Steam Link review: An affordable way to play PC games on the big screen

Steam Link (opens in new tab) is an interesting device for those already invested in the Steam ecosystem. This little box allows users to hook up their PC remotely to the TV in another room, much like the Xbox app can do with an Xbox One but inverted. It's incredibly simple to use, too: plug a HDMI cable into the TV and either hook up the Steam Link to the router via ethernet or Wi-Fi and you're pretty much good to go.

It's priced at around $50 and is developed and sold by Steam itself. It's by no means an inspiring device to look at, being a simple slab of black plastic, but for those who already have quite the capable gaming rig, that's all you really need to bridge the gap between your man cave and the social room. It's also small enough if you'd rather hide it away behind the set-top box.

If you happen to be the king (or queen) of streaming media to the big screen, the Link will fit right in alongside an Apple TV or even Amazon's Fire TV. Sure, while both the Apple TV and Fire TV will be able to stream a bunch of different types of media to the TV for consumption, the Link will be able to stream any title you own in your PC library to the big screen.

Steam Link

For connectivity, since this is hardware you'll be taking advantage of the functionality contained within Steam's little black box, you've got HDMI, the usual power connector, ethernet, and three USB 2.0 ports for attaching keyboards, mice and other peripherals. We'd strongly recommend either bring along or ordering online if you don't already have a wireless mouse and keyboard combo. I'd also look at picking up the Steam Controller.

I was pleasantly pleased with just how much kit is packed into the box itself. Valve not only inserted the Link, but also everything else you need to get started in a number of regions. An ethernet cable joins HDMI and universal plug adapters. There's nothing worse than unboxing a new product to only realize one has to order a bunch of cables and/or adapters to get the thing connected.

There is one catch with the Steam Link and that's the user interface. Vavle has opted to make full use off Steam Big Picture mode, which is handy since it was specifically designed for this type of application, but does mean you may run into an issue here and there as Big Picture mode isn't flawless. That said, it gets the job done, allows you to start killing stuff in minutes and enables one to read what's displayed on-screen from a distance.

Steam Link

Depending on what router you have and just how powerful the signal is around your home, you may be better off hooking up your PC to the Link via ethernet cabling. The two ends need to constantly stream data across a network, which can cause issues for lag input and stuttering if there's a slight dip in wireless performance. And of course, you'll need to fire up your gaming rig every time you wish to play something on Steam Link.

Couple this with playing a multiplayer game and you could end up having some latency problems. Not only will your network need to be fast and reliable enough to maintain a constant connection, but also for the PC to communicate with the outside world for online gaming. Most modern routers should be able to handle this just fine, but it's worth considering just how much weight you'll be expecting your router to lift. It's not an issue with Link, but with other parts of your home infrastructure.

And that brings me to my next point - the Steam Link is only really as good as your PC and home network. Should you be rocking a GTX 1080-powered system with a top-of-the-line access point you'll have a wondrous gaming experience. Anything less than that will mean you'll be sacrificing on quality in some way, depending on the title.

My capable system with a GTX 1070 and Core overclocked i5-6600K managed to perform admirably in tandem with my router, making for quite the pleasant experience. Fallout 4, Cities Skylines, Rocket League, Terraria, Rimworld, and a modded Skyrim Special Edition all ran exceptionally. Overall, it's a decent solution to an issue of PC gaming on the couch, all while utilizing the power of your main gaming computer.

The Steam Link is a well-positioned device for PC gamers. If you don't want to fork out for a new Steam Machine, or build another computer yourself, something like the Steam Link can bring your Steam library and performance of the gaming rig into the living room, at a fraction of the cost. Just make sure to do a little research and some testing on both your PC and home network to see if it will be able to handle more demanding titles and multiplayer.

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Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

  • I think I'm more impressed by Rich's DVD collection
  • Did you just talk about yourself in third person? ;-)
  • That's Richard Devine. Article author is Rich Edmonds.
  • Yup. I'm an idiot. My bad.
  • wait there are 2 guys on here neamed rich?
  • Quick question- Does the game have to be an official steam purchase or is any .exe file enough?
  • You can add the "non-steam games" you have added to your Steam Library, but I heard those didn't run as well as native Steam games, but yeah, you can.
  • So a Steam Link basically is a wireless 50€ replacement for an HDMI cable
  • Correct. Which I assume only plays games that are on your Steam account.
  • You can stream non Steam games too, you just need to add them to your Steam library.
  • It's a replacement for moving your PC into the living room. I know what the reaction would be if I did that in my house.
  • Gotta get that dual TV situation set up man! My wife and I did it years ago and never looked back. I like being able to be in the same room as my family when I game.
  • Not exactly.  There is an actual GUI on this device that connects to your steam account.  Which then connects to your gaming rig located on the network for streaming.  Also, my office is downstairs.  This saves me the trouble of having to snake an hdmi cable as well as cabling for mouse and keyboard to my bedroom upstairs.
  • The Steam Link boots up into Steam big picture mode and it has USB ports and supports Bluetooth. So no, it's much more than just an HDMI cable replacement. It's been on sale for $20 for a good while now too.
  • What is that huge ugly black box under your TV Rich? That piece of kit is massive!
  • Virgin Media TiVo box. Hasn't been updated in years until literally the last couple of weeks.
  • Ahhh, I see. That thing is huge compared to my Tivo Bolt.
  • I ditched virgin tv. Just get virgin broadband. And get now TV, Netflix, amazon and yes bbciplayer etc. You get more TV for less money. All through 1 box. Xbox one S. All my friends are doing the same. Finally ha ibg 1 box for everything is actually a reality. It's cheaper and saves a ton of room. He'll Accuweather even gives me a warning update across the bottom while I'm playing a game or watching TV. I cannot understand how some of you are still paying Sky, Virgin for TV and buying all these individual boxes of crap under your TV. My setup is so so clean. And I guarantee I have access to more tv, movies and games than any other setup. Which will increase more when Scorpio lands and we can just play PC games straight from the Windows store.
  • I'm forced to keep cable primarily because of my parents.  They need a device that will give them the ability to simply press Ch+/Ch-.  So far none of the streaming tv services/apps that I've tried provide this functionality. 
  • Your setup is so clean by removing one box? In may vary by region, but streaming services still can't replace everything. Especially if you're a sports fan.
  • In the UK it absolutely does. NowTV gives acces to live entertainment channels. And all Sports channels. And better still you can watch series whenever you want in order on that app. Without the need to record or wait for it to be on. Then you have the main app channels like 4od, bbciplayer. Netflix and Amazon. I had Virgin TV in the UK. And what I got for £30 doesn't even come close to what I get for £25 on the Xbox apps streaming. My One box gives us a 4K bluray player. No contracts for TV services. Over 200 apps already and a HDR gaming system. All for £200. As opposed to a Virgin box with a contract over 18 months. A separate Bluray or 4K bluray player, and a further box for gaming. Oh and a 4th box for decent surround sound. At least in the UK, the Xbox One is untouchable for TV, 4K media and gaming in 1 box. Granted the older generation won't get it. But even my dad of 57 has now only got a One S under his telly. Saving him loads of money and he can watch what he wants when he wants to watch it without ever needing to set a single record.
  • I never had much luck streaming from console to PC, be it PS4 or XboxOne. Some games looked okay, but input lag was terrible, even with a clear line of sight to the router (I can't do a wired connection on the remote end). I would imagine this is a wired connection or bust situation, as you're expecting a lot from a wireless connection, especially with online games where another 100ms of latency is a big deal. 
  • It actually works extremely well with the Steam Link hooked up to the router. My PC is wireless and I haven't experienced any noticeable latency.
  • Baffles me why people are happy to have their Tvs look like the bubble space station. Apple TV, bluray player, steam link, audio recorder. Etc etc. For the amount you all spend on seperate devices the Xbox one S gives you more and is 1 item under the telly. Way more content than apple TV, 4k bluray, live sport. I mean endless.
  • I am using a stick PC and the Moonlight program to stream ALL my games, even the ones not in my steam library. Work great if you want to stream non-steam games too.
  • Despite the audio bug and the odd stutter I'm really enjoying playing my Steam games on my big screen, even if it's topping out at 60Hz but that stick PC idea grabs me for playing non Steam games! Which one would you recommend sir?
  • You can add non Steam games to your Steam library and stream them that way.
  • I got one of these for $20 during a Black Friday sale. It has worked very well for me, much better than the Xbox streaming in my experience. The Steam Link is hooked up via ethernet while my PC is wireless. I messed around with the Steam in home streaming from my PC to Surface Pro (both wireless) previously and even that worked better than the Xbox streaming (ethernet to wireless). Hopefully Microsoft can improve the streaming experience, right now there's just too much latency for me to even bother.
  • "If you don't want to fork out for a new Steam Machine,"   I honestly hope that NO-ONE bought one!
  • Not a bad idea. We took our XBONE to the theater and hooked it up for us to play. Forza and Madden look amazing.
  • I bought one for $20 to replace my rarely-used wireless HDMI solution. Everything is wired to my router, so no worries on that front. Compared to how finicky the wireless HDMI unit is and the handling of dual-screens w/ different resolutions, this is a huge improvement. Everything came up quickly, including sound which, again, was a big pain before. I imagine there's some additional latency being added, so I wouldn't recommmend it for anything where every frame counts (like fighting games). For anything else, it seems to be a great little unit. Cheers for simplifying my setup!
  • Who needs steam link when you can get a PS4 that runs Steam hahah CCC what I did there... OK I'll get my coat... But before I do, how awesome would it be if Valve released a Steam Link App for Windows 10/Xbox One.
  • Combine it with Roccat Sova and you have great PC gaming on the sofa.
  • It's priced at around $50 and is developed and sold by Steam​ Valve itself.
    The company is Valve. Steam is their digital distribution product. 
  • this is what i need :D