random brain dumps

Streaming Games

6 February 2014

I’m a gamer. I play video games since Atari 2600 Jr. and having different gaming platforms over the years I do finally stick mostly with PC. Reason? Selection of games (yeah, we can start a flame war here, whatever). The only thing I always missed from the video consoles world is the ability to lay down on a couch and just play your favourite games. One could say that you can always connect your PC to a TV set and you’re done, but that’s not easy if you have one powerful gaming rig and it’s sitting in a different room.

That’s when streaming solutions step in. I wanted to find a way to stream a video output from my gaming PC to a TV without connecting it with an HDMI cable or alike. Then I stumbled upon Intel® Wireless Display. Intel advertises it as:

No cables. No clutter. Just Intel® Wireless Display (Intel® WiDi). Effortlessly stream movies from your Ultrabook™ or 2-in-1 device to your HDTV, play PC games on your home theater, or display presentation from your tablet on the conference room big screen.

Although I haven’t tested it (yet) I’ve seen some mixed reviews here and there, and they weren’t too optimistic if it comes to gaming. Other disadvantages would include:

  • it’s available only with some Intel processors
  • it needs an Intel® WiDi certified receiver device
  • if you need controllers like keyboard or pads, they need to be connected to a PC that streams (and that might be a problem if this one is in other room)

Hence some substantial investment would need to be made to make it happen. I decided to skip that solution for now, but I might want to test it in the future anyway.

The very next cool thing comes from NVidia and it’s called NVidia® Shield™.

It’s an Android™ device combined with NVidia® Tegra® 4 which makes it an awesome little handheld that can run SHIELD-supported Android™ games or bring a proper gaming experience from your PC. After connecting it to a TV it becomes almost ideal gaming setup. Almost, as there are some requirements and shortcomings that make it not so perfect:

  • GeForce GTX 650 or higher needed
  • limited number of supported games
  • no way to use a wire for streaming, thus you’d need 5GHz 802.11 AC/N WiFi set up (which can be costly)
  • the SHIELD device itself costs $249 and is available in US and Canada only

More information is available in their User Guide. Worth reading for detailed description of the whole NVidia GameStream ecosystem.

Steam FTW. Started with Big Picture and proceeding with the whole livingroom experience, Valve is trying to get the most out of two worlds - video consoles and PC gaming. Among these and other interesting features one thing really got my attention - In-Home Streaming.

You can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too. Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have - then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV!

Above statements hold true even when you substitute a SteamOS machine with any machine with a Steam client and that’s when things become interesting. Assume that you have a beefy gaming rig which you usually use for gaming and an old laptop that’s capable of running a Steam client and is connected to your home network.

Then, one scenario you might want to try would be as simple as:

  1. connect the laptop to your TV set (i.e. with an HDMI cable)
  2. run Steam client on both machines (gaming one and the laptop) and log in to your account
  3. fire up any game on the laptop

That’s how it works in general.

As of time I’m writing this post the streaming feature is available only for beta participants, thus first of all you would need to install Steam beta client on both machines and apply by joining an appropriate Steam group.

To make sure the setup is complete you can check if machines see each other by looking it up in a settings pane:

Settings on a machine that is connected to a TV and games will be streamed to.

Launching a game is then as simple as finding it in a library and choosing “Stream” button instead of “Play”:

Big Picture on a machine that games will be streamed to.

That’s it. To complete that streaming solutions comparison, let’s list disadvantages:

  • a spare PC computer is needed (doesn’t have to be very powerful)
  • Steam games lock-in

But there are more strengths than weeknesses in Steam’s solution.

  • a user is free to choose whether he wants to make a wired or wireless setup
  • people usually have this one unused old laptop that could be converted to “Steam machine”
  • no additional special-purpose devices are needed
  • no hardware lock-in
  • a huge selection of games on Steam

Although I’d love to try the other solutions, I’m totally sold to the last one. After making a quick setup I was able to play any of my Steam game while laying down on a couch. The friction on the user side is down to bare minimum and depending on a hardware, one could make it happen with relatively low cost.

I’m absolutely going to investigate Steam In-House Streaming further. My perfect solution would include a small form factor PC (like really small) that would run SteamOS and low-latency, fast WiFi home network. I’ll keep posting my progress.


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