The Steam Link app is a dream concept for anyone who's ever thought how neat it would be to play PC games on your phone. In an age of gamer phones and the Nintendo Switch offering outstanding options for gaming on the go, whatever clear distinction there was between "gaming" and "mobile gaming" is disappearing fast.
Valve's contribution with the Steam Link app lets you stream your favorite Steam games from your PC to your mobile phone over a Wi-Fi connection. It's been out of beta for quite some time, but with new competition emerging from Google Stadia and Microsoft's Project xCloud, it's worth revisiting Steam Link to see how it holds up in 2020.
Game streaming is getting competitive in 2020
Given all the hype and attention being heaped onto Google Stadia and Project xCloud, it can be easy to forget that Steam Link is still very much a thing in 2020. It's been out of beta since August 2019 and works just fine as a means of playing games from your Steam library on your phone or on the NVIDIA Shield TV (or another inferior Android TV streaming box).
Steam Link is dead simple to set up and a blast to play when your wireless connection is solid.
Setting up the connection is dead simple, as the app walks you through the steps each time you load it up. You're required to pair your phone to your PC using a unique code generated on Steam on your PC and control things with a Bluetooth controller. Once the connection is made your PC will start displaying the Steam Big Picture menu on your phone or TV. Given that you must use a Bluetooth controller to play, you're only going to have a good time playing games from your Steam library that offer good controller support. Steam will warn you if a game is not optimized for controllers, and it's best to heed the warning because, in my experience, it's just not worth the effort to make it work with a controller.
But for Steam games that do play nice with controllers, you're in for a treat. Whether you're streaming to your phone or your living room TV, Steam Link is a great way to play PC games around your home. The Steam Link app simply mirrors your PC display, so it's not directly comparable to Stadia or NVIDIA's GeForce Now services. But it's still a convenient (and free) way to enjoy the games you already own on your phone or in the comfort of your living room.
What controllers can you use with Steam Link?
As you'd expect, Valve recommends using its own Steam controller, but unless you already have one of those laying around you're more than fine to use any other Bluetooth controller you own that can pair to your phone or Android TV console. We've got roundups of the best game controllers for the NVIDIA Shield and the best overall controllers for Android so you're sure to find either an option that you either already own or one that fits in your gaming budget.
If you're thinking of using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, it's not going to work the way you think. There's noticable input lag when using a mouse and it makes for a very frustrating experience. This is just part of the reality of a wireless setup that involves both screen sharing over a Wi-Fi network and a Bluetooth connection. Even with the Bluetooth controllers there's still some input lag, but it's not nearly as bad as with a keyboard and mouse.
Streaming to your phone is cool, but Steam Link really shines on Android TV
Valve's impact on gaming is well-documented. Since launching Steam back in 2003, it's been the de facto destination for PC gamers eager to discover and download new games. The Steam community has become a great place for developers to get direct feedback from gamers and helped Valve become one of the gaming industry's most prominent game publishers.
After dabbling in the hardware market with the Steam Link console and controller, it makes more sense for Valve to build its streaming technology into the Steam Link app. At its core, Steam Link has always been about mirroring Steam's Big Picture mode from your PC to another screen in your home and the focus on Android gives gamers the flexiblity to stream their games to a phone, tablet, or Android TV — and while playing games on your phone is surely a nice novelty, the Steam Link app really shines on living room TV.
The Steam Link app works perfectly on an Android TV box like the NVIDIA Shield TV. With the Shield TV already a prime choice for gaming, adding PC streaming from Steam just makes it that much more capable. When set up properly (Valve recommends connecting to a 5Ghz Wi-Fi network and keeping your phone close to your router, or connecting your PC and Android TV hardwired to your router via Ethernet for best results) it performs really well, but it just works that much better Android TV
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