Brief Thoughts on Steam In-Home Streaming

Chris Evans January 28, 2014 6
Brief Thoughts on Steam In-Home Streaming

While I was loading up Steam this evening I was merrily flicking through Twitter and saw a link to PC Gamer’s article on the Steam in-home streaming beta. Safe to say, I was intrigued to see what the streaming service was like for myself. I quickly opted into the relevant Beta through my Steam client, dug out my netbook and got ready to play. Some brief thoughts follow.

The initial setting up was easy, I activated the beta on my main PC and after updating Steam on my netbook I was presented with a nice list of the games installed on my host PC. After finding a game to play I pressed the nice big ‘Steam’ button and I was in. All in all a very simple setup with Steam on my host PC instantly recognising my netbook on my home WiFi. It is worth noting the specs of my machines:

My PC runs on:

  • Intel i5-2500 at 3.30GHz
  • 8GB RAM
  • nVidia GTX 460 1GB RAM

My netbook has:

  • Intel Atom N455 at 1.66GHz
  • 1GB RAM
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 250MB RAM

While my PC isn’t up to modern standards, it runs most games at a decent frame rate on high settings. My netbook hasn’t played anything much more taxing than Solitaire and for good reason, it ain’t up to much in the gaming department. My first attempt was The Bureau: Xcom Declassified from which I could barely navigate the menus without awful lag. That was quickly disgarded in favour of Football Manager which seemed to run smoothly away from the matches. However, all was not well here either, my netbook has a resolution of 1024×600 and Football Manager just didn’t want to play ball, especially as its default setting on my PC is fullscreen at 1920×1080. None of the writing was visible, and even after dropping the in-game resolution down, I was left not being able to view the entire screen in various windows.

Steam Streaming Options

After a quick glance at the relevant Steam forums I identified that the problem was definitely with my netbook as it was struggling mightily with the decoding of the stream. Ticking the ‘Disable hardware decoding’ option in the settings was a wonder. Things were far from perfect, but The Bureau was at least somewhat playable, albeit at a very topsy turvey framerate. Playing on a cramped keyboard and trackpad didn’t help matters, but the game looked quite good. Obviously it wasn’t a match for the PC visually, but it certainly wasn’t a blocky mess, just a very poor framerate affecting things.

I did try connecting up a 360 pad, but that just seemed to send my framerate plummeting even further. I don’t think my poor netbook could handle the pressure of streaming a game and using a 360 pad. Similarly Euro Truck Simulator 2 didn’t really get going, indeed I had an even worse framerate there than on The Bureau.

Moving away from framerate intensive games to something a bit milder, I tried Civilization V, albeit on DirectX 9 settings. This played nice a smoothly on my tiny netbook screen without any lag or annoying resolution issues that affected me with Football Manager. I certainly know that I can take my netbook to the sofa and play a proper game now.

Civ 5 Steam Stream

There are doubtless other games that will work on my netbook, I imagine a raft of indie games like Gunpoint or Evoland would work perfectly well. With something a bit more modern, perhaps a machine with a new Intel processor which has a proper graphics core built-in, Steam in-home streaming will prove to be a wild success. I might have to try it out on my girlfriends laptop, that might cope a little bit better. Of course, long-term this will be used to let people who purchase a Steam Machine play their Windows based games over their internet connection. Based on my experience with such a limited client device with my netbook, I don’t see the Steam Machines having any issues.

6 Comments »

  1. Steph Woor January 29, 2014 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Running anything on a netbook with 1GB of ram is kind of impossible in my experience – I think I coped for a week before putting a 2GB stick in (which was a bit of a mission thanks to the release for the back cover being located somewhere under the keyboard!)

    Actually, some indie games already run on this thing without the need for streaming

    Have to say though, I still don’t understand from either this or the PC Gamer article how you actually get this working. My settings>account screen says “Beta participation: Steam Beta Update”? (and this is the only option). But how do I stream when the netbook version boots me out Steam on my main PC?

  2. Chris Evans January 29, 2014 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    Have you joined the beta? That should be it -in theory- as that’s all that I did. That should then allow you to run Steam on two machines??

    • Steph Woor January 29, 2014 at 4:11 pm - Reply

      Yeah, I’m not seeing how you do that…

      • Chris Evans January 30, 2014 at 8:15 pm - Reply

        Hmm maybe you aren’t in the beta yourself. Do you get the in-home streaming tab within the settings?

  3. C.S. February 4, 2014 at 3:09 am - Reply

    Thanks for the preview, Chris, it is really interesting to see how Steam streaming performs with low end machines on the receiving end. Having said, I would expect nothing better from an Atom netbook, and was actually surprised it went as “well” as it did.

    Atom netbooks are honestly the spawn of the devil. It’s Pentium 4 performance, circa-2000. If someone gave us a Pentium 4 desktop we would see it fit to head straight to the garbage bin with it. Not to put too fine a point to it, but I’ve struggled with an Atom netbook and they are literally unusable. Word processing is a taxing task for them. Web browsing pushes them to their limits.

    I’d love to see a review with a viable low end machine (one you can browse the internet on without it chocking).

    And please don’t take this for criticism of your article ; it’s not meant to be. A lot of people have been wondering what’s the lowest end machine you can stream games to, and this review clears a lot of things up.

    • Chris Evans February 6, 2014 at 7:48 pm - Reply

      Hi C.S, not a problem, was a pleasure to test it out. I hadn’t seen much coverage of the feature at all when I wrote this, and even then much of it was focusing on high-end machines.

      I’ve had a little dabble with my girlfriends more powerful laptop, that was suitably more impressive. I haven’t had a proper play with that yet though.

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