How to set up Steam in-home streaming on your PC

Wes Fenlon

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, or an AMD 7000 series GPU or newer. Why those cards? Because in-home streaming now supports hardware encoding on both Nvidia and AMD card. The Nvidia GTX 650 and above support hardware encoding; see this post for a full list of the supported AMD cards (though you'll have opt-in to the beta to use AMD's 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.

The network

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.

Setting up in-home streaming

Enabling in-home streaming takes about five minutes. Here's what you do:

  • On your gaming PC, login to Steam and open the Settings menu
  • Select the In-Home Streaming tab
  • Tick the "Enable streaming" checkbox
  • On your client PC, login to the same Steam account

Bam. You're ready to stream.

How do I control my client PC?

In-home streaming should automatically detect any XInput device plugged into it. An Xbox 360 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."

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 control, since the Big Picture interface is optimized for it.

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.

Tweaking Steam in-home streaming settings

I recommend trying out your in-home streaming setup with the following settings:

  • Balanced client performance strikes a balance between video picture quality and performance/responsiveness. Ideally, this means the image on your TV will look great, and the streaming lag will be imperceptible.
  • Enabling hardware encoding will use the power of the GPU on your host computer to help quickly render the game you're streaming into video.
  • Enabling network prioritization will potentially allow your router to traffic shape the data crossing your network and give in-home streaming more bandwidth than, say, Netflix.
  • Setting automatic bandwidth means Steam will determine how much bandwidth it uses. It's the recommended setting. Counter-intuitively, the "unlimited" bandwidth setting can increase latency, according to Valve's own developers.
  • 1080p resolution is a practical choice for streaming: better quality than 720p, but not desktop resolution, which would be higher if you have a 1440p monitor. Since the TV you're streaming to is likely 1080p, the native resolution will look just fine.
  • Enabling hardware decoding will use the GPU on the client computer to help quickly decode the H.264 video signal your client computer is outputting. Otherwise, the CPU has to do all the work, which could hamper performance.

I tested multiple games using these settings, including Nidhogg, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Spelunky, Assassin's Creed IV, Towerfall Ascension, and Samurai Gunn. Performance in Injustice, Nidhogg and Towerfall was near-perfect—I couldn't perceive the input lag compared to playing those games natively, and Injustice only slowed down for a few seconds on one occasion.

Results in the other games were more mixed. Assassin's Creed IV had both input lag and a low framerate, but it's a demanding game, and was running at max settings. Spelunky and Samurai Gun are not demanding games, but I noticed substantial input lag in both (with Samurai Gunn I had bandwidth set to "unlimited, which may have contributed to the problem). They were playable, but not ideal. This is an important thing to remember about in-home streaming: performance issues won't necessarily stem from a game's graphics settings being too much for your host PC to handle. Valve is still working on compatibility for games and hardware, and some games simply perform better than others. When I tried in-home streaming with the same setup back in February, Nidhogg ran at about 5 frames per second.

If you experience similar issues with input lag, the first setting you should adjust is the client performance option. Switch it from balanced to fast.

On fast performance, my input lag issue with Samurai Gunn disappeared.

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.

Next up: wired vs. wireless and the network settings to make streaming work.

What kind of router and home network do I need for in-home streaming?

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 802.11n 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 machine, Roku, and other devices. That sounds like a tortuous path, but it's still way faster than wi-fi.

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, it might 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:

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.

Family sharing and non-Steam streaming

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.

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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.

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