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View Full Version : My quick and dirty Steamlink impressions


Drunken Savior
12-23-2015, 10:19 AM
Overview:
When Valve announced Steam machines, I wasn't that interested. Afterall, why would I buy a pre-built PC when I could build something better for less money? However, they announced something else that interested me: the Steamlink. The Steamlink is a small streaming device that plugs into your TV and streams from your PC. Essentially, it's your own cloud-based gaming setup for couch gaming.

What Steam was doing (cloud based couch gaming) isn't anything new to PC gamers. Before, I had a small, light home theater PC that allowed me to view my movies and play games from my main tower in a separate part of the house. But what Steamlink does, it allows me to remove the home theater PC (the movies part is now handled by a Roku 2) and, in its place are two smaller black boxes, just barely taking up more space than a DVD case laid flat.

However, with this, you need a downright competent home network. Streaming video is pretty easy, but a game requires something much more powerful than just a wireless N or G router.

Hardware:
I personally created all the cat5e cables in our house, making sure they all work well. If possible, I hardwire everything. If I can't get a cable there, I use powerline adapters (http://amzn.com/B00AWRUICG). Wifi is a last resort, as I don't have a wireless AC router just yet and am forced to rely on 2.4/5.0Ghz A/B/G/N.

So here's the setup I have.

PC-->2' cat5e cable-->TP-Link AV500 Powerline Adapter to opposite side of the house-->2' cat5e cable-->Asus RT-N66U wireless router-->25' cat 5e cable-->TP-Link TL-SG105 5-port switch-->3' cat5e cable-->Steamlink

My PC: Intel i7-2600k (4.0Ghz overclock), 4x4GB RAM, 500GB 840 EVO SSD, 980Ti SC+

I made sure that the Steamlink runs the newest firmware as of today (Dec. 23), same goes for the router. And, as I mentioned before, I build and tested all the cat5e cables myself.

Xbox360 wireless dongle plugged into the Steamlink and it works flawlessly with Steam's Big Picture mode, which is how you navigate and play your games.

The Experience:
I was a little upset at first, I cranked the quality on the Steamlink to max (hardware encoded with Intel and Nvidia, quality set to Beautiful (as opposed to Balanced or Fast). And played some MGSV. Since my GPU had to handle some of the encoding, I was only getting 50 fps with everything maxed out (with the exception of DoF and motion blur turned off because fuck that crap). I was experiencing about 20 second pauses every 10 minutes or so, which is just unacceptable. It's off because my streaming lag was under 5ms (the TV introduced 40ms of input lag, compared to my PC monitor which has 4ms), ping was around 10ms. No dropped frames though, so when it was working, it worked beautifully.

So I dropped it down to 'Balanced' quality and the pauses only game every hour or so. Certainly playable, but a pain in the ass none the less. Plus, I could begin to see artifacting due to the loss of quality. Framerate was 50-60fps.

Down to the lowest quality "Quick" and I found the perfect experience. Rock solid 60fps, but some even more artifacting, especially in the skies. However, after two hours there wasn't a single drop.

I later tried played via my brother's computer, which has a similar setup to my PC, minus the powerline adapters. We were able to go at the highest quality (Beautiful) with no lags and the stream lag and ping being under 1ms. Of course, he's on a gigabit connection and I'm dealing with 1/10th that bandwidth due to the powerline limitations. However, since he as a 770 and I have a 980ti, the framerates were average (about 10-25 less than mine).

Conclusion:
Fucking fantastic! I love elegance, and putting in a small little black box in place of a small tower is certainly up my alley. I wish I could shed the shackles of these powerline adapters, but I'm not about to lay 50 ft of cat5e through two hallways. That's fucking gross. Like I said, I try to make everything simple and elegant.

So for $50, I believe Valve has a great little device here. If you can see the value of something like a Roku being your portal to your home video library through something like Plex, then you'll see the value of the Steamlink for gaming.

My biggest complaints are that it's pretty bare-bones. You can use it to view your desktop, but it would have been nicer if it came coupled with some more common apps found in other home streaming devices. Another complaint would be that the Steamlink uses 100Mbps adapters and not gigabit. It wouldn't have raised the cost of the Steamlink by much, but there's no reason not to futureproof your device a little.

I hear it can run literally any BT controller, so I might later try using the DS4 or the Wii U's Pro Controller.

Also, it'd be nice if I can use the new Xbox One wireless controllers, but that's kind of on Microsoft. They need to create drivers to allow it to run on Steam OS (Which is what the Steamlink runs) and I doubt that'll happen.

And finally, you can see how much forethought I put into making my home entertainment system very home-network friendly. I imagine most don't do this. So it'll be a somewhat hard sell for many to get the most out of Steamlink. But for me, damn...I love it.