If you've ever dreamed of playing a big AAA gaming title on your phone, now you can. Sort of.
Valve's Steam Link ($46 at Amazon) system originally required a physical box to be plugged into a television and connected to the same network as your gaming computer. You would then use the processing power of your dedicated gaming rig to stream your favorite titles to your TV so you could play PC games from the comfort of your couch.
Last week, however, Steam expanded Steam Link to work with Android devices. (Sorry, iOS users, Valve says Apple rejected the Steam Link app due to "business conflicts.") Here's how the Steam Link app works and how to set it up.
For Steam Link to work, you're going to need a host computer running SteamOS or Steam Big Picture Mode on Windows (Vista or newer), MacOS (Yosemite or newer) or Ubuntu (12.04 or newer). If you already game from your computer, it should work with the Android Steam Link app without much issue.
You'll also need a fast wireless network. Steam recommends setting everything up on a 5GHz network, if possible, and lists the minimum speed requirements at 15Mbps (30Mbps is optimal). Obviously, the closer you are to the access point, the better.
Finally, you need an Android device -- either a phone or a tablet. And while you can play some games without a controller, it's not recommended. You'll want to pair a Bluetooth controller (or a keyboard and mouse). Just don't be surprised if input lag ruins the experience for some games. (I tried playing Rocket League and while the game played fine, the input lag made competitive play unbearable.)
Setting up Steam Link for Android
The configuration of Steam Link starts on the host computer. You'll need to enable streaming over your network. To do this, open Steam on your host computer, then:
- In the top left corner of the window, click Steam.
- Select Settings from the drop-down menu.
- Click In-Home Streaming in the left menu.
- Check the box next to Enable streaming.
- Click Advanced Host Options.
- If your host PC has an Nvidia graphics card, check Use NVFBC capture on NVIDIA GPU.
- Optionally, check Prioritize network traffic and click OK.
You can also set client options in this menu. Select either Fast, Balanced or Beautiful for the performance on the Android device. And under Advanced Client Options, you can set a bandwidth or resolution limit, enable hardware decoding, configure the speakers and display performance information. (These settings can also be customized later within the Steam Link app.)
Next, install the Steam Link beta from Google Play and open it. Make sure your Android device is on the same wireless network (and the same router -- network bridges and wireless extenders may prevent your phone from discovering your computer) as your host computer.
When you open the app for the first time, you will be walked through the initial setup. Tap Get Started and select whether you want to pair your own controller or a Steam Controller. On the next screen, your host computer should be visible. If it isn't, double-check you're on the right wireless network or tap Rescan.
Once you select a host computer, you will be given a four-digit PIN. Enter the PIN on the host computer and click OK. The app will test the connection with your computer and tell you how well Steam Link will perform.
Playing a PC game on your Android device
After you've finished setting up the connection, open the Steam Link app on your phone and select your host computer. Make sure your controller is detected and tap Start Playing. This will launch Steam Big Picture Mode on your host computer. Your Android phone will be in control of your computer until you exit the Steam Link connection.
To begin playing, scroll through the menu using the left directional pad or joystick. (Controls may differ depending on the controller you're using, so you may want to go to Settings > Controller Settings to adjust controller preferences.) Select Library to view games and other media available on your computer. To see all the games installed, hover over Installed in the left menu. Select a game to start playing.
You can also install other games by going to Games in the left menu and selecting one that isn't currently installed. If it's a game that typically requires a keyboard, you will have to configure the controller settings before you can play it.
The thing to remember here is that not all games translate well to such a small screen. But while most people would most likely rather play a game while sitting at a computer or on the big screen of their television, it is nice to take your gaming anywhere within range of your wireless network.
For a more in-depth take on how well PC gaming translates to the small screen, CNET's own Lori Grunin took the Steam Link app for a spin.