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How Steam in-home streaming can turn your old laptop or Windows tablet into a PC gaming force

Brad Chacos | June 9, 2014
If your gaming rig and home network are up to snuff, you can stream Steam games to another PC (including Macs and Linux machines) or Windows tablet and play in other parts of your abode. Here's how to set it up.

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If that doesn't do enough, click Advanced Client Options, then open the Limit Resolution To drop-down menu and select a less pixel-packed streaming resolution option. With my setup--a hardwired Core i5 desktop PC streaming to various laptops over 802.11n--dropping the resolution to 720p helps even action-packed games stream with few hitches. (The frame rate can still get a little hairy in particularly explosive and fast-paced scenes, though.) My Wi-Fi doesn't have to struggle for airspace with competing networks in my rural abode, however.

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What, that didn't fix the problem either? First, make sure the Enable hardware encoding and Enable hardware decoding options are, in fact, enabled on your host and client machine, respectively--they should be by default. You can also try enabling the Prioritize network traffic option on your host machine, or switching your router to the less-trafficked 5GHz spectrum band (if your router supports the 5GHz band). If that doesn't work, it's time to break out the Ethernet cables. There's a reason Valve recommends using wired connections--they're stronger than wireless ones.

Wrapping up
That should be about it. While Steam's in-home streaming has officially dumped its beta tag, don't be surprised if you run into occasional frame rate or input woes, as the technology is still in its early days. Some games might not play audio, or they might refuse to launch whatsoever. More frantic games may have hiccups. Again, Hayden Dingman's hands-on with Steam in-home streaming can give you a good overview of what to expect.

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COLBEHRSteam in-home streaming, along with Valve's own Steam Controller and Steam Machine prototype (pictured), are laying the groundwork for Linux-powered living room "PC consoles," but in-home streaming's benefits extend to a wide range of hardware.

All that said, it's held up remarkably well for me thus far. Sure, the introduction of Steam in-home streaming is meant to pave the way for living room-ready Steam Machines and make Steam for Linux's paltry (but growing) library less painful, but it's great being able to game on your laptop while you're lounging on the couch or lying in bed. Merely plugging an HDMI cord into your laptop can bring your entire Steam library to your TV, and in-home streaming also brings the full Windows-based Steam catalog to Linux and Mac computers without the need for complex technical tricks.

Yes, Steam's in-home streaming truly feels like magic, even though it's not quite perfect yet. And once you've played a beastly modern game on a crusty old laptop that normally starts dropping frames when the word "Battlefield" is merely uttered, I'm sure you'll agree.


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