to the PC. Other than running the steam interface, that’s it, there are no subscriptions(at least not that have been announced.) The other thing I’m guessing is that you are not a PC gamer, which this system is targeted at. There are definitely a lot of gamers out there that want to play with keyboard and mouse at a desk as their primary system. No matter how much planning I could do, I’m just not going to move my office into my living room, and I’m certainly not going to move it into my theater. Currently in my living room, all I have is a PS3, which I use for bluray, netflix, and PS3 games. If I add the steam link I get all of my PC games out there too, and possibly XBMC(haven’t seen if thats possible yet). Sure I could replace those two with my PC, but then I can’t play playstation games on PC, and I’ll lose the ability to play mouse and keyboard at my desk, I (and many other people) just don’t want to give that up.

  31. There are a variety of services that cost extra monthly fees to be allowed to use that $50 streaming box (Hulu among them) where as not only do you avoid the $50 box fee you avoid various monthly fees as well because using the TV as a monitor costs nothing extra. And it’s really all about planning ahead. I’ve been doing this since the 1990s back in the days of 36

  32. I think the box makes a ton of sense, I have no idea why people are attacking a product they basically know nothing about just because they did something different for their own entertainment situation. I work in IT for a living, I can build PC’s all day, but you know what, that gets expensive for personal use after a while to have every single TV with a suitably up-to-date PC. WIth a box like this, I can dump my money into one PC then stream that to all the other TV’s in the house for only $50/ea, that sounds waaaay cheaper and better to me. Plus, even though I have plenty of PCs for streaming, I still vastly prefer to use something like Amazon Fire TV or Roku because they use next to no power, the same is definitely not true with PCs. And electricity is expensive, not to mention even if you live where its cheap, its still a finite resource that causes pollution, no reason why anyone shouldn’t look to save electricity. And frankly, right off the bat my first desire for this is even to stream something in the same room; I’m not planning on running HDMI cords along the floor as a tripping hazard or mess with insulated walls running expensive and lengthy HDMI cords because I have the PC with keyboard/mouse/24

  33. I guess I’m one of those idiots. Here I was thinking the simple solution would be to just buy a $50 box to put under my TV so I could play with keyboard and mouse in my office, or gamepad in the living room. But of course it be so much easier to just knock down a wall to make my living room big enough to put my desk and office chair next to the TV! Why didn’t I think of that?

  34. I’ve been saying this for years not just for games but for streaming content of any kind. Unfortunately you’re dealing with a society of idiots not smart enough to put their computers near their TV. I mean services like Hulu actually charge money to be allowed to stream from PC to TV when it’s 100% free to just plug your computer into any modern TV and treat it like a monitor. You’ll hear excuses every time you bring this up that

  35. I already do this…but I happen to have multiple televisions in my house, some of which are way too far from my gaming PC, but not out of wireless range. With this I can play games in my bedroom while my gaming PC is on the other side of the house, even though I already have a 50′ HDMI cable running from my PC to my living room TV for best quality on the best TV I have.

  36. Actually considering the prices of high quality HDMI cables these days, it could even not be cheaper than a steam link.

  37. I’m not going to disassemble the cables and connections to my rig to move it to my tv and back. I also dont want to run a 50ft HDMI cable across my floor, along with 30ft USB extenders from my PC. So no, it is not better or simpler. It is cheaper, but that is the only thing correct.

  38. It’s aimed at people who have desktop PCs set up somewhere else in their house (office, bedroom, etc.) but would like the option of playing games on their living room TVs. It would not be better or simpler to have to disconnect a desktop PC and move it and all of its cables into the living room, connect everything up, play games and then move everything back again every time you wanted to play something. I currently use Steam in home streaming to do this – where my desktop PC in my back room is running the games, but I’m playing them in my living room using a 7

  39. Why don’t people simply connect their PC via HDMI cable to the T.V. and use an Xbox One/360 controller? Come on, it really is better, simpler, and cheaper. Ridiculous society we live in, when using a better alternative is overlooked.

  40. I been hating on the steam box for ages as unneeded but not I got a toddler still think its silly to use a steam box that I could just get a tower for the same price and use the same video card I got in my main pc to run games, but now I don’t like the idea of my nice gaming machine sharing a room with a little monster, but at the same time don’t like being far away from her if I use it. With this little toy I could still keep the rig and the good mouse, keyboard etc out of the hands of the toddler, yet still let her watch me play some of the games she likes to watch. And worse case if she messes with this box it should run around 50 instead of 700 bucks…

  41. Whats nice is you can buy it off the steam store. I just bought it and didnt have to spend a dime since I made money selling dota and cs go items

  42. Same I got a gaming rig I don’t need to buy a toy one like a steam box, but I also don’t like the idea of picking up my rig and moving it to the living room with a toddler on the loose, who loves to touch the mouse, keyboard, wireless antenna, cables, any thing that she sees plugged into the big cooler master case she wants to touch lol. This way I just set up in the living room pick kid friendly games to play so she can watch me, almost all of them can be played with a controller and do not require a gaming mouse that a toddler wants to play with lol.

  43. this is definitely the answer i have been looking for to get steam in my living room without putting an amazing giant rig out there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>