Samsung TVs have a new Steam Link streaming app that works shockingly well

Last week I plugged an Xbox 360 controller into my Samsung KS8000 TV and started playing PC games on it--with my PC still sitting on the other side of the house. There was no console, no set top box. I couldn't believe it worked, but it did, thanks to a recent collaboration between Valve and Samsung to bring Steam Link functionality to Samsung Smart TVs. Samsung released a beta app to its TV app store in early June and I spent a weekend trying out a variety of games, including my recent obsession Hollow Knight and some more performance intensive action games like Dark Souls 3. After a few hours of gaming, I found streaming straight to my TV worked essentially as well as it did through the Steam Link hardware, and that's amazing for an app still in beta.

Getting up and running was as simple as searching for Steam Link on the TV's app store, downloading it, and making sure my PC was online. Launching the app brought up a familiar Steam in-home streaming interface, and the TV saw my PC on the network right away. I have both wired with Ethernet, which is ideal (and probably mandatory, at least for the PC end) for good quality streaming. 

Now here's where I ran into a bit of trouble. The introductory post on the Steam forums said that the beta version of the app currently only supports the Steam controller. I plugged the Steam controller's wireless dongle into the Samsung Smart Hub's USB port, and it did recognize it, but it only accepted one out of every 10 inputs or so. I could barely navigate the menus. Fresh batteries and a controller update via my PC didn't seem to make a difference. The Steam controller, at least for me, was unusable. Out of frustration, I tried a wired Xbox 360 controller instead. It worked immediately. No issues, no dropped inputs. Weird, but I decided not to question it and get into some gaming. 

Once in Steam Big Picture mode, the experience is identical to Steam streaming to any other device. I played about two hours of Hollow Knight and found the control inputs snappy and never suffered from lag or hitching as the game data ran across my network. I did get some visual artifacting in one area that distorted and pixelated large chunks of the screen, which was a bummer. But that was the only part of playing Hollow Knight that reminded me I was streaming.

The next game I tried was Broforce, a 2D action game that you'd think would be easy enough to stream. Apparently not: the game lagged tremendously every time I pulled the trigger. 

Thankfully, everything else I tried after that fared better. Dark Souls 3 ran flawlessly, and I played about an hour of the original Dishonored with no issues and settings maxed out. For kicks I installed Castle of Illusion, the remake of the Sega Genesis Mickey Mouse platformer, and it played just fine. I have no idea why I own that game, but it works well with Steam in-home streaming. I also dabbled in the hilarious Jazzpunk and played through a run of Enter the Gungeon before feeling satisfied that streaming works through the TV as it should.

I was worried my TV wouldn't have the processing power to decode the gameplay video coming from my PC, but nothing I played seemed to indicate that was the case. I was able to play at 1080p, 60fps, and the visual artifacting I experienced during Hollow Knight was, I'm guessing, a result of Steam's stream encoding and not the fault of the TV hardware. Other users seem to have mixed results—judging by the comments on the Steam forums, some have trouble getting the TV to recognize their PC or have issues with lag. I'm guessing some were using Wi-Fi, and the KS8000's Wi-Fi antenna isn't exactly stellar. Other Samsung models may also have more issues; the app works on all of its 2016/2017 4K models.

With the app still in beta, I imagine it's only going to get better. The big question mark for me is controller support, particularly for wireless controllers. The Steam controller was recognized but didn't work properly. To use the Xbox One controller's wireless PC dongle, the TV would need the proper driver. I hope the finalized app brings with it solid support for Xbox and PlayStation controllers, and ideally four of them at a time for multiplayer gaming. 

It's crazy that a few years ago, having a PC in the living room seemed like the only practical way to make PC gaming on the couch a reality. Then it was as affordable as a $50 streaming box. Streaming still has its issues, but it's much more reliable than it was when Valve first introduced it. If this Steam Link app irons out its few issues and eventually shows up on all Samsung TVs—and then all Sony TVs, and all LG TVs, yada yada—we won't need that living room PC at all. Now we can just attach controllers straight to our TVs and go to town.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).