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Steam Link vs NVIDIA Shield TV: Which is best for PC game streaming?

Steam Link

Steam Link

Valve and NVIDIA are giants in the PC gaming industry and both offer systems to let you play your PC games from the comfort of your couch without the need to move your rig. The Steam Link and the NVIDIA Shield TV both have streaming systems integrated that use your gaming PC to do the hard work and your local network to stream the result to another display.

But in the battle of the game streamers, which is better and importantly, which is right for you. Let's break it down.

What is the NVIDIA Shield TV?

Shield is NVIDIA's lineup of gaming-focused products that run Android, and the Shield TV is, unsurprisingly, the one that sits beneath your television. Running Android TV, it's a combination of set-top box and console and using GameStream can put your PC games where you put your feet up.

NVIDIA has its own controller for the Shield TV, and naturally, using GameStream requires you have an NVIDIA GPU in your PC as well as the Geforce Experience app. It costs $199 for the cheapest model, which currently includes a controller and remote in the box.

How to stream PC games to your living room with NVIDIA Shield TV

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Steam Link

Simply put, it's a little black box you plug into your TV that allows you to play your PC games away from your rig. You can play with a controller or a keyboard and mouse, and its small size is matched with a suitably small price.

What the Steam Link isn't, is a set-top box. There's no Netflix app, or any others for that matter. All it does is let you play your games. You'll also need to provide your own controller or keyboard and mouse, neither are included. Steam does sell its own controller, but that's an extra purchase.

The Steam link costs around $40 at the time of writing, though there are often discounts to be had.

More: Steam Link review

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Similarities and differences

Aside from the obvious, that they both let you stream PC games over your network, there are some other similarities between these two products. The first is that the Shield, like the Steam Link, lets you stream your Steam Library. Which is awesome. Where they differ is that the Steam Link only really streams your Steam games, NVIDIA GameStream is much broader, even supporting UWP games from the Windows Store like Forza Horizon 3. Steam Link can minimize to desktop and there are ways to use non-Steam games, but it's a bit messy.

The Shield TV also gives you access to cloud streaming of PC games that you don't own, albeit for extra fees, with GeForce Now. And while you get a controller with the Shield in the box, you don't have to use it. It supports a bunch of others, including the Xbox One controller. Likewise, you don't have to get a Steam Controller for the Link.

Then there's your GPU to consider. If you use an AMD Radeon graphics card in your PC, forget about the Shield TV right now. Comparison over. Without a supported NVIDIA card, you can't use GameStream. The Steam Link is a little more forgiving to members of the red team.

Outside of this, the two biggest differences were touched on above. The Shield TV is a full set-top box capable of running apps, showing Live TV, even running as a Plex Media Server. The Steam Link is nothing more than remote play for your game library.

The other is the price. The Shield starts at $199, the Steam Link at just $40

Ease of use

Steam Link

In this regard, it's mostly a wash. Neither device is difficult to set up, nor use every day.

The Shield benefits from the TV-specific interface offered by Android TV, and NVIDIA has built its own app to silo off gaming from everything else. You just have to open up the NVIDIA Games app and you'll be able to access your PC library alongside anything you have in GeForce Now or natively installed on the Shield.

The Steam Link makes use of Big Picture mode, Valve's controller friendly interface. You've got big boxes, easy to read text, clear images.

It's tough to say one is better than the other when it comes to the specifics of PC game streaming, just know that they're both easily accessible.

Shield TV

Both perform admirably when actually streaming, though for best effects you'll want to use either a 5GHz wireless band or, the best solution, an Ethernet connection.

Where the two divide is in how much detail you can stream. If you have the PC for 4K HDR gaming and a killer local network connection, the Shield will let you stream your games in 4K. The Steam Link is limited to 1080p at 60fps, which is still very respectable given you're not actually in front of your PC.

It's what current generation consoles like the Xbox One top out at, after all.

Shield to

This depends on which angle you come at it from. If you only care about streaming your PC games and you only have games you care about streaming in Steam, then the Steam Link is the one to get. It's cheap, effective and not at all intrusive to your home entertainment setup. It's easy to setup and with Big Picture mode, a simple thing to use, too.

The NVIDIA Shield TV is a little more serious a product, mostly because it's not just a game streaming box. It's an everything streaming box. When you're done streaming games it's just a couple of clicks and you're in Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The downside to the extra functionality is the price. It's the better box all around, but the Steam Link is a quarter of the price. The choice, therefore, comes down to whether you want Steam gaming or gaming plus everything else.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

33 Comments
  • Shield is such a weird name for that product.
    Like, what is it shielding you from? Subpar resolutions and framerate of consoles?
  • Lol...
  • What an odd comment.
  • Lol
  • How about steam? Make you steam while gaming? ;)
  • It does that pretty well with all the ragequitting going on hahaha
  • You can stream non-steam games using the Steam Link, you just need to add them to your steam list using the "Add Non-Steam Game..." option on your PC. This, by the way, also works for every other application on your pc.
  • I was just about to say the same thing. This article needs updating with this information. Guild Wars 2 is non steam and I sometimes play it on the big screen via the steam link.
  • Yup. You can also mirror your whole desktop with a very minor workaround.
  • Can you add UWP like Minecraft to Steam tho?
  • Use UWPHook: https://github.com/BrianLima/UWPHook
  • Ty ty
  • What about uwp?
  • Use UWPHook
  • Thx
  • Please explain to me how to do this...I picked up a Steam Link a week or so ago for $20...I haven't even plugged it in yet...nevermind...I figured it out...easy. Thanks!
  • A lot of folks may not be aware the Steam In-Home Streaming can work between two PCs as well. The Steam Link is convenient but not a requirement. If you have an older PC available, or even an older laptop or tablet you are not using much anymore, you can dedicate to be a Steam streaming client and set up the Steam client software to launch in "Big Picture" (10 foot UI) mode. PCs work pretty reliably over HDMI these days, and you can use whatever controller you prefer to use Windows, including the Xbox One's.
  • This is also true. I've streamed fallout 4 to a 100 quid Lenovo 2 in 1 just... Because.
  • Got the SHIELD TV set up a few days ago, and I'm loving it so far. I do need to order an Ethernet cable to make the streaming actually bearable, but as a set top box it's already awesome. My long term plan is to have it connected to a projector with a 150 inch screen, but that's a few months away at the soonest. Being able to have all the smart TV stuff plus my gaming through one box is definitely a benefit. 
  • Its really a no brainer; you can get the Steam link for $20 on sale, who would pay $200 for the same thing with a few extra features, unless you have that sort of cash to waste.  
  • Yes and no. The SHIELD is also a set top box so it can stream Netflix, Hulu, Plex and other services, in addition to installing games to itself. It also supports streaming at 4K/60 FPS with HDR while Steam Link is limited to 1080/30 FPS.
  • Why not just connect your pc to your tv through hdmi. That's what i do
  • Convenience.
  • You then also need a long ass USB cable to keyboard/mouse/controller, if you PC is so far the wireless does not connect.  
  • If you also use it for all the video services, those apps are a lot more convenient and easier to use when sitting on a couch than messing with a webpage.
  • Is it possible stream movies saved on a PC with either device?
  • You definitely can with the Shield. I'm guessing there is a method with the Steam Link but I haven't tried.
  • Another thing that can make the decision for you is availability. For instance, the Nvidia Shield is not available in Australia whereas the Steam Link is.
  • I'm not sure why you are talking about netflix and stuff in this article as the title explicitly asks which is better for game streaming. Other functions need not apply.
  • Spot on.  It's like he didn't even tried it. He's just comparing marketing points . 
  • No latency comparison, really?  That's the only thing I was looking for in such an article.  Fail. 
  • Can't comment on the Shield but I've got a Steam link and over an identical wired network it blows Xbox one streaming out of the water. It can actually maintain 1080p 60fps without noticeable input lag. Input was so good I could play all the Arkham Batman games again without issues. Compare that to when I've tried to stream the Halo MCC and its a night and day difference.
  • I still use Windows Media Center as a dedicated HTPC, it does movies (all in HD with HD audio soundtracks), recorded TV off cable, music, and even streaming services (Youtube, Netflix and Amazon), even in full 4K... It's a decent machine even with a GTX1050 ti video card in it. Steam streamng is the better for me. It has a great interface that can be even controlled via remote, you can add even non-steam games to it and with a app called RELAUNCH 2.0, It even shows up in Media Center,  In Media Center, I browse to steam, select my game (all with a remote control) and then pop out my Xbox 360 controller (that I use JUST FOR THE HTPC) and play away,,, I even setup Emulation Station on there as well, every classic system from the Atari 2600 all the way to the WII (5200, 7800, Sega MASTER, Gensis, NES, SNES, N64, Wii is just some of them) that is all playable with a 360 controller OR the orignal controller. I tured a TV device into a possable ULTIMATE gaming machine too... It's really a blast and VERY easy to use