Free Steam Link app for Android & iOS makes your Steam library mobile

Steam

When Valve practically started giving away Steam Link boxes for little more than price-of-postage, I assumed that the company was stepping away from the concept of in-home streamed gaming. Today’s announcement suggests the idea is very much alive and well at Valve: soon you’ll be able to play games from your Steam library through most iOS and Android devices via an official and free Steam Link app.

You’ll need wi-fi good enough to broadcast a smooth stream, plus a device with enough CPU grunt to decode it without stuttering, but other than that there shouldn’t be too many limits to the Steam Link software outside of a few extra milliseconds of input delay. Thanks to Steam Input support, you’ll also be able to pair Bluetooth game controllers (such as Valve’s own Steam controller) to your handheld device, allowing you to play a much wider range of games free from the shackles of touch-screen interfaces.

The nature of the Steam Controller – intended as a semi-substitute for mouse and keyboard – should mean that it’s the most universally flexible controller to use with the app, although it’ll be interesting to see just how easily other devices can be paired with the system. Perhaps the recently added Nintendo Switch Pro controller mode will be supported, too? Either way, this feels like it may trip up Nvidia’s plans to push the Shield tablet as a gaming must-have.

The app should allow for just about everything the Steam Link box did, up to and including playing games on the big screen, but handled entirely via software. Apple iThing owners will be able to hook their phone up to their TV via an official AV adaptor, and various options exist for doing the same with the broad range of Android hardware.

While the Steam Link app is geared towards gaming, a secondary Steam Video app is also due for launch sometime this Summer, although with no firm date pinned down. The Steam Video software will let you watch your Steam video library (a growing number of films, anime series’ and more, although not something I’ve really dug into myself) from whatever device you have to hand.

The Steam Link app will be live on Google Play and the Apple store on the week of May 21st, although precise dates per region haven’t yet been announced.

32 Comments

  1. The Army of None says:

    If this lets me play Slay the Spire on my phone, this’ll be the best thing this year.

  2. Xyviel says:

    Am I finally going to be able to play Duelyst on my Google Pixel C?

    Oh my, I’m not going to sleep anymore.

  3. TrentTech says:

    Good to see Valve has finally done this, though the only thing which entices me about it is the potential of using the steam controller.

    I’ve been using Moonlight (an open source multiplatform app which hooks Nvida’s shield streaming) on my phone along with an 8bitdo SF30 Pro controller for a while now and it worked better over my old 802.11n WiFi than the steam link did over a powerlink network at 720p/30fps. Recenyly I upgraded to an 802.11ac router and it handles 1080p/60fps perfectly, I can’t particularly notice any extra input latency even when playing fast paced fighting games.

    If the steam controller works on it (doesn’t it require it’s own usb dongle?) that would be a good reason to use it as I do like that controller but I can’t see how it could work any better than Nvidia’s hardware compression based streaming tech.

    • tekknik says:

      Both iOS and Android devices support USB host mode, so an adapter should be all that’s needed to use a steam controller, though it’ll be a bit wonky having to plug in that adapter.

      HW encoding/decoding is no better than SW encoding/decoding. In fact it cant be updated once the chip is made. That said steam is definitely utilizing the HW encoders on the desktop to encode, and your phone likely has hardware decoders (most devices have h.264 chips now) to assist with decoding.

      • TrentTech says:

        Yeah, dongles plugged into adaptors plugged into phones are always unwieldy. I never understood why the steam controller didn’t just support Bluetooth.

        Surely the biggest issue with SW encoding vs Nvidia’s HW encoding for shield streaming is the fact the latter doesn’t need to fetch the raw frame from the GPU (which is a notoriously slow task) but instead does the whole process in the GPU’s memory, with only the compressed frame leaving the GPU. That will add additional milliseconds even if the actual SW encoding process is able to run as fast as HW encoding.

        Even if Steam does use HW encoding there’s got to be some extra latency in the process simply because it’s a step further away from the metal compared to Nvidia’s driver level implementation.

        I wonder if it’s possible to benchmark the entire process on both properly to find out for sure? I’d be very interested to see that.

      • Excors says:

        HW encoding/decoding is no better than SW encoding/decoding. In fact it cant be updated once the chip is made.

        It sort of can. In the chips I’ve seen, the video hardware usually isn’t a black box where you pass in an H.264 stream and get RGB frames out. Instead it’s a bunch of programmable hardware blocks that accelerate particular steps in the encoding/decoding process (motion estimation, CABAC, etc), controlled by firmware (i.e. software running on some weird processor that’s not the CPU). You can improve quality and fix bugs and add features just by modifying the firmware, with no hardware changes.

        Still a lot less flexible than a pure software implementation, of course, but massively more power-efficient (which is crucial on mobile devices as they’re limited by heat (they don’t want to burn your hand) and battery capacity).

  4. mitrovarr says:

    Yeah, good luck getting a network connection solid enough between your desktop and phone to make it a worthwhile experience.

    • Teddy_K says:

      I’ve been streaming using Moonlight and Nvidia Gamestream on my Phone, Nvidia Shield TV and a GPD XD amd XD+ for years now. I get 22 milliseconds of lag using H.265 encoding. Get a good router(5ghz) use Ethernet for you computer and stay away from competitive online games. As for the software vs hardware streaming…well Steam in home streaming is always been worse than Nvidias gamestream tech. The quality drops more and the lag is more prevalent. This is a great thing for Steam but still won’t be as good as Moonlight on a Rooted Android device. Also I think I read this was for in house only. I have a Nvidia Shield at work and that can stream my PC from 25 miles away.

    • Premium User Badge

      alison says:

      I used Steam in-home streaming exclusively for 3-4 years in my last apartment, which was in a very crowded wifi area in the middle of a major European city. I admit I had some problems with ping during twitchy games at first, but once I set up a 5GHz wifi router it handled 1080p streaming to my (Windows) tablet no problems.

      Although since moving I only have my tablet now and don’t have a host to drive the games off, I think this is a freaking awesome development. It makes so much more sense for people with a certain lifestyle (mobile first, no TV, no broadband, no space for a desktop etc) to beam games to their device. Now all we need is someone to build a headless Steam server that you don’t need to plug a monitor and keyboard into to set it up, something like a NAS with a video card in it.

  5. somnolentsurfer says:

    Flippin’ finally. This was obviously always meant to happen at some stage. It’s probably optimistic to hope that the reason it’s taken so long is because they’ve taken the time to fix a bunch of the problems with Moonlight? Random disconnects, the inability to stream in 4:3 iPad resolutions, no keyboard built in so you have to use the Windows OSK for naming save files, and most optimistically really clunky touch controls. I just want to be able to play Endless Space 2 in my bed.

  6. Eleriel says:

    can’t you already do this with Moonlight or Remotr?
    I suppose something created by Valve will have more settings and support, though.

  7. racccoon says:

    Like I said Steam are nothing but parasites and now they want you and your mobile phone data.
    I have no idea why people are so gullable today.
    All of the above can be done with your PC and nothing else is needed as its all a gimmick, of course most dedicates and newbs are all going to fall into this net.
    As most people today just want a thing to do a thing so they don’t want to do anything!
    In the future the word will be “I am a robot everything is ok’d.” lol

    • haldolium says:

      You’re just a pawn and I’m already fully assimilated and part of the superior power that will rule your final days and the entire life of your children. Since obviously thats what a computer games provider platform is all about.

      Cease your resistance now and you might be spared.

    • mitrovarr says:

      Yeah, how dare Steam keep track of my hundreds of games! And keep them updated with no effort from me. And provide forums and multiplayer services. And let me re-download them whenever I want. And now, let me play them remotely with mobile devices assuming I can somehow get magical wifi that actually works.

      I mean, there’s a reason that most Steam users would rather have games on Steam than DRM-free. Steam provides a ton of services and doesn’t really ask a lot of the user in return. It’s not perfect, but its definitely something a lot of people actively like, not something you just have to put up with like uplay.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      Such politicized and loaded language you use to describe a company releasing in house version of software that already exists.

    • Spakkenkhrist says:

      Did you know gullable isn’t in the dictionary? Oh hang on it actually isn’t.

    • Rich says:

      I honestly don’t understand why people have such strong feelings about Steam, or any other shop front. I can only bring myself to care when they end up being a bit shit, like Uplay used to be (and sometimes still is). The exception is Games For Windows – Live, which had no redeeming qualities.

    • Jernau Gurgeh says:

      What? How would me being able to stream Steam games from my computer to my phone via my home WiFi network affect my mobile data allowance? Oh hang on, it won’t.

  8. haldolium says:

    Damn sounds like a dream but I guess It will remain one.

  9. lglethal says:

    Can someone clarify this for me – can you use this whilst on the move? So if im travelling on a train with wifi could i use this to play games in my steam account on my tablet? Or is this more of a playing games on your tablet at home (e.g. on the couch) over your internal home wifi network?

    • Plok says:

      From what I can tell it’s the latter and your phone has to be on the same wifi network as your PC, essentially just extending the current streaming functionality to more mobile devices.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      There *might* be some way to make it more remote than wi-fi, but I wouldn’t recommend that even if it is an option. The moment you start piping gameplay around remotely you start getting into the kind of lag that can make even turn-based games feel sludgy.

  10. DEspresso says:

    If they manage to enable Hexcells and Hook to play on a Tablet, I fear my dear mother will never leave the sofa again.

  11. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    The Steam Controller (which I love) isn’t Bluetooth. It uses it’s own dongle. Correct me if I’m wrong as Bluetooth as an option would be great.

  12. Ejia says:

    You know what this would be great on? The Switch. It already has its own controllers!

    Oh well, I assume when someone takes advantage of that Tegra exploit to install Android and turn it into essentially a Shield Tablet K2 one can load the streaming app then.

  13. Jernau Gurgeh says:

    Hmmm… so me selling my dust gathering Steam Link on Fleabay last week for twice what I paid for it was somewhat prescient of me?

    I’ll look forward to being able to play my Steam Library on my iPhone 6s+ whilst in bed, streaming games from my iMac which is a whopping 8ft away.

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