Posted on 08 May 2017 by L Coulsen

When Valve Got Steamy in the Living Room

Having been available for a year and half, following the November 2015 launch, now seems like a good time to reflect on Valve’s invasion of the living room. Granted, in my case, my PC is already in the living room and hooked up to my TV, so I’ve been making use of the latter mostly to game from my bedroom. This did require me to make a secondary purchase of a twenty meter Ethernet cable. Though a smaller one comes with the device, and it also has built in wireless functionality, it was simply more convenient that way.

It’s worth pointing out, despite Valve’s cautioning so, the Steam Link works fairly well without a wired connection. Larger resolutions, such as the 1440p that I prefer, struggle to keep up without a direct connection, sometimes leading to minor input lag, but the prevalence is not as pronounced as some would have you believe. Nor is it fair to place all the blame on the Link itself. Much like any other kind of streaming, your entire setup factors into it all in some way. In fact, the Steam Link seems more reliable than most, as it effectively does little more than act as an extra monitor.

Natively, it only supports up to a 1080p resolution, with anything beyond that downscaled to fit, but it does so with no noticeable signal degradation. That is not to say it is an infallible piece of hardware. Some games, for whatever reason, simply crash the connection, whilst others only load up as black screen, and some will sporadically crash, requiring the stream to be restarted. As time has gone by, instances like this have become decreasingly frequent, and with new firmware being rolled out at a highly consistent rate, stability is improving all the time.

Full control of all the steamy action.

The device itself contains three USB ports, allowing you direct connection of a mouse, a keyboard and the Steam Controller, all at the same time. Or, well, pretty much any USB device you would typically connect to a computer actually. Though there can be, of course, a small degree of lag, especially with more data intensive items. You shouldn’t be in a rush to hook up an external capture device. Which wouldn’t make much sense anyway, since you can plug them directly into your PC and still access them via In Home Streaming anyway.

Be aware, when you do have devices connected directly to the Link, button inputs can bring it out of sleep mode. So if you have cats, like yours truly, it’s not at all uncommon to find your computer suddenly possessed by a demon, spamming random keys and moving the mouse around all over the place. Because your darling feline has decided, of course, this unattended keyboard is the perfect place for an afternoon nap, why would you say otherwise Human? Which is, admittedly, rather amusing once you figure it out, but can be quite concerning if it happens unexpectedly. Probably best to unplug it when not in use methinks.

Other, potential, issues one could run into revolve around use of the Steam Controller. It works as intended as a device on its own, but can sometimes fail to correctly send inputs if something unexpected happens, like the previously mentioned game crashes. So having a mouse and keyboard as well is worth the potential pussycat invasion.

I'll set you up just the way you like it.

The Steam Link is a device that probably won’t get a huge amount of use from the average gamer perhaps. Given that a large percentage of gamer’s are now old enough to have their own home, and thus are no longer fighting for use of the TV, or even when they do have to share the living room, it’s not at all uncommon to have a second device. I actually expect most owners will, like myself, use it in almost the opposite situation to the intended Steam Living Room setup. But it’s a surprisingly cheap piece of kit, and one you might find to be far more convenient than initially expected.

The Steam Controller on the other hand, is something which you will rapidly find becoming a standard part of your gaming setup. Swapping out the right analogue stick for a track-pad opens up a whole cadre of possibilities, many of which are not immediately apparent. Even for die-hard mouse and keyboard gamer’s like myself. You know, the kind that suck balls using an analogue stick for a first person shooter? Setting the track-pad to a mouse like joystick works amazingly well. Often giving you far more precision with tiny flicks of the thumb, because the input is much smoother and less prone to minute debris on your mousepad.

All of the buttons the controller contains, which include the usual suspects, as well as two extra buttons on the bottom, are customizable in any way you choose. Regardless of what individual games are intended to do. This can lead to some confusion, obviously, as keyboard and mouse prompts may not exist within the game. The Steam overlay implies like it will add them itself, but so far has yet to make real on this promise.

Well, now that's quite shocking actually.

Something which is even more noticeable when using the Dualshock 4 compatibility options. Which function exactly the same as the Steam Controller, also allowing full customization (and now actually works). Until a few months ago, the Dualshock 4 D-pad would not register inputs, but this has been fixed recently. Something else which helps demonstrate who seriously Valve are treating these devices, rather than just giving up on them after six months like some people were expecting.

One of the coolest features the Controller has is its ability to store multiple configurations within the same game. Some requiring a button prompt to shift between, but others allowing pre-set criteria for automatic switching. Such as having the right track-pad begin registering as a mouse input when the mouse pointer is on screen. Extremely useful for games that make use of a mouse to navigate menu screens. There is also now a rumble feature, which is still in beta testing, but offers multiple levels of intensity. I find Medium-Low to be the best personally, which is one down from the default setting.

The rumble purportedly works with the Dualshock 4, but seems infrequent at best right now. There are also some issues with games that natively support the controller when using it through the Steam overlay. Input doubling and, for whatever reason, sometimes registering them as something else even if everything is set up the way it should be. Though you can disable controller emulation, on a game by game basis, to avoid this if it does happen. It’s also a lot less common now than it was. Oh, and did I mention you can make your Dualshock 4 light up pink?! Because you can! As well as pretty much any other colour (and brightness) you want.

I was extremely skeptical of both devices initially. Willing to give them the benefit of doubt simply because they were made by Valve. But I was won over almost instantly by the Controller, and rapidly by the Link. Both solid, versatile and effective peripherals which are…almost worth full price to everyone, and definitely worth sale price to anyone.

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