A love letter to the original Steam Link

Back in 2018, I was able to actually grab a Steam Link when Valve was whipping them up for £2.50 here in the UK ($2.50 in US dollars). I was actually buying a Steam controller for my partner at the time and discovered the deal while browsing through the Steam site, so I bought the gadget on a whim. Since then, that little black tweak has made such a good impression on me that every alternative service pales in comparison.

Steam Link is fairly straightforward. It’s a box-shaped wireless dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, allowing you to stream games directly from your computer over your home Internet connection. I had great success using it over Wi-fi, and saw hardly any detectable lag, but you can also connect the device directly to your network via ethernet for a more stable connection. It even has three USB 2.0 ports for connecting wired controllers, mice, keyboards, or headphones in case you don’t have the luxury of having plenty of wireless peripherals.

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I’ve had access to both PC and various game consoles over the years, so I never thought I’d have loyalty to either side of the PC vs. console debate. But there are some titles that just feel better playing while you’re sitting on the couch with a controller. The physical Steam Link gave me the best of both worlds: I could play The Witcher 3 or Skyrim With all my mods enabled from the comfort of my living room, or walking into my bedroom to play World of Warcraft directly on the same computer.

Steam Link has caused problems despite its clear superiority over its predecessor

The aforementioned former partner acquired a Steam Link when we parted, at which point Valve discontinued the device and removed its listing from its Steam platform forever. The Steam Link app for Android was released as a replacement in 2018 (later followed by an iOS version in 2019) and can be downloaded directly to most smart TVs. It works similarly to the original Steam Link and, on paper, offers some advantages over the outdated box (like regular software updates, and 4K streaming support where Steam Link was capped at 1080p). But I still had several connection issues and bad latency while using it – and now I’m craving the dongle again.

Screenshot of the Steam link app showing console settings that can be modified.

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For example, on days when streaming works, the stream randomly freezes or crashes (despite a solid internet connection) and the input lag is so unbearable that I usually give up efforts and begrudgingly play on my computer live. Some days the app randomly disconnects from my computer or refuses to load, forcing me to delete it and then reinstall it on my TV. These are all issues I’ve never had with the original Steam Link hardware – it worked effortlessly every time I plugged it in.

I can’t replicate the reliability of the original Steam link despite having a better technical setup and faster internet

I have better internet speeds and a more stable Wi-Fi connection than I did before. This Philips OLED TV is less than two years old. My current ethernet-connected gaming PC is much more powerful and closer to both my router and TV than when I used the Steam Link. I checked every relevant parameter and connection and, of all accounts, the Steam Link app should The job. Yet she does not.

Other services haven’t lived up to the previous streaming experience either. The GameStream feature on the Nvidia Shield TV (which works similarly to the Steam Link app) is getting close, but Nvidia recently announced that it plans to discontinue the service in February 2023. Nvidia is now pointing users toward cloud gaming platform GeForce Now (with which I personally tested average performance, though pay for priority level) or, frustratingly, the Steam Link app. I’ve also found that other cloud streaming platforms like Google Stadia are not playable effectively due to latency. While the cloud gaming technology is neat, it’s not a viable replacement for devices like the Steam Link.

A group of devices on a table, all showing the Nvidia GeForce Now streaming service.

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Outside of searching for used Steam Link listings online, there are two solutions left. One is to connect my TV directly to my router via an ethernet cable. This will probably solve at least some of the connectivity issues, but it’s a little infuriating that I didn’t do the same with my physical Steam Link. It worked perfectly on my then-slower Wi-Fi over a much greater distance, and I didn’t have to lug cables around my living room.

Another (more drastic) solution is shelling out a pile of cash for a dedicated mini PC for my TV, like an Intel NUC. I’m only half considering it because that would cost over a thousand dollars, and I already have a perfectly serviceable gaming PC in another room. At the end of the day, that’s an awful lot of money to spend in order to replicate an experience that previously cost me less than a cup of coffee.

Steam Link hardware is designed to become obsolete due to its limitations

Valve’s reasoning for discontinuing the dongle is intact – its 1080p cap will eventually make it obsolete, and the software version can be used on non-HDMI devices. I’m far from the only person experiencing similar dissatisfaction with the app. Reddit threads still regularly ask for help with troubleshooting issues, while other users have compared their experiences using the two versions of Steam Link to see which offers better performance.

Despite the imminent shutdown of Google Stadia, many companies have also worked hard to push cloud gaming to consumers this year. Gaming Chromebooks have been released that come with Nvidia’s GeForce Now service preinstalled for example, and Xbox Cloud Gaming has finally made its way to the Meta Quest VR headset. Streaming games from the cloud is nice when it works, but for people like me, it simply isn’t a viable alternative to LAN-based game streaming yet. Until cloud gaming truly becomes the exciting showcase these companies promise, nothing will beat a 1080p dongle.

#love #letter #original #Steam #Link

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