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Pressing Valve's buttons: Hands-on with the Steam Link and Steam Controller

Hayden Dingman | March 6, 2015
"Who cares about Steam Machines?"

The best part of Steam Link is that, as far as my demo is concerned, it worked. 1080p, 60Hz game streaming from a computer to a TV with minimal lag.

Now, it's key to remember that all these impressions only pertain to my demo. Demos are the equivalent of a busker selling snake oil out of the back of a wagon. "It'll cure your baldness! It'll get the aches out of your joints. Try this out and see how amazing it is!" You can't trust anything at these demos, because you're essentially seeing a product in as ideal an environment as the publisher can give you.

In our case, it's with the Steam Link and a computer wired directly together in a tiny six foot by five foot cubicle. In other words, nothing like an actual apartment (unless you maybe live in a closet in Brooklyn) and with as little lag as Valve can feasibly get.

But they did it. There is still a small bit of input lag, but it's minimal enough that I could actually play a game without feeling half-drunk. Other hardware manufacturers have not been able to accomplish that, even in their own controlled demo environments — I've seen lag that varied from 50 or 60 milliseconds (Nvidia in-home streaming) to much longer (Xbox One-to-PC streaming).

Again, whether those results will hold up when I'm reviewing Steam Link in my apartment, I don't know. I'm much more hopeful than I was going into my demo though.

As for whether it'll blend into your home theater, well, the thing is so small I think it could be mistaken for a coaster. I hate to use the term "Apple-like" but you kind of have to — it's just a smooth grey box with a single, indented Steam logo on top and a few ports hidden on the back.

One last interesting thing I learned: Despite early reports that this was a "Steam streaming machine," I confirmed with Valve that you can in fact stream anything from your PC, including just your pure desktop environment (or a browser running Netflix, Spotify, whatever).

We'll see how it all turns out — or whether the thing ever releases. I'm still not willing to bet on Valve releasing any hardware, even though I used it and played on it and it all seemed ready for production.

But assuming it comes out? For $100 for both the Controller and Link, this is looking like the best deal for people who have a decent in-home network and want to move PC games to their TV. We'll take a more in-depth look in the fall.

 

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