How to set up Steam in-home streaming on your PC
Steam in-home streaming may be the future of PC gaming in the living room. Sure, you can build a powerful gaming machine for the living room. But that's expensive. You might be able to run an HDMI cable from your desktop to your big screen TV. But that's usually impractical. In-home streaming is the third option: you use an old PC, or build a low-power client box, to stream games over your home network. Valve's in-home streaming started as an exclusive beta feature in Steam, but now it's built right into the client and available to anyone. It only takes about five minutes to set up, and it works amazingly well.
If you're ready to try out in-home streaming yourself, I'll walk you through the whole process: how to enable streaming in Steam, what kind of host PC and client you'll need, how to make sure your home network is up to the task, and how to control your games once they're up and running.
What do I need for in-home streaming?
In-home streaming is a simple concept. You run a game on your PC much like you normally would—it displays on your monitor and can be controlled with your keyboard and mouse—and then Steam captures the data from that game and beams the audio/video signal to another PC! With in-home streaming, you can run Windows games on a Mac or Linux PC, run demanding games on an older laptop, or simply stream to a miniature PC in your living room.
The absolute basics you'll need:
- a host PC (like your gaming rig) running Steam on Windows
- a client PC in the living room (smaller/weaker/cheaper) running Steam on Windows, OS X or Linux/SteamOS
- a home network that can connect the two
Now let's get a little more specific. What kind of hardware do you realistically need to run in-home streaming?
The host PC
Your host PC should be powerful enough to run a game while simultaneously encoding it as a video signal. For best results, this would have:
- a quad core CPU (such as an Intel i5 or i7 processor from 2011 or newer)
- an Nvidia 600 series GPU or newer. Why Nvidia? Because Nvidia's 600 series cards support hardware accelerated video encoding.
I've successfully used Steam in-home streaming with an overclocked 4.3GHz Sandy Bridge i5 2500k CPU and an AMD 7870 card (which doesn't support hardware encoding). So you definitely don't need an Nvidia card. In fact, Intel's built-in HD Graphics GPUs also support hardware encoding with Quick Sync, so you may be able to stream a game without a dedicated GPU at all.
If you are trying in-home streaming with an AMD card, but do have an Intel CPU, you should make sure Quick Sync is enabled on your computer. Here's a tutorial for enabling Quick Sync.
The client PC
The great thing about streaming is that your host PC is doing the brunt of the work. Ideally, you can stream to some crappy old laptop or a cheap, low-power living room machine. But your client machine still needs to be powerful enough to handle decoding the video signal Steam is sending it.
Valve recommends a client with a GPU that can encode H.264 video. Again, Intel's processors with HD Graphics can decode video using Quick Sync, so you may not even need a separate GPU. Any Nvidia or AMD graphics card you can get your hands on should support hardware decoding.
You want a router that doesn't crash on you all the time. Ideally, it has gigabit (not 100 mbps) ports. There's a whole section on the requirements and configuration of your home network below.
Next up: let's talk about how to set up in-home streaming and how to tweak it for better performance.