Mobile Gaming: Steam In-Home Streaming Enters Open Beta

It'd be criminal not to re-use this image after all the work that was put into it.

A desk bristling with more flight sticks, throttles, wheels, panels, pedals, and gamepads than a space shuttle command deck may be a wondrous sight and shrine to gaming, but there’s a lot to be said for slumping on a sofa in front of a TV or curling up in bed. “But Alice,” I hear you ask, “I don’t want to schlep my PC around and only have a netbook so what ever am I to do?” Dear reader, through the science of computers, you can now easily stream games from your gaming PC to anything in your home that’ll run Steam.

After a while of invitation-only testing, Valve has opened up the Steam In-Home Streaming beta to everyone who opts in.

In-Home Streaming is pretty much what the name suggests. You can use your big beefy gaming PC to run a game then Steam will stream it as video to a lesser device, feeding your control inputs back to the host computer. In short, you should be able to play shiny new games around the home even on your crummy laptop with its integrated graphics. This technology means you’ll inevitably suffer a little bit of input latency, and your two systems need to be powerful enough to handle encoding or decoding the video stream (though Steam’s quite clever about adjusting this).

This isn’t the only way to stream games between devices, of course, but it’s right there in Steam–right there!–and seems pretty slick.

Our Alec and Graham both had a crack at In-Home Streaming back in January. While they suffered a bit from having wonky home networks and slow client computers, they seemed jolly impressed by its potential. Valve have obviously worked on it a lot more since then, with patches coming almost every other day. Let’s see how it is now.

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34 Comments

  1. frymaster says:

    My old laptop was too slow to act as a client effectively :(

    I’m under the impression it uses hardware acceleration, which means any recent-ish Intel with on-chip video should be more than sufficient (these days intel graphics punches well above its weight for video decoding – large GPUs still beat them, but by less than you’d expect) but mine is core2duo era, which doesn’t do that

    • grundus says:

      How recently did you try it? A while back I tried my old Core Duo MacBook with a GMA 950 IGP and it was slow as hell, I was getting something like 3000ms latency because of the decoding, but I tried it again more recently and it was maybe 150ms. Still a bit slow, but playable and very impressive for such an old computer (this was with a wired internet connection since it only has 802.11g).

      I can’t believe how good Steam’s streaming has gotten, when I was first accepted into the closed beta the image quality was muddy and there was all sorts of latency going on. Now, even with my PC wired to my router and my laptop (this one’s a 2013 MacBook Air) on wireless (802.11n), there are only three obvious giveaways that the games are being streamed: 1) Windows-only games running on a Mac, 2) Even if they aren’t Windows-only, there’s no way they’d run at the resolution and frame rate that they do if they were on the Intel 5000 IGP and 3) there’s the occasional pause and stutter when everyone in my house is on Netflix or whatever. When I’m home alone it’s every bit as good as being in front of my PC.

      • frymaster says:

        hrm, I only tried right back at the beginning. I might revisit it then

  2. karthink says:

    When this service was announced, I thought the main PC would remain free for other use with the game running in the background. But it actually mirrors the display (and the audio, I think?) across the PC and the client.

    Does anyone know if you can minimize the version on the main PC and continue to use it for other tasks?

    • AsamiImako says:

      I think the idea here is that you wouldn’t be using the main PC because you’re using it from another PC, so no, I’m pretty sure you can’t. It mirrors the display and sound so that if something pops up (like an error window or some other thing) that takes you out of the game, you can close it, return to the game, and continue. That is by design. If you’re already at the host PC… just use the host PC.

      • karthink says:

        > I think the idea here is that you wouldn’t be using the main PC

        Is that Valve’s thinking? It’s a silly idea. For ex: Your kid sure can’t do his homework on the “steam box” plugged into the TV while you’re playing on the PC, but the opposite is a great fit. And there doesn’t appear to be any technical reason not to background the game on the main PC.

        • ComradePenguin says:

          Sadly there is a technical reason I think. As far as I understand it it just capturing the output of the graphics card going to the screen and encoding it. When I’ve minimised a game I am steaming to the TV the desktop shows up on the TV. I think to capture a game with something different coming out of the grpahics card would require a very different solution that would probably be far less universal.

          • karthink says:

            Ah, okay. Makes sense.

          • uh20 says:

            i would imagine there could be all sorts of pitfalls with streaming a game if it auto-pauses or wants to halt graphics when it is minimized, this also goes with technical stuff the OS wants to do with the game and with it limiting the screen data you can pull off.

            video capture while “minimized” is one of those things linux (and therefor SteamOS) boxes should be able to do very easily with virtual screens (that can be any screen size you want) and an extra set of virtual keyboard/mouse pointers for the streaming client to use. thanks and no thanks to X11 which was built mainly to be a clunky remote desktop server back when it was cool to do that kind of stuff.

          • P.Funk says:

            I swear I’ve had games that use my GPU while minimized, which makes me wonder: where is that output going if its not on my screen, but its still warming my card?

    • realityflaw says:

      Maybe try to use/spoof a multi-screen setup?

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Input is still on the one machine though. Windows does not even support separate input between windows (say 2 mice or 2 keyboards). So you could not “use” anything on the other screen without interrupting/interfering with the game.

  3. PopeRatzo says:

    My teakettle runs Steam, but I’ll probably have to upgrade if I want to stream Fairy Tale about Father Frost, Ivan and Nastya to it.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    I tried it out a while ago (got picked for an early beta access thingy) and it works really well, though the filter they use to scale the resolution down is a bit blurry. Everything was fast and responsive, with any input lag too small for me to notice. This was over an ethernet cable, it might be a different story using Wi-Fi.

    I can’t really see myself using it that much, as it’s much easier (and nicer) to just walk into the next room and play it on the actual PC it’s running on.

    • FCA says:

      Same experience here, except I also tried the streaming over WiFi, and it worked OK, didn’t notice any lag, even when playing supersensitive games like Super Hexagon. Also don’t see any use for it for me personally, as long as the streaming machine cannot be used for anything else. It seems silly that something which works so well for Linux/X11 is impossible under Windows.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Probably would need an entire VM and/or higher level VM/supervisor (is that the name?) to do that in a windows environment.

        Linux though can have many things added/swapped out by developers. With Windows it don’t need developers to add it, it needs MS to actually support it. :/

  5. bill says:

    Can this stream to other devices like tablets? Or only to other PCs? (I only have one of those these days).

    Failing that, what’s the best way to stream from PC to android tablet (or visa versa)?

    • carn1x says:

      Currently Valve do not provide any android software for tablets to act as a client, however if your gaming PC has Nvidia GTX660+ (I think?) graphics, you can install the Limelight android app and stream to a tablet via that method. Even if you don’t have the graphics card, at the very least it proves that a Steam streaming to android is technically feasible, and I’ll be surprised if Valve don’t venture down this path eventually.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      I used the free Splashtop for Android to do the same when not using a laptop with Steam Streaming.
      Splashtop is free for home streaming and they charge for internet streaming per month.

      Though you may be able to do the same with something like Windows remote desktop or other services. :)

      PS, Steaming Kerbal Space Program to my Android tab (with Keyboard for controls… those rockets don’t fly themselves!) is great! :D

  6. sabasNL says:

    I’ll try streaming Civ V to my laptop, which (thanks to the huge amount of mods I use) normally doesn’t run that well. Kinda skeptical, but it sure does have potential

  7. natendi says:

    Very silly question, but where do you go to start streaming?

    I opted in to steam beta updates and updated to latest client. cannot seem to find where to connect to the other device running steam…

    Cheers for any help!

    • dog says:

      i think you have to make sure the “opt into beta” checkbox is also checked on the client computer’s steam settings , so you have the steam beta installed in both locations…

      when you log in to steam on the client computer it should automatically find other computer logged in with the same account on the network…

      any games installed on the main computer should show in white in the library with the ‘play’ button replaced with ‘stream’.

      • natendi says:

        Cheers dog! Yeah I think I hadn’t actually selected the beta, now I see the home streaming tab in the settings!

        Thanks!

  8. samsharp99 says:

    I opted in to the beta months ago but never actually tried it until I was sat on the sofa with my laptop one day and steam pops up saying “connected to main pc for in home streaming” – keen to try it out I had it streaming Skyrim at full settings to my i5 laptop (lenovo yoga) over wifi and it definitely seemed playable!

    I also have a little media centre PC in my living room so I’ll have to put steam on that to see if it’s better over ethernet on an atom-based pc with a dedicated (low-profile fanless AMD GPU for £25) graphics card – it’s one of the HP microservers.

    If they both work then I can play any steam game anywhere in my house (in bed with the laptop, in the living room on the TV) which is pretty neat!

    Anyway – I was very very impressed with the results and how it just worked without any setup needed!

  9. goon buggy says:

    “curling up in bed. “But Alice,” I hear you ask, I don’t want to schlep my PC around”

    Not exactly the words i would have uttered curled up in bed

  10. P.Funk says:

    “but there’s a lot to be said for slumping on a sofa in front of a TV or curling up in bed.”

    I await a mouse you can actually use while slumped in bed. Gamepads, touchpads, and tocuhscreens are just not the same, nor will they ever be.

    Seriously, I would be so excited if someone had invented a peripheral that was as functional as a typical mouse but worked while you’re all kinds of coiled about sheets and duvet with no mouse pad in sight. I guess I could use a trackball… I guess… no, just can’t do it.

    • DanMan says:

      Steam Controller?

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      When I’m stuck in bed due to being sick or just lazy sundays I use a Steelpad mousemat or whatever it’s called and a Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500.
      It’s a quite good mouse for dragging around with the laptop (it uses a small nano transciever you put inside the mouse when not using it).
      The response is quite good even straight on a table surface, a binder or directly on sheets but the rubber grip surface around the sides is falling off after three years of use and it’s a bit small so it can be uncomfortable with longer sessions, especially in-bed gaming where the arm is already in a non-optimal angle.
      Other than that it was dirt cheap and I’ve dropped it a hundred times and it’s still going. It uses one single AA battery for something like 30-40 hours of active use.

  11. AbyssUK says:

    I’ve been using home steaming for a while now.. yes it’s great with most of my games.. but I use it the most for HD streaming of silverlight or flash from my main PC to my media box!

    I have a revo R3700 which doesn’t do very well with HD streamed content (silverlight,flash i.e skygo/youtube) BUT if i use my main PC to stream the content to my little revo, steam uses a media format it can hardware decode so it works flawlessly :).

    Home steaming works with non steam shortcuts setup on the host pc, so I just setup my browser as a link and it streams it lovely :)

    • Carr0t says:

      Ooh, I am hopeful then. I’ve got an R3600 I think. Will have to see how it does :) Do you use Steam on Linux on it, or are you running Windows? I don’t even know if the Linux Steam client has the option for this beta yet.

  12. Carr0t says:

    I wonder if this will work on my little old Acer Revo. It’s an Intel Atom CPU with a small nVidia GPU, designed specifically to decode 1080p video. Works like a charm plugged into my TV running XBMC on Ubuntu and playing 1080p TV shows. The CPU’s still x86-64, so fingers crossed I can get the Linux Steam client installed and it’ll all be gravy.

  13. Premium User Badge

    edna says:

    Somewhat surprisingly, this works beautifully on my ancient Aspire One netbook, running Windows Starter 32. Well, at the lowest (480) resolution, anyway. Almost no discernible lag. It is quite the thing to run Arma 3 on my netbook, even if it is impossible to see any baddies at that resolution. There is enough lag for me to doubt that a twitch shooter would work, but it’s fine for Dishonoured or Skyrim.

    To be clear: this is a straight up display stream. So if you alt-tab out of Steam on your main PC whilst streaming a game, then you can control the main PC from the remote one. So now I can use software that I only have on my main PC, whilst using my Netbook. As long as I alt-tab before I leave home, that is. Handy for work. Though doubtless there is better software if I really wanted to do that.

    Tried to run Crysis via Origin just for fun. But I only got 3fps, so that didn’t really work.