How to Set Up and Optimize the Steam Link for In-Home Game Streaming

Valve’s Steam Link is a sleek, easy way to stream games from your PC to a TV elsewhere in your home. You connect the Steam Link to your PC via HDMI, connect a controller, and play. It uses Steam In-Home Streaming, which you can use with any PC, but the Steam Link offers a cheap, optimized streaming receiver you can connect to your TV.

How to Set Up Your Steam Link

The Steam Link is easy to set up. First, install Steam on one of your PCs, launch it, and then sign in with your account. If you already use Steam, you’ve already done this—just make sure Steam is running.

Second, connect the Steam Link to a power source with its included power adapter, and then connect it to your TV with its included HDMI cable.

Third, plug a Steam Controller, any USB keyboard and mouse, a wired or wireless Xbox 360 controller, a wired Xbox One controller, or a Logitech F710 wireless gamepad into a USB port on the Steam Link to control it. The Steam Link has three USB ports, so you can plug in up to three devices. You can also connect wireless devices to your Steam Link via Bluetooth later.

When you’re done with those basics, turn on your TV and switch it to the HDMI input the Steam Link is connected to.

Use the instructions on your screen to set up your Steam Link and connect to the PC running Steam. The process quick and simple, and involves joining a Wi-Fi network (if you’re not using Ethernet), setting up some basic picture settings, and choosing the PC on your network that’s running Steam. You’ll be prompted to enter a code shown on your TV into Steam on your PC to confirm the pairing process.

You can then select the PC running Steam on the main Steam Link dashboard and either press the “A” button on a controller, click “Start Playing” with a mouse, or press Enter on a keyboard. The Steam Big Picture Mode interface appears and you can use it to launch and play games as if you were sitting in front of the PC.

If you want to customize the Steam Link settings, you’ll need to select “Settings” on the main screen here. Once you select a PC, you’ll be in Big Picture Mode, streamed from the PC itself. Many settings for customizing the Steam Link are only available on the main screen here.

How to Improve Your Streaming Performance

RELATED: How to Get Better Performance from Steam In-Home Streaming

There will always be a little bit of latency (or “lag”) with the Steam Link because the games you’re playing are actually running on your computer. However, there are ways to minimize the latency and make the stream perform better.

First, you should use a wired Ethernet connection for your Steam Link, if possible. Connect the Steam Link to your router using an Ethernet cable. You should ideally connect the gaming PC you’ll be streaming from to the same router via a wired Ethernet cable, too. This is the single most important thing you can do to get good performance from your game streaming. Powerline networking may work better than wireless networking in some situations, but standard Ethernet cables are best. If you have a very old router and see bad performance with Ethernet, upgrading your router to something newer and faster may be the solution.

If you can’t use wired Ethernet cables, Valve recommends you at least use 5 GHz Wi-Fi. This means you should connect both your gaming PC and the Steam Link to a 5 GHz Wi-Fi network instead of a 2.4 GHz one. If your router doesn’t support 5 GHz Wi-Fi, you should seriously consider upgrading. A wireless connection will be a bit flakier and laggier than a wired connection, but it can still work. It really depends on your overall setup and the games you play.

The Steam Link supports 802.11ac wireless, although 802.11n also works. Using a 5 GHz 802.11ac wireless network is ideal, though, if you must go wireless.

You can also tweak the streaming options on your PC. To do so, open Steam on the PC from which you’re streaming, and head to Steam > Settings. Select the “In-Home Streaming” option, and then click the “Advanced Host Options” button.

Ensure the various “Enable hardware encoding” boxes are checked here for maximum performance. They should be by default.

You can play with the other options here to see how they affect your setup. For example, you can check the “Use NVFBC capture on NVIDIA GPU” option to choose an alternate capture method. In our experience, the standard NVENC capture method is ideal, so you should keep this checkbox disabled unless NVFBC seems to work better for you. NVENC is the same capture technology NVIDIA’s own ShadowPlay and GameStream technologies use. This thread on the Steam forums explains the difference in more detail.

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If you have a router with Quality of Service, also known as network traffic prioritization, you should prioritize traffic to and from the Steam Link on the router. This will ensure that the Steam Link can perform optimally. The “Prioritize network traffic” checkbox on the Advanced Host Options window above will also help on these routers.

On the Steam Link itself, you can change the quality settings by heading to the main screen and selecting Settings > Streaming Setup. There are three options available here: Fast, Balanced, and Beautiful. The default is Balanced. If you’re experiencing poor performance, try selecting Fast instead. If you have good performance, try selecting Beautiful and seeing if you get improved picture quality without a noticeable slowdown.

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The usual tips for improving your performance and picture quality also help. For example, if the game is demanding on your PC’s hardware, reducing its graphical settings can make it perform and stream better. And, on your TV, enabling “Game Mode” in your TV’s picture settings can help reduce any latency your TV may be causing.

You should also avoid using the PC for demanding applications while streaming from it, as that will reduce streaming performance. In other words, you can’t play a game on your PC while streaming another game from your PC unless you have very powerful hardware.

How to View Performance Stats

The Steam Link has a performance statistics overlay you can view. This helps provide raw numbers that show how your Steam Link is performing, so you can measure the impact of various tweaks and settings changes to see how much they’re helping or hurting your overall performance. To enable it, head to the main screen, then to Settings > Streaming Setup > Advanced Options (press Y), and then set the “Performance Overlay” option to the “Enabled” setting.

You can also toggle this setting on or off from within Big Picture Mode while streaming by heading to Settings > In-Home Streaming > Advanced Client Options, and then toggling the “Display Performance Information” setting.

After turning this feature on, you’ll see detailed performance statistics appear at the bottom of your display while streaming. For example, there’s a “Streaming latency” line that shows how much input and display latency you’re currently experiencing.

You can then make tweaks to your setup and see directly how your performance changes.

How to Play a Non-Steam Game on the Steam Link

The Steam Link can only launch games that are in your Steam library. It does support non-Steam games, but you have to add them to your Steam library first.

To add a non-Steam game to your Steam library, you’ll need to be at the PC running Steam. Click the “Add a Game” option at the bottom of your library, and then click the “Add a Non-Steam Game” option on the popup that appears. Point Steam to the game’s .exe file, and Steam will treat it just like any other game in the Steam interface. You can then launch that game from the Steam Link.

While streaming to your TV will never provide quite as smooth an experience as you’d get sitting at the PC, you’d be surprised just how close you can get with good PC hardware and a solid wired network connection. Especially for more casual games, you might not even notice the difference.

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 Twitter.