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How to Use Steam In-Home Streaming

stream-pc-games

Steam’s In-Home Streaming is now available to everyone, allowing you to stream PC games from one PC to another PC on the same local network. Use your gaming PC to power your laptops and home theater system.

This feature doesn’t allow you to stream games over the Internet, only the same local network. Even if you tricked Steam, you probably wouldn’t get good streaming performance over the Internet.

Why Stream?

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When you use Steam In-Home streaming, one PC sends its video and audio to another PC. The other PC views the video and audio like it’s watching a movie, sending back mouse, keyboard, and controller input to the other PC.

This allows you to have a fast gaming PC power your gaming experience on slower PCs. For example, you could play graphically demanding games on a laptop in another room of your house, even if that laptop has slower integrated graphics. You could connect a slower PC to your television and use your gaming PC without hauling it into a different room in your house.

Streaming also enables cross-platform compatibility. You could have a Windows gaming PC and stream games to a Mac or Linux system. This will be Valve’s official solution for compatibility with old Windows-only games on the Linux (Steam OS) Steam Machines arriving later this year. NVIDIA offers their own game streaming solution, but it requires certain NVIDIA graphics hardware and can only stream to an NVIDIA Shield device.

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How to Get Started

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In-Home Streaming is simple to use and doesn’t require any complex configuration — or any configuration, really. First, log into the Steam program on a Windows PC. This should ideally be a powerful gaming PC with a powerful CPU and fast graphics hardware. Install the games you want to stream if you haven’t already — you’ll be streaming from your PC, not from Valve’s servers.

(Valve will eventually allow you to stream games from Mac OS X, Linux, and Steam OS systems, but that feature isn’t yet available. You can still stream games to these other operating systems.)

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Next, log into Steam on another computer on the same network with the same Steam username. Both computers have to be on the same subnet of the same local network.

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You’ll see the games installed on your other PC in the Steam client’s library. Click the Stream button to start streaming a game from your other PC. The game will launch on your host PC, and it will send its audio and video to the PC in front of you. Your input on the client will be sent back to the server.

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Be sure to update Steam on both computers if you don’t see this feature. Use the Steam > Check for Updates option within Steam and install the latest update. Updating to the latest graphics drivers for your computer’s hardware is always a good idea, too.

Improving Performance

Here’s what Valve recommends for good streaming performance:

  • Host PC: A quad-core CPU for the computer running the game, minimum. The computer needs enough processor power to run the game, compress the video and audio, and send it over the network with low latency.
  • Streaming Client: A GPU that supports hardware-accelerated H.264 decoding on the client PC. This hardware is included on all recent laptops and PCs. Ifyou have an older PC or netbook, it may not be able to decode the video stream quickly enough.
  • Network Hardware: A wired network connection is ideal. You may have success with wireless N or AC networks with good signals, but this isn’t guaranteed.
  • Game Settings: While streaming a game, visit the game’s setting screen and lower the resolution or turn off VSync to speed things up.
  • In-Home Steaming Settings: On the host PC, click Steam > Settings and select In-Home Streaming to view the In-Home Streaming settings. You can modify your streaming settings to improve performance and reduce latency. Feel free to experiment with the options here and see how they affect performance — they should be self-explanatory.

Check Valve’s In-Home Streaming documentation for troubleshooting information.

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You can also try streaming non-Steam games. Click Games > Add a Non-Steam Game to My Library on your host PC and add a PC game you have installed elsewhere on your system. You can then try streaming it from your client PC. Valve says this “may work but is not officially supported.”

Image Credit: Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr, Milestoned on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/26/14