I wrote a post a few months back theorising a little about SteamOS and how it’s bad news for Microsoft – if Valve get a number of plates all spinning in unison. A big part of SteamOS’ initial appeal will come from Steam’s new streaming ability, which is now in beta and works across Mac, Windows, Linux and SteamOS itself. I’ve been fiddling with it on a couple of Windows machines and it’s quite the remarkable thing.
The basic idea: You have a powerful host machine which streams to other, probably lower powered machines in the house. In theory this means a crappy laptop can run the latest games, at least by proxy. Excitingly it also means a Mac can run any Windows game – as long as there’s a Windows box in the house to do the heavy lifting. This appeals to me because it frees me from my office, providing an easy way to play games on the TV in the lounge without having to carry the PC downstairs or trail wires everywhere.
- Host: An old-but-decent desktop PC with a quad-core Intel Q6600 (ie, really old but good at the time and still holds its own) and a GTX 560ti (again, old but decent GPU).
- Client: a Dell 1555, which was average-to-good spec 5 years ago but pretty ancient now.
- Network: The desktop PC is wired through ethernet. The laptop I’ve tried both wired in and over wifi. Wired tends to be more reliable, as you’d expect, but wifi works surprisingly well too (once I’d adjusted some settings on our Virgin superhub router thing, which by default throttles the bandwidth for no discernible reason).
As you can see from the screenshots, I’m averaging 1280×720 at 30fps without too many hiccups. The crappy, low Xbox One-style resolution appears to be a hardware limitation of the host. Running the games AND creating the video stream to sent to the client is a bit too much for the old CPU, I think – newer i3/i5/i7s would probably fare better and handle 1080p no problemo.
The streaming came online around the same time I managed to get to playing The Stanley Parable. I played through the game (well, in so much as you do with The Stanley Parable) via streaming on the TV downstairs and it was every bit as engaging as playing it locally on my gaming PC upstairs.
The best thing about Steam’s streaming is that it just works without much hassle, even on old hardware like mine. Later in the year I’ll be investigating upgrading my gaming PC (Witcher 3 and Star Citizen are on their way, after all) and will also be looking for the smallest, cheapest Steam Machine which can still stream at 1080p.
In terms of Valve’s long term strategy, streaming is the gateway to SteamOS itself. Being Linux-based, currently their OS is comparatively limited in terms of big name games, which makes them less appealing to those gamers already equipped with high end Windows machines. The addition of streaming suddenly makes a SteamOS box something useful for sticking under the TV. And once they get adoption of the new OS up to a decent level that gives them more power to convince devs to make native SteamOS games…so, over time, streaming becomes less crucial, as does the Windows box upstairs. Clever.
Where things get particularly exciting is that this tech can run on any platform where there’s Steam client software. If Valve wanted, they could therefore make it possible to play high end PC games on an average Android tablet, for example – controller issues to one side for the moment. That’s a pretty compelling thought.