My experiences with Steam In-Home Streaming

So, now that I’ve built my rig, I’ve been meaning to test out Steam’s IHS – especially since it’s been out of beta for a while now. Here’s a record of that experience, but spoiler: it was pretty unsatisfactory.

The Gear:

Desktop (host): i5-4590 + EVGA GTX 770 SC - gigabit connection to router through Cat6 cable/On-board NIC.
Desktop (host): i5-4590 + EVGA GTX 770 SC – gigabit connection to router through Cat6 cable/On-board NIC.
Laptop (client): i3 processor with integrated graphics - connected to router through Wireless N or ethernet cabl
Laptop (client): i3 processor with integrated graphics – connected to router through Wireless N or ethernet cable.
Router: Asus RT-N56u - Wireless N and gigabit wired connectivity.
Router: Asus RT-N56u – Wireless N and gigabit wired connectivity.

All three devices were located in the same room, no more than 6-7 feet from any of the others (which is only really important as far as the wireless connection goes though).

Set-up:

If it’s one thing Valve got right about IHS from the get-go, it’s the set-up process. There almost isn’t one. All you have to do is make sure your devices are on the same network, then log into the same Steam account from both of them. Any games installed on one device but not the other will have their “Install” option swapped out with a “Stream” option on the client device. There are some settings you can configure, such as whether or not to sacrifice performance for graphics (or compromise between the two), but they’re fairly basic and nothing to write home about.

Performance (Wireless):

This is where IHS disappoints. Despite being just an arm-span away from the router, I frequently got the “slow network” warning while trying to run Hotline Miami – not a very visually demanding game. This was even after compressing the video feed so much that even a ‘retro’ title looks bad. I got FPS readings in the 20’s with slowdowns and random speed-ups. If you had asked me just a week ago, I may have accepted this, but having spend the last few days playing at 75 FPS, it was almost painful. My controller decided to be uncooperative on the laptop in question, so I was unable to really examine input lag, but thankfully there was only a tolerable amount using the keyboard and mouse to control the game.

Even with this set-up, I’d have to say that it looks like using IHS over WiFi isn’t a good experience in the slightest. I tried Euro Truck Sim 2 and it was playable at times, but even intermittent moments of lag can ruin the whole experience while gaming.

Decision: Far from ideal.

Performance (Wired):

So, even though my intended use of IHS can’t accommodate a wired connection at this time, I still decided to give it a shot. I dug out an Ethernet cable and let the streaming happen. Surprisingly enough, on Euro Truck Sim 2, IHS managed to pull a consistent 60 FPS even when set to prioritize graphics. Input lag was noticeably more than playing locally, but still quite manageable.

Even so though, once I was able to look past dropped frames and the like, I was able to examine the image quality produced. Unlike the wireless connection, the feed through wired was free of compression artefacts and the like. However, even so there was pronounced loss of colour depth. Everything looked much, much duller and had an awful tint to it. It’s not something that would affect gameplay but it’s something you should go in expecting. Even under near ideal conditions, it seems that IHS cannot visually reproduce the experience of local gameplay, but as far as actually playing the game goes, I have to give it a pass. However, this likely means that my intended use of IHS isn’t feasible right now, but if your home is wired, you’ll likely have a decent experience provided all other factors are met.

Decision: Workable, but not perfect.

Conclusion:

Steam IHS seems to primarily be held back by inter-device communication speed and latency, which is quite a shame because it’s quite impressive when it works well. It may not be a perfect solution (yet), but it definitely fills the library gap on Linux machines, which was probably Valve’s intent anyway.

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