Steam In-Home Streaming

by Santiago P
PC gaming and portability do not come together easily. PC gamers always have to compromise in performance, weight, cost, or other things that makes PC gaming fun. Some people just give up portability and let their gaming PC stays in one place just so they can have good graphics and performance. Others end up getting gaming laptops which are portable but less powerful and more expensive.

This problem has been known in the PC gaming industry and companies like Nvidia and Steam are taking a shot at fixing it. Both companies knew that there is no way they can make PC gaming portable without heavily compromising performance. Thinking out of the box, both found the answer in the form of local network streaming. Instead of making the gaming PCs smaller, why not just use the gaming PC as a server and stream the games to another device within the network. Nvidia decided to build a device called Nvidia Shield that lets PC gamers stream their games from their PCs. Steam took a different approach, they decided to build software instead. This approach has a couple of advantages in costs and convenience. Currently, Steam’s in-home streaming software is in beta testing. It is free for anyone to download and most likely going to stay free even after the software is finished. Another PC will be needed but an old laptop can do the trick. In comparison, Nvidia is currently being sold for $299 (Hollister).

Streaming games faces many challenges. The biggest one is latency. Latency is the time it takes for the signal to bounce back from one device to the other. Streaming through the cloud has been done before but the “cloud can add a good bit of latency between an action and the expected result” (Sharp). By streaming games within home network only, Steam managed to reduce the latency to the lowest possible. Local network streaming allow for more stable, high quality connection between the computers. The Steam software acts as a H.264 encoder for the server PC and as a decoder for the remote PC. This achievement was thought to be nearly impossible a few years ago according to Ron Sharp because “encoding needs to be much more effective to reduce packet size” which in turn reduces latency (Sharp). Steam, however, seemed to have pulled it off.

Steam in-home streaming allows gamers to use their gaming PCs as a server to stream games within their own network to another device. It uses the power of a Windows based gaming PC and lets gamers enjoy that gaming performance on any device that can run the Steam client anywhere in the house. With that said, gamers can stream their games to a Mac, Linux, tablets, or even an old computer with adequate CPU processor. The server PC is the only one that actually runs the game. PCs like Mac and Linux that don’t natively run PC games can be used as the remote PC. It is also possible for gamers to hook up their PCs to a television with high resolution and play game their PC games right on their living room.

Using a gaming PC running on an Intel i5-3570k with an overclocked Radeon Sapphire 7850 GPU and streaming to a 2006 MacBook using an 802.11g network, the quality of most of the games that can be run are clear, crispy, and smooth but there are some considerable lag on some of the games. Games like Batman Arkham Origins and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 run smoothly while Europa Universalis IV and The Stanley Parable are both playable (Dingman). However, it does give somewhat better experience than that of Nvidia Shield, which is an already finished product compare to Steam’s which still in beta version.

There are a few requirements and limitations for the Steam software. The performance that gamers can get on their remote PC is only limited to what they have on their server PC (Welcome to Steam In-Home Streaming). For example, if the user only have 720p display on the server PC, the remote PC can only get as high as 720p resolution to display even if it is capable of displaying higher resolution than that. However, if the server PC has a higher resolution than the remote PC, the remote PC can scale down the resolution. In addition, the server PC cannot be used for other purposes other than running the game that is being streamed (Davison). In fact, the game will be displayed on both screens at the same time. Additionally, only one person can remotely access the server PC at a time. However, Steam is developing Steam Family Sharing that will enable multiple people playing different games from the server PC all at the same time. Since the game is streamed through the home network, a good and fast router is required. Upgrading to the next-gen 802.11 ac routers or using wired connection would improve the gaming experience tremendously (Hollister). Lastly, Steam in-home streaming is still in beta version. It “isn’t perfect yet” as Hayden Dingman from PC world says, “but you can see its potential to change the way people consume games” (Dingman). There are bugs to be fixed and only a few games are working flawlessly.

 

Davison, P. (2013, December 12). Valve Explains Steam In-Home Streaming | USgamer. Retrieved February 12, 2014, from http://www.usgamer.net/articles/valve-explains-steam-in-home-streaming

Dingman, H. (2014, January 29). Hands-on: Steam’s in-home PC game streaming beta already feels like magic | PCWorld. Retrieved February 10, 2014, from http://www.pcworld.com/article/2092220/hands-on-steams-in-home-pc-game-streaming-beta-already-feels-like-magic.html

Hollister, S. (2013, July 31). Nvidia Shield review | The Verge. Retrieved February 13, 2014, from http://www.theverge.com/2013/7/31/4573596/nvidia-shield-review

Hollister, S. (2014, January 26). Steam In-Home Streaming lets you play away from your PC | The Verge. Retrieved February 13, 2014, from http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/26/5345364/steam-in-home-streaming-preview-a-short-range-slingbox-for-your

Sharp, R. (2012). Latency in cloud‐based interactive streaming content. Bell Labs Technical Journal, 17(2), 67-80.

Steam Community :: Group :: Steam In-Home Streaming. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2014, from http://steamcommunity.com/groups/homestream#announcements

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “Steam In-Home Streaming

  • February 13, 2014 at 1:41 pm
    Permalink

    This is a good read, I love the idea Steam is trying to do to the home entertainment world. I agree with latency being a huge issue but if this isn’t successful right away it will become extremely popular in the future when latency is not a problem.

  • February 13, 2014 at 8:54 pm
    Permalink

    Although this is a really cool technology that is being developed, I feel like the scope of it at the moment leaves its usage very limited. When you are limited to only your local area network, you are essentially still playing your PC games in your house. I cannot think of too many situations where a dedicated PC gamer would willingly sacrifice frames and the inevitably awesome gaming peripherals at the PC station in favor of playing their favorite game on the couch. If that’s your cup of tea, isn’t that what consoles are for?

    • March 6, 2014 at 5:04 pm
      Permalink

      You are right. It is very limited. However, internet game streaming did actually exist at one point but it didn’t survive. So the way I see it is that Steam is doing it one step at a time. Also, the main goal of the software is to provide a cheaper alternative that actually works. Steam is free to use and there are not that much requirements. Compare that to other alternatives like buying a laptop, a console, or handheld device. Finally, you got to remember that you will be playing actual pc games.

    • March 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm
      Permalink

      I was thinking the same thing. Unless the scope increased to have capabilities of accessing streaming from another network is to be introduced I don’t see a wide use of it. Another program that allows for fighting games to be played with one another to reduce lag (GGPO) in an environment where lag can really diminish the integrity of play the lower packets and use rollback in order to solve the issue. While it may not be perfect maybe something like this can be implemented by Steam.

  • February 22, 2014 at 5:43 pm
    Permalink

    I recently bought a Nvidia Game card, and I was hoping to use it on my 4K tv. However, as current technologies only allow us to have a refresh rate of 30 on the tv, the games do not run as smoothly as it could have, although it is still very playable. Hopefully in the future HDMI 2.0 WIll be available on these tvs as the graphics are absolutely breathtaking!

  • March 4, 2014 at 11:20 pm
    Permalink

    I really enjoyed reading this article and it was a good presentation but what I hope Steam does in order to compete with the main consoles is to be able to get the third person providers to sell the console for a way cheaper price.

  • March 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm
    Permalink

    Cool article … what about the Apple TV approach ? Using live stream or MLH?
    Soon one day we will be able to do so much with the technology in streaming.

  • March 14, 2014 at 2:05 pm
    Permalink

    Not much of a gamer, but I can why many people will love this kind of technology. Another kind of software that people might enjoy for gaming is called Splashtop, which is a remote desktop application. It’s similar to Steam where video and audio can be streamed to play games.

  • March 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm
    Permalink

    As a gamer, im excited to see this released. Im not sure how well it will work for competitive gaming or if response time will be good enough, but it is an interesting idea nonetheless and I cant wait for the beta to come out.

  • March 17, 2014 at 3:05 pm
    Permalink

    Steam has always worked well with computer gaming and this is just one more on the checklist. However, their introduction of the Steambox leaves a lot to be desired when they are competing with Microsoft and Sony whose consoles are more affordable.

  • March 17, 2014 at 4:40 pm
    Permalink

    I personally think the SteamBox won’t be as popular as the Xbox or Playstation. I think Steam is taking a big risk entering the console market when it is already dominated by 3 very powerful companies. Consumers will be hesitant to buy another $400 console when they already know how reliable the Xbox, Playstation, and Wii are.

  • March 17, 2014 at 6:26 pm
    Permalink

    It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. There has been a service like this before provided by a company called OnLive. The company ended up laying off all its employees and selling all its assets to a private group in 2012. They still provide streaming game service and also hosted remote desktop.

  • March 17, 2014 at 11:56 pm
    Permalink

    As someone who is trying to learn more about telecommunications I find this topic very interesting. I love the idea of being able to have a monster PC for your source to gaming. The only way I could see this idea not catching any peoples attention is the fear of lag like mentioned in previous comments, and I also feel like it would be impossible to make this an outside of the house experience because the delay will be much to great unless you are in an inside environment but nonetheless, I like steam and this is very cool.

  • March 18, 2014 at 1:04 am
    Permalink

    Ive been out of the loop for computer gaming for awhile and switched over to console gaming solely for the fact of portability. I am always on the go and live in two cities during the week when I find time to play console portability is the only option for me. Now with steam in home streaming ill have too look into computer gaming once again. Thank you very cool post.

  • March 18, 2014 at 8:31 pm
    Permalink

    In home streaming, it is pretty legitimate idea for home game sharing on one computer, but seems it requires much more bandwidth if there is more and more home computers join. (In this case, the most of games on Stream is not highly occupied lots source for playing, so it probably not a problem. However, if you care going to through a bigger LAN party, then it might be the problem for internal internet traffic lagging.)

  • March 18, 2014 at 9:56 pm
    Permalink

    As soon as I found out that Steam was building an OS, I instantly thought about the territory they were encroaching on. It was music to my ears to realize that the platform that has risen to much acclaim is now coming packaged in a box with any flavor of OS you like. This is more than just gaming, this an entire entertainment center in the making. Furthermore, the closed systems of Microsoft and Sony are really becoming old world ways as Linux is stepping up to the plate with more support from developers.

    The world is becoming more open in this right.

  • March 20, 2014 at 4:24 am
    Permalink

    When i read this article, I immediately thought of the Nvidia Shield, OnLive, and Gaikai. Nvidia Shield is an amazing concept but is only limited to Nvidia GPU’s paired with an expensive Nvidia Shield. Steam’s In-Home streaming is very interesting because it allows a standard computer that can’t normally play high-end games to play them. This is similar to what OnLive and Gaikai does but those require servers through a cloud computer while Steam’s implementation requires a user’s own powerful desktop computer. Because of your article, I want to try out this streaming service over the spring break.

  • March 21, 2014 at 12:15 am
    Permalink

    Steam in home streaming looks like it opens a wealth of new opportunities for gamers. Though it will be tough for Steam to compete in an already established market, if anyone can break through, it’s probably them. The success of their business model among PC gamers has clearly proven their prowess, however it may be challenging to attempt something such as in-home along with their own proprietary OS.

Comments are closed.