If you've bought Valve's Steam Link or have a cheap living room PC tucked into your entertainment center, it's time to set up Steam In-Home Streaming. Streaming is Valve's solution for running a game on your beefy desktop PC, encoding it as a video signal, and sending that video signal to another system on the same network. Think of it as Netflix being broadcast inside your house, with your Steam library (and non-Steam games you add to your library--many of them will work too!) standing in for all those movies and TV shows.
Here's what you need to know to set up your Steam Link or In-Home Streaming PC, and what you need to know to configure it for the best performance.
Note: With the Steam Link, Steam Controller and Steam Machines finally here, we've updated this guide. Enjoy!
While streaming, 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:
Now let's get a little more specific. What kind of hardware do you realistically need to run in-home streaming?
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:
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 .
Valve's Steam Link is an easy choice for a client device. It's small, cheap at $50, and can handle streaming with no performance issues. It can also connect to multiple Steam controllers wirelessly, without the need for a dongle. All you need to support the Steam controller is an HDMI cable to your TV, and wired or wireless Internet. We strongly recommend wired.
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 decode 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, although the Steam Link only has a 100 Mbps port on it. There's a whole section on the requirements and configuration of your home network below.
Enabling in-home streaming takes about five minutes. Here's what you do:
Bam. You're ready to stream.
In-Home Streaming is mainly designed to be used with Steam Big Picture Mode, and there are a few ways to control it. But you don't have to use Big Picture. If you're streaming to a laptop, for example, just select a game from your Stream Library; if it's not installed locally, it'll show "Stream" instead of play. You can also use the dropdown next to the Play/Stream button to install a game on the remote PC.
On the Steam Link, you can plug in Xbox controllers via USB, connect keyboards and mice via wire or 2.4GHz USB dongle, or connect them via Bluetooth. You can also use a Steam Controller wirelessly connected to the Link.
Your In-Home Streaming client should automatically detect any XInput device plugged into it. An Xbox 360 controller or Steam Controller is your easiest, most likely choice. Valve notes that "DirectInput controllers other than gamepad style controllers (wheels, flight controllers, etc.) are not currently supported. Other controllers using XInput are fully supported."
On a PC, you can also use a Dualshock 4 configured with an XInput wrapper. A keyboard and mouse plugged into the host will work too, which is important if you're streaming to a laptop. If you're streaming to a living room Steam Machine, you'll probably want to stick to a controller, since the Big Picture interface is optimized for it.
If you're using a Steam Link, turn it on. Hold X on a Steam controller, then press the Steam button to turn it on. This will enter the controller into pairing mode. You don't need to use a dongle with the Steam Link, though you can if you have any issues with wireless signal.
To connect the Steam Controller to a PC, first plug in its USB dongle. Then turn on the controller with the Steam button and follow the prompt that appears on-screen to pair with the receiver. You'll have to boot into Steam Big Picture to use and configure the Steam Controller.
With a controller or keyboard/mouse connected, you're ready to steam. Try it out!
If everything works perfectly, you don't need to read the rest of this guide. But like with most aspects of PC gaming, you'll probably want to do some tinkering to increase performance. You may run into slowdown or input lag. That means it's time to optimize your home network and in-home streaming's settings.
I recommend trying out your in-home streaming setup with the following settings:
If you experience issues with input lag, try switching from the 'balanced' to 'fast' setting. Just be aware that the picture quality will likely suffer.
If you have streaming issues with the above settings, your best bet is to simply change things up and see what works. Even if you have a great GPU, you may find that software encoding (your CPU doing all the work, with no GPU acceleration) gives you better framerates. If you really want to measure your performance, turn on "display performance information" in the advanced client options.
Short answer: the faster the better. Long answer: for optimal in-home streaming support, you'll ideally have a house wired for gigabit ethernet, with both your host device and client device connected via a hardline.
In my house, a cable modem connects to a wireless 802.11ac router, which is then wired to a gigabit LAN switch. That switch plugs into a mess of cables snaking throughout the house, one of which comes out in my room (where it plugs into my gaming PC) and one of which comes out in the living room, where another LAN hub splits the Ethernet signal to a Steam Link, Roku, and other devices. That sounds like a tortuous path, but it's far faster than Wi-Fi.
Over a wired connection to a Steam Link, the stream latency usually stays below 1 millisecond, which is fantastically fast. Over wired, this number can be much higher, up in the 20 or more ms range. That's likely going to be a perceptible bit of delay between your controller movements and the results on-screen.
If you can't connect over ethernet, wireless is an option—just not a good one. Wireless interference from neighboring networks could cause lag or stuttering, and your wireless bandwidth may not be sufficient to stream at 1080p, the default setting. Still, I have been able to successfully maintain a 50-60 fps 1080p stream with no perceptible latency over Wi-Fi, but that performance will vary based on your network.
Perhaps your home network will be good enough to sustain 720p streaming. If Wi-Fi is your only option, it's worth trying. Try these settings, enabling fast performance, network prioritization in the host settings, and 720p in the client settings:
Since it first introduced streaming, Valve has overhauled its code to run better over Wi-Fi. Start at 1080p, balanced and see if that works for you.
Any router with gigabit ethernet ports and/or 802.11n (or, even better, the latest standard, 802.11ac) should have more than the required bandwidth to handle in-home streaming, so you shouldn't need any special tech to get everything working. "Should" is the operative word there, though—there's a huge thread on the Steam forums of people testing in-home streaming with different wireless setups. Some work, some don't. It's possible your router, or the walls of your house, or something else, may not play nice with streaming. Running tons of other data through your router simultaneously (like torrenting, streaming Netflix, etc.) could also tank streaming performance. These are the perils of networking.
By this point, you've hopefully gotten in-home streaming working well enough to play games in the living room or on an old laptop. If the stream dream is alive, there are a couple more things you can do to make it even better: set up family sharing to stream games you don't own, and use in-home streaming to stream non-Steam games and applications. Like, for example, the Dolphin GameCube and Wii emulator . Yep, you can do that.
If you live in a house with roommates, or have family members with Steam, or kindly friends who want to share their libraries, family sharing and streaming make a great combination. Enabling family sharing gives you access to the entire library of your generous lender. To set it up, simply have your family member/friend/roommate login to Steam on your host computer, go into the settings, open the family tab, and authorize your computer. Once you log back into your own account, you'll have access to all their games, and you'll be able to stream them to your client.
Streaming non-Steam applications is an even neater trick. Potentially, any game or other program you can add to the Steam library can be streamed. That includes Dolphin— you can read about how to add Dolphin to Steam in this thread .
To add a non-Steam game to your library, click the "+ Add a game" button in the bottom left corner of the Steam window. Add any game you want, and try running it through Steam. Streaming may work without a hitch.
In some cases, like with Blizzard games, Steam may try to run the launcher instead of the game itself. That's no good. To fix the problem, right click on the game in your steam library, go to properties, and change the target to the game .exe instead of the launcher .exe. In the target field, you may also need to add -launch to force the game to skip the launcher. Adding -w for windowed mode may also get a game working.
Go, now, and Steam stream. If you simply can't get streaming to work with your setup, try posting in the Steam community. It's full of hardcore streamers who may come up with a solution to your problem. Since in-home streaming is integrated into the stable steam client, expect updates and improvements regularly. We'll keep this guide updated to deal with new Steam in-home streaming features as they arrive.