Steam Link allows you to stream games from your gaming rig to a mobile device, and it’s (finally) back in Apple’s App Store! In this guide, we’ll help you set up Steam Link on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV.
What Is Steam Link?
Initially, Steam Link was a $50 set-top-box you connected to your TV. It enabled you to stream your Steam library from a host PC on the same network. It arrived alongside Valve’s now-defunct Steam Machine initiative.
Given most gamers now own mobile devices, smart TVs, and set-top-boxes, Valve discontinued the hardware version in favor of an app-based solution. However, Apple removed Valve Software’s Steam Link app in May 2018, citing “business conflicts.”
Much has changed since then, including the addition of Xbox Wireless and PlayStation 4 DualShock controller support. Meanwhile, Valve added Bluetooth Low Energy support to its custom Steam controller so gamers could pair it with mobile devices.
The Steam Link app finally returned in May 2019, allowing PC gamers to play their favorite Steam titles on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV.
No Longer Locked to Home Networks
According to Valve, your host PC must have a four-core processor at the very least to use Steam Link. The company doesn’t specify any other minimum or recommended hardware requirements. However, your PC should run your library at an acceptable resolution and frame rate, even while streaming.
Your host PC should also use a wired (Ethernet) or 5 GHz wireless connection. The former is your best option, although most home networks don’t have ethernet cables draped everywhere. The same is recommended for client PCs.
Finally, Valve expanded Steam’s streaming component (now dubbed Remote Play) in June 2019. As long as you pair the host and client, and the host remains actively connected to the internet, you can stream your PC library from anywhere—not just when you’re at home. Again, though, the network connection is vital—even more so if you want to stream games via a cellular connection.
Ultimately, gameplay relies on your host PC’s hardware, its connection to the local network, the local traffic, and your client device. To stream outside your home, you have to consider additional factors, including your internet’s bandwidth, your wireless carrier’s connection, and the proximity of Valve’s closest data center.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to enable Remote Play, pair your controllers, and link your Apple devices.
Turn on Remote Play (Steam)
To enable Remote Play, turn on your host PC, open Steam, and sign in to your account. Click “Steam” in the top-left corner, and then select “Settings” from the drop-down menu.
In the pop-up panel, click “Remote Play” (formerly “In-Home Streaming”), and then click the checkbox next to “Enable Remote Play” if it’s not already check marked.
Next, click “Advanced Host Options” below the linked devices list. On the following screen, you can make adjustments to enable the best remote gameplay possible.
For starters, disable audio on the host. Select the “Enable Hardware Encoding” and “Prioritize Network Traffic” options, and then click OK.
You can experiment with the other settings and see how the stream performs on your network.
For the best results, don’t allow Steam to change the resolution to match your streaming client. For example, if you stream to a 4K TV, but your PC can’t handle that resolution, you’ll experience low frame rates and input lag. If necessary, you can adjust the resolution manually in-game to match the client device.
Another option is to adjust the capture resolution dynamically. This bases the image quality on your network’s bandwidth. So, if someone starts watching Hulu or Netflix while you’re streaming a game, this option lowers the resolution, so you don’t experience low frame rates or lag.
Connect Compatible Controllers to Apple TV
We’ll start with Apple TV. You might want to enable this option if you have a huge 4K TV connected to your Apple TV device. Or, perhaps you work on a computer all day and don’t want to sit in front of one to play games. This setup provides you with a console-like experience.
First, select the gear icon on your Apple TV to open the “Settings” app.
Next, use the Siri Remote trackpad to highlight “Remotes and Devices;” press down on the trackpad to select it.
On the following screen, highlight “Bluetooth,” and then press down on the trackpad to select it.
Here’s how to pair your controller:
- MFi Controller: Press and hold the dedicated Bluetooth button.
- Xbox Wireless Controller: Press and hold the Connect button on the back.
- PlayStation 4 DualShock Controller: Press and hold the PS and Share buttons until the light bar flashes.
When your controller appears on the “Other Devices” list, select it, and then press down on the remote’s trackpad. After a moment, Apple TV moves the controller under “My Devices.”
Of course, not every controller works the same. Here are some shortcuts you can press for inputs that aren’t physically available on your model:
Connect Compatible Controllers to iPhone and iPad
The process to connect a controller to an iPhone or iPad is similar to the one covered above, but it’s much shorter. Simply tap “Settings,” and then “Bluetooth.”
Make sure the “Bluetooth” option is toggled on (green). When Bluetooth is enabled, your controller appears on the “Other Devices” list. Tap it, and it will move to “My Devices.”
You don’t need a controller to play games on an iPhone or iPad. Steam Link includes touchscreen controls, similar to those you see in mobile games, like a virtual “D” pad and action buttons.
This might be the ideal input for an iPhone, but not necessarily an iPad, depending on its size.
Connect a Steam Controller (Optional)
If you own Valve’s unique game controller, you can pair it with an Apple device after performing a firmware update. To get started, connect the controller to your PC via a USB cable.
Next, open Steam and log in to your account. Click “Steam” in the top-left corner, and then select “Settings” from the drop-down menu.
Click “Controller” in the list on the left, and then click “General Controller Settings.”
In the Steam “Big Picture” pop-up that appears, select your Steam Controller from the “Detected Controllers:” list. When its details appear on the right, click “Bluetooth FW” to update the firmware.
If you haven’t done this already, the update adds the ability to pair your Steam Controller with mobile devices using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).
Click “Start” to begin, but, as noted in the BLE Update pop-up, don’t disconnect the USB cable during the update.
To use your Steam Controller with the Steam Link app, you have to enable the Bluetooth LE Pairing Mode. Here are the four modes the Steam Controller now supports:
- “Y” button + “Steam” button = Bluetooth LE Pairing mode: Pairs the controller to a mobile device.
- “B” button + “Steam” button = Bluetooth LE mode: Launches the controller in BLE mode.
- “X” button + “Steam” button = Receiver Pairing mode: Pairs the controller to the supplied, USB-based Wireless Receiver (non-Bluetooth).
- “A” button + “Steam” button = Dongle mode: Launches the controller in Original Receiver mode.
Next, refer to the Bluetooth instructions in the Apple TV and iPhone/iPad sections to connect your Steam Controller with your Apple TV, iPhone, or iPad.
Set Up Steam Link
With your host and controllers ready, you can now download and install the Steam Link app. Open it, and then click or tap “Get Started” on the introductory screen.
You’re then prompted to pair a controller. This step merely provides instructions, so you can skip it (if you followed the previous steps, your controller is already paired, anyway).
If you’re going to play games on an iPhone or iPad, select “Use Touch Control,” to use an on-screen gamepad.
On the “Connect to Computer” screen, select your host PC. If it’s not on the list, click or tap “Rescan.” If it still doesn’t appear, check the PC’s network connection and firewall settings, and verify that it and the client device are on the same network.
After you select the host PC, Steam Link provides a four-digit PIN.
Type this number in the Steam prompt that appears on the host PC’s screen, and then click “OK.”
Once paired, Steam Link tests the network connection between your host PC and the client device. Click or tap “OK” after the test completes.
If you return to the “Remote Play” settings in Steam, you should now see your linked devices in the list. For the following example, we added an iPhone and Apple TV.
Ideally, you want to use the same network to pair the host and client. If that’s not possible, though, click or tap “Other Computer” on the “Connect to Computer” screen to retrieve a four-digit PIN.
On the host PC, access the “Remote Play” settings in Steam, click “Pair Steam Link,” and then type the four-digit PIN.
At the end of the setup, the initial screen confirms your connection to the host PC and controller. It also gives a brief description of the overall connection quality (good, low, and so on).
Select “Start Playing” to load Steam’s Big Picture mode. After that, select your Library, and you can launch any Steam game installed on your host PC.
Select “Settings” to change hosts, configure the controller, or adjust the streaming settings. Note that in the network settings, you can test your connection. There’s an “Advanced” section, too, where you can enable desktop streaming, limit the bandwidth or resolution, and more.