It has been sometime now since I first got to try Steam’s in home streaming service when it was in Beta. The feature has come along way since then and I have found myself using it more and more. I decided to share my experience, good and bad, that I have had when streaming my games.
For those who do not know what it is, Steam’s In-Home Streaming allows you to stream games on say, your uber powerful gaming PC to your modest gaming laptop or HTPC. At first, I thought this would really benefit people who have their gaming computers upstairs and want to stream to their living rooms so they can experience AAA titles on the big screen. Unfortunately my gaming PC is already in the living room and a quick switch of a HDMI lead means my games come through on my television and home cinema system. I was dubious. However, my laptop whilst for the price is not a bad specced machine, it certainly isn’t a “gaming” laptop. It has a mid-range i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a pretty modest NVIDIA 740M GPU. It would certainly play most modern games fairly well, ish. I therefore decided to try Steam’s in home streaming to see what it would be like.
The first game I managed to stream to my laptop was Bioshock Infinite, a game that isn’t particularly taxing but certainly wouldn’t run on my laptop at the highest settings. It ran super smooth. Considering the service was still in Beta at this time and my laptop was over wireless, I would certainly feel like the game was being rendered on the laptop rather than my gaming PC. Only on the very rare occasion the mouse felt like it was “floating” due to slight lag, but this was few and far between.
Once the service came out of Beta I was craving for a SteamBox and wanted an additional computer for my bedroom. Unfortunately I could not afford a good computer for upstairs to play games so decided to change tact. Instead of going for a full on Steam Box I decided to go for a HTPC(Home Theatre PC) style build and use Steam’s streaming service for my games. So I purchased a second hand Dell Vostro. Again, this was only a modest machine with an i3 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 5450 1GB passive GPU. The computer was certainly not going to win any speed medals, I did put in a 480GB SSD which most certainly helped but the GPU would always be a major bottleneck.
So my computer downstairs was up and running, I then used a wireless Xbox 360 controller upstairs and was able to play my games quite beautifully. It generally worked well. There were however, some exceptions:
Wake on LAN becomes your best friend
So you have your computer in a second room to your main PC and you want to play games? Well, you have to now switch on two computers. This can involve a walk down/up stairs. This is where you want to use Wake On LAN. Put simply, you enable your computer(s) to switch on when they receive a network packet from another device. This works from power down, sleep and hibernate but you will need to check your motherboard settings.
I use an app called “Wake On LAN” on my HTC One M8 mobile phone to switch my computers on and it works a treat!
Also consider Sleep over LAN for the equivalent to switch your computer off when you are finished with it.
Don’t use Remote Desktop
If you have issues or want to remotely control your other computer, avoid Remote Desktop. Unfortunately upon finishing your session it locks your screen forcing Steam to drop the connection and prevent in-home streaming from working. I have checked for a work around but cannot find one beyond trying other software or avoiding remote desktop altogether.
Powerline Networking is not always better than Wireless
In my bedroom I have a 500Mbps powerline adapter that has a TP-Link Nano router attached, this router is a second router for my “G” devices so my main router can be set to N for maximum performance. So I have two wireless networks and an ethernet port that my computer in my bedroom can use. I try the powerline option but unfortunately this will work fine for a period then for no reason I will struggle to even play movies from my NAS drive that is downstairs, let alone play games!
Running to my “G” network helps, sometimes, a bit. I shuffled my setup around a bit so the machine was on the floor and now picks up a great signal from my main router in the room below and I find this is somewhat better than powerline. Speedtest gives me a ping of around 15 and a down speed of 35 with an up-speed of 12. Not brilliant, but sufficient for my requirements.
So put simply, In-Home Streaming is great, when it works. But you’ll need to ensure that not just your main computer but also the client computer both have superb network connections. You may also need to invest time, maybe even money, in extras such as a Wake on LAN app for your phone or a wireless controller etc.
If you are have an old computer or want an extra function for that HTPC you have lying around, then stick Steam on them and stream games from Steam where you want to other parts of your house.
I just wish there was now a way to integrate Netflix, Amazon Video, Now.TV and BBC iPlayer into Steam so it can manage all my media via an Xbox 360 controller. That, would be amazing!
Of course you could use some software like MediaPortal and run it from Steam