The Case For Steam Link

PC Master Race?

Lots of people tell me that they have built a cheap gaming PC which is also very quiet. These people mostly have underpowered devices that aren’t really that quiet. They work for “last gen” games or indie games – in other words, games that require limited power in order to work. They are basically creating consoles with all of the problems of a PC and none of the benefits of high end hardware. “30FPS at 1080p is fine!” They cry, but it isn’t. We pan the consoles for doing it, so why not now?

Steam Machines have largely failed to get off the ground so far, probably because cramming high performance PC parts into a little box that doesn’t sound like a jet engine under load is very, very hard to do. My high end PC gaming rig isn’t super loud, but I’d notice it in my media room. I don’t want to build an underpowered mini ITX rig. But I do want to play my PC games in my media room.

There are many reasons why consoles are great – they’re absurdly easy to set up, they’re literally plug and play, and they sit under your TV without making too much noise. You can play comfortably from your couch – sit back, chill, and just play away. To get the same experience on a PC is no small task – you need a PC custom built for a media room (unless big cases and loud fans don’t bother you), you’ll almost certainly need a mouse and keyboard attached, and you’ll need to grapple with a UI that wasn’t made for a TV. But it can be done and there are good reasons to do it. PC games are cheaper, for a start, often significantly cheaper than console games. The visual fidelity is better. They can run faster with good hardware. Patches can be pushed very quickly, or you can harness the community’s brains to fix issues themselves. PC gaming is better than console gaming it everything except that lounge room issue.

Enter the streaming box. Valve’s Steam Link is far more interesting than the multitude of “Steam Machines”. Little gaming PCs are nothing new. This is. A reliable streaming box that leverages your heavy duty PC gaming rig? Yes, please! I’ll take that (and a Steam Controller) so that I can play my PC games on my easily serviced and upgraded gaming PC. I could build a mini ITX unit, which would be a pain in the arse to crack open and upgrade (done it before, didn’t enjoy it), or I could just have my ATX case and high end components without limitation. It can make as much noise as it wants, I’m not sitting in the same room.

There are considerations of course. You need a powerful PC, but if you’re a PC gamer you’ll probably splash out for it (and decent parts aren’t that expensive, and upgrading is easy and slower these days). You’ll need a good wired network, which is the more challenging thing to organise. But if you sort these out, I think you can reach that console comfort with that PC fidelity. I ultimately think that a dumb-terminal approach is better than the brute-force method of simply shoving another box into the room and crippling it so that there’s no cyclone driving you crazy.

I’ve enjoyed my stint with console gaming. I like sitting on the couch, lounging around, playing a game, as opposed to being hunched over a desk. But my PC delivers a much better PC gaming experience – it’s faster, it looks nicer, and the controls are much better (in terms of customising them), and the games are cheaper (usually by half). And while I could just move my gaming PC into the lounge, I’d also lose the ability to use it like a regular PC, for word processing or browsing etc. By using something like the Steam Link I preserve that desktop utility while also getting my couch gaming experience.

So as I come back to PC gaming, I’m looking forward to setting up Steam Link and seeing how well it performs over a higher-end home network. And looking forward to seeing how the Steam Controller works versus an Xbox controller! For me at least this looks like the best compromise – a high end PC with a streaming unit piping the experience to a TV.

Expect a new article on this soon!

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