Steam’s In-Home Streaming is an awesome way to get the top-tier PC graphics you love, with the living room comfort of console gaming. If you’re experiencing less than stellar performance, though, here are a few tips to ensure your games run butter-smooth.
All this assumes your games run smoothly on your host PC. If your main gaming PC isn’t running games smoothly, they won’t stream smoothly–that’s a given. But let’s say your games run great in your office, but stutter when you stream them to the living room. In that case, the problem is probably fixable.
Before you start tweaking settings, head to Steam > Settings > In-Home Streaming > Advanced Client Options on your client machine–the computer you’re streaming to–and turn on “Display Performance Information”. This will produce some numbers and graphs as you play that may help you diagnose your problem as you test and tweak.
Wire Up (With Ethernet)
If you experience occasional stuttering or dropouts, your connection may be to blame. Yes, Wireless AC is plenty fast, and Steam streaming isn’t that demanding speed-wise (after all, the Steam Link doesn’t even have gigabit ethernet). But it isn’t just about speed: ethernet wins big when it comes to latency, range, and interference, which can make a big difference in gaming and game streaming.
If you’re using Wi-Fi to connect your two Steam computers, try a wired ethernet connection to see if it works better. Wireless can work, but there are a lot of factors that can affect performance. Even if running ethernet cables through your apartment isn’t practically feasible, it’s worth trying just to diagnose the problem–if it solves your performance issues, you know a more reliable network connection is the only fix. Powerline adapters may be a decent substitute, though your mileage may vary depending on the wiring in your home.
In a perfect world, wireless would be good enough, but it just isn’t there yet. Even if you’ve heard from other users that wireless works fine, give wired a try. Everyone’s home is different.
Check Your Streaming Settings
Chances are you’ve tried this, but just in case: Head to Steam > Settings > In-Home Streaming on both machines and play with the settings there. On your host machine (the one you’re streaming from), click “Advanced Host Options”. You probably want most of these settings checked for best performance, but you may want to try turning a few off (one-by-one, of course) to see if performance improves. Hardware encoding is usually better than software encoding, for example, but if you have a beefy processor (i7 or higher), and a weak graphics card (or problematic drivers), software encoding may actually give you better performance.
On the client machine (the one you’re streaming to), you can choose between “Fast”, “Balanced”, and “Beautiful” presets from this same menu. These can improve performance at the cost of graphical beauty, but it may be worth it if your hardware just isn’t up to the task.
Click “Advanced Client Options” on your client machine and you’ll be given a few more choices. The defaults should be fine here in most cases. You can try setting a bandwidth limit, but most users find that Automatic is actually the best setting–Unlimited, while it sounds great, doesn’t always provide the best performance (but it’s always worth a shot). Some users have also had luck with this config hack, though we can’t verify its usefulness ourselves.
Lower Your Game’s Graphics Settings
Even if the game is running smoothly on your host PC, having your graphics settings turned up too high could cause problems streaming–your PC may just be working too hard to process and stream your game. Try turning down a couple graphics settings or lowering the game’s resolution to see if that helps streaming performance.
A number of users have found that turning off Vsync, in particular, can make a big difference in streaming performance for some games. It may create screen tearing on the host PC, but the client PC should be okay–and it can cut down stuttering.
Turn Off Big Picture Mode
If Steam is reporting a consistent 60fps but you’re experiencing choppy performance, Steam itself may be to blame. Many users–myself included–have found that Steam Big Picture is such a resource hog that, on some systems, it can cause game performance on the client machine to suffer. This is almost certainly a bug in Steam, but one that has yet to be fixed.
So, even though In-Home Streaming was designed to be used with Big Picture Mode, you may have to turn Big Picture Mode off until Valve fixes this problem. On the client machine, launch Steam in a regular desktop window and try streaming that way–if things run more smoothly, you’ll know you’re one of the affected users.
Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” collection of settings that will make your games run perfectly. All of these tricks are dependent on both computers’ hardware, and even the individual game you’re running. Some games may run better with one collection of settings, while others may run better with another. The only way to truly find out is to do a little experimentation yourself. With any luck, though, you’ll soon be playing your games as smoothly as if they were running on the PC in front of you.
If you find any tweaks that work for you, please let us know on our forum below–if they’re useful tweaks, we’ll be sure to add them to this guide.