Steam Link 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.
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.
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 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.