Valve was always seen primarily as a game developer. After the launch wildly successful Steam gaming platform however, they began to branch off into new areas of the gaming market. Their first home console system, the Steam Machine, back in 2015 (a sort of Linux-based TV confined hybrid of PC and Console) was met with a reception that can be described as “lukewarm” at best. However, many people seemed to forget a device which was launched alongside the Steam Machine – the Steam Link.
The Steam Link is a portable streaming box, allowing you to seamlessly stream games from a PC in another room or upstairs to your TV; theoretically creating the perfect home console – a something with the power of PC, projected onto the TV at a low cost.
Initially starting with a price at around £35, the Steam Link failed to really attract any attention until late 2018, where this price would plummet to about £2 (when bought on the steam store in conjunction with a game). This colossal price drop was likely due to the device’s very poor initial sales and Vavle’s desperate desire just to be rid of the hassle of storing thousands of unsold products.
Physically, the Steam Link is a really lovely piece of hardware, it feels heavy in the hand and robust to the touch; clearly being constructed out of premium materials. The minimalist design is also very aesthetically pleasing. Along the side of the box runs all the different ports and inputs you’d expect from your traditional game console; USB for controllers, HDMI for video output and Ethernet for a fast connection – it’s all here. Even the box it came in is well constructed out of good quality nicely coloured cardboard.
You may now be wondering why exactly the Steam Link failed – it certainly wasn’t, after all, due to any physical defects or obvious design oversights. No, the Steam Link‘s biggest downfall is its performance.
Even on the fastest of internet connections, the Steam Link can’t perform without at least some lag. Input lag, audio lag and general stuttering is near constant and basically unavoidable and whilst I’m sure with a NASA like internet connection the Steam Link would run like a dream; but unfortunately that speed of connection just isn’t available to the consumer.
The best way to run the Steam Link is wired, with one big long annoying Ethernet cable, but I think that really destroys the essence of what the system was trying to achieve. If you’re going to bother setting up numerous cables running all around your house, you may as well just save yourself some energy and move your PC to plug it directly into the TV.
There is also the issue of Steam’s Big Picture Mode, which is required for the set up of the Steam Link. Big Picture Mode is in its early days, and is still extremely slow and clunky. It takes what would have been an already slightly jittery experience (purely due to the nature of streaming over WiFi) and multiplies it by a factor of 10.
That’s really all there is to say about the Steam Link, it’s an excellent idea and a very well built product which is unfortunately held back by the constraints of the speed of currently available internet. Who knows? Maybe in a couple years PC to TV streaming services will be an excellent experience and the norm for TV based gaming – but we’re not there yet. We’re not far off, but certainly not yet there. At its original price, the Steam Link is a complete rip-off – if you were however able to nab it at £2 like I was, well it certainly makes a very well-built high quality paperweight.