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Does your PC or laptop monitor seem too small? Want to enjoy your favorite games in Full HD glory? One option is to plug an HDMI cable from your PC directly into the family TV. Another is to employ some wireless trick for sending your computer desktop to a TV.
Originally released with a price of around $50, the tag has lately tumbled to a mere $20 (based on two sale prices in the first half of 2017). This places the Steam Link in a similar price band to the comparatively low-tech alternatives, while offering a full games console experience, using your Steam library.
Better still, the Steam Link is remarkably simple to set up.
What You’ll Need for Steam Link Gaming
The Steam Link comes with everything you need to get started. But you’ll also need a fast Wi-Fi network in your home. More on that in a moment.
In the box, you’ll find an HDMI cable, Ethernet cable, and power cable, with choice of four international power plugs. This makes the Steam Link ideal for traveling (although making every package identical is probably a cost-saving measure).
And then there’s the Steam Link itself, which is surprisingly small. I was expecting something around the size of a typical domestic router, but the Steam Link is more like a Raspberry Pi (which can, incidentally, do the same job) or Android TV box.
On the side is an Ethernet port which you should use to connect to your home network. Although it works wirelessly, you’ll enjoy the best Steam Link experience using a wired connection to your router.
Get the Steam Link Online
Setup for the Steam Link is about ten minutes in total. It will help if you have Steam installed on your PC already, with some of your favorite games downloaded. If they have controller support, all the better!
Connect the Steam Link to your TV via HDMI and your router via Ethernet. Also, connect a USB input device. This might be a keyboard, mouse, or game controller (see the next section for more on controllers). Finally, connect the power cable to boot the Steam Link.
As it launches, the Steam Link will initially display the main menu. However, this will quickly vanish as it checks for, downloads, and then installs an update. This will take around five minutes with a fast internet connection, but depending on your network speed, your mileage may vary.
Once this automated step is complete, the device will restart. Select your language, then configure the Display Setup (this is really good at auto-detecting your display’s resolution, so you’ll probably only need to hit A to proceed with the detected option).
Next, Steam Link will look for your PC on the network. Make sure Steam is running on your computer — it doesn’t matter if it is minimized. On the TV, Steam Link should find your PC. Use whatever input device you connected earlier to select this, and click A. A PIN will be displayed for you to enter on your PC. Make a note of this, maximize Steam on your computer, and input the PIN.
Following this, the device will conduct a network test. The results will inform you of possible issues you might face, which you’ll need to address later. Click A to proceed.
Moments later, your Steam Link will provide instant access to the games on your PC, ready to launch and play without lag!
Get Your Game Controller Working
You have several options for interacting with games via the Steam Link. As noted, the device has two USB ports that you can connect interface devices to. These might be a keyboard and mouse, keyboard and joystick, two joysticks, or two game pads.
That’s the usual mix for controlling your games.
But you’re not limited to USB. The Steam Link also features Bluetooth, so you can connect your favorite wireless controllers, from the PS3 and PS4 DualShock devices to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers, and everything in between. And let’s not forget the Steam Controller (our review)!
You’ll need a USB device to set up a wireless input controller, although it’s simple just to use your PC mouse if your computer is within sight of your TV or if you have someone who can pitch in to assist with setting up.
To connect your Bluetooth controller of choice, you’ll need to hit the back option on your controller until you reach the main screen. Use the power off icon in the top-right corner to choose the Disconnect option. You’ll see the screen briefly glimpsed before the update.
On the left, select Settings > Bluetooth. The Steam Link will look for your device, so make sure it is discoverable, and wait for the connection to complete. It’s that simple!
The SteamWiki features a full list of controllers, but if you own a Wiimote, Nvidia Shield (our review), Wii U Pro Controller, or Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, you’re in luck. Other devices might work out of the box, or might require additional receivers. It’s even possible to plug the controller into your PC or laptop, and play that way.
Using Steam as a Games Console
With your controllers attached, you’re ready to start using the Steam Link — which means your PC is now a games console!
The user interface may appear familiar if you’ve ever used Steam’s Big Picture mode. In short, everything is intuitive. Just use your controller to navigate through your library, and select the game you want. Notice the small icons for keyboard or controller; while some games are recommended as keyboard/mouse only, they can be reconfigured for controller use once launched.
And if the game of choice isn’t currently installed on your computer, you can install it by selecting the title and clicking Install. Similarly, you can open the Store screen, browse for games, and buy them.
Two other screens are available: Web and Friends. Use these to browse your favorite websites from your TV, and see what your Steam friends are up to.
Some Steam Link Configuration Tips
You’ve got everything you need attached and set up. But things aren’t quite right. What’s going on? Well, it looks like you need some further configuration advice. After all, every PC and laptop is a little bit different. What works for one might not work for another.
These Steam Link configuration tips should help.
Wireless Connectivity Issues
One of the main issues you’ll face with the Steam Link is poor performance due to connectivity. While the optimum setup will have both Steam Link and PC physically connected to your router, this may not be possible. What’s the alternative?
Well, one way around this is to have either the Steam Link or the computer connected to the router. Wireless interference between the PC and Steam Link can cause issues — having one connected via Ethernet is a solution to some of these.
On the matter of interference, it is worth switching your router from the 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz band. If this isn’t an option, find a channel that other devices are not using, and use a wireless extender.
Update Your Network
Another solution to problems is to update your network hardware. There are two main ways of doing this:
- Update the router’s firmware.
- Buy a new router better suited for Steam Link.
You’ll find instructions to update the firmware on the manufacturer’s website.
Consider also a new Ethernet cable. And if you’re relying on a wireless network connection due to a lack of Ethernet cabling around the house, it is worth buying a pair of powerline adapters.
Adjust Streaming Settings
Adjusting how your device streams data from your PC will also affect performance. In Settings > Streaming you’ll find the option to switch between Balanced and Fast. Obviously, select the one that works best on your network.
However, you can tune performance more finely while the game is playing. Use Shift + Tab on a keyboard to find the streaming settings panel. Here, you can tweak the resolution and bandwidth. The best way to do this is to start low at 3 Mbit/s and slowly increase bandwidth. Once you start getting lags and hitches, drop the bandwidth down slightly — you’ve found the sweet spot!
What About Dual Booting?
Not everyone runs a standard Windows PC. You might have set up your Steam Link using Linux (or even macOS). If you are dual booting between Windows and Linux, or macOS and a Linux operating system, you might be interested in learning how the Steam Link handles connections from different operating systems.
Well, it just works. While your Windows-only games won’t load (for obvious reasons) everything else will. There is no limit to the number of devices you connect to the Steam Link, but you’ll have to repeat the PC connection step. After that, simply start playing!
We’ve shared with you everything we’ve learned so far about setting up a Steam Link and getting your games running ASAP. But have we missed something? Do you have a useful tweak for improved Steam Link gaming? Or are you now planning to buy one? Leave a comment below!
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