If you have several PCs at home, you probably had the chance to try Steam In-Home-Streaming (IHS): the solution made by Valve to stream games from Steam from one PC to another. It works surprisingly well, so that you can play your demanding games on a feeble laptop as long as your gaming PC is running somewhere in the house. I’d wage it has been getting better over the years, because 3-4 years ago it seemed like the stream was not remotely as stable or as well defined. Nowadays, you can see the compression artifacts if you look long enough, but it’s mostly seamless and there’s barely any noticeable latency.
The Steam Link started as a hardware device ages ago now, until it was discontinued and replaced by a software version originally for ARM devices (Raspberry Pi and Mobile phones).
Are you aware that Valve has recently packaged Steam Link for Linux as well, as a separate application? It’s virtually the same application that runs on mobile devices (iOS and Android), but this time for Windows and Linux.
Now, is there any reason at all to use Steam Link instead of Steam In-Home-Streaming? Actually, yes.
One of the main differences is that Steam Link connects to the whole Steam client over the network, not just the game that’s currently running. This has several implications:
1) Games that require an update can’t launch from IHS… Steam Link solves this issue.
Yes, this was been something really annoying for a while. If a game requires an update, it was not possible to launch it through IHS. On Steam Link, you can first update the game through the streamed Steam client, and once it’s up to date you can play it as expected.
2) You can remap your controller on the Steam Link client side
I don’t think this is possible in IHS – but on the Steam Link application, you can unilaterally decide to remap buttons on your controller before even connecting to the remote Steam instance.
3) You don’t need a local Steam Client
This is probably the biggest selling point. You don’t even need to have a Steam client installed on the client side to stream games from the remote Steam instance. Now the Steam Link application has everything it needs: obviously saving some space (the Flatpak archive is however not that small either), and without the need of storing your previous Steam credentials. You may be wondering, how do you actually authentify if you don’t have any client? Well the first time you set it up, Steam Link will ask for a pin number that is displayed on your host machine. Once your Steam Client is identified, no need to do it again anymore. Very seamless.
4) Another layer of reliability
In Steam Link, you can actually always ‘escape’ the current session if things go wrong by a long press of the select button on your controller (or a keyboard shortcut) in order to regain control in case the game has frozen on the other end.
5) No need for SSH to shut down your remote machine
If you were using IHS, you probably had to shut down your remote Steam host through SSH (or maybe you left it on the whole time?). That’s another extra step that is not required with Steam Link: you can actually shut down the remote machine through the interface. And it even warns you that the machine will be unavailable once you do so (unless you set up Wake on LAN).
6) Security? Do we have a problem, doc?
This may be the only point where Steam Link is worse than Steam IHS. Steam Link lets you stream the whole desktop of the remote host. You can actually minimize Steam and escape to the desktop and… your whole remote host is vulnerable. Whether that’s desirable is up to you (you could stream Steam Link as a kind of super VNC session!) but if anyone other than you ends up accessing it… well, just saying you should be aware of that risk.
Well, it’s fairly clear than Steam Link is superior in almost every way and that there should be no good reason to use IHS anymore (except security!) at this stage. Interested in trying it out? Grab the Flatpak version through Flathub:
flatpak install flathub com.valvesoftware.SteamLink flatpak run com.valvesoftware.SteamLink
Note there are still some reasons to be wary about Flatpaks, so if you’d prefer a tarball, there is a direct link that is used to prepare the Flatpak version.
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I keep a Win7 box just for the (now especially) very rare occasion I want to play a game I can only play on Windows.
I hate using Windows though. Not simply because it’s Windows, but because Windows is such a clunky awkward mess. IHS used to be such a hit or miss thing. I stopped using it years ago. And even though you say it’s better, I’m thinking I’ll just go for the Link app, put it on my Linux box now that I’ve read your article.
Keep up the good work!
Thanks! I hope that Steam Link will work better for you on your Linux box!