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Getting Started With Steam In-Home Streaming

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One of the biggest trends in the next-generation of gaming has been remote play. PlayStation 4 has Remote Play with the PS Vita. Many individual games offer second-screen experiences with companion mobile and tablet apps. And, for PC, Mac and Linux gamers, Steam has introduced In-Home Streaming.

Recently made available to all in an open beta release, Steam In-Home Streaming allows you to stream a Steam library to another machine, without installing it on both. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to set up and optimise Steam In-Home Streaming.

In-Home Streaming Explained

In-Home Streaming works between two machines: a host system and a stream system. The host system runs the game process as if it were being played on the machine itself, managing all the encoding and rendering of the game. The stream system receives and decodes the game over a home network, allowing you to play on it and use connected input devices (such as an Xbox 360 controller or mouse and keyboard).

An overview of the In-Home Streaming process.

You'll need the Steam client installed in both machines, which can be downloaded for free. In-Home Streaming currently supports Windows, OS X and Linux, though, at the time of writing, there are some known issues with using OS X and Linux on the host machine. However, Windows to OS X streaming is fully functional.

Opting-in to the Steam Client Beta

In-Home Streaming is currently a beta feature, so you'll need to opt-in to the Steam client beta on both machines if you haven't already.

To do this, launch Steam, click Steam > Preferences (Steam > Settings on Windows) in the menu bar and select Account from the list of tabs in the left pane. Then, click the Change button under Beta Participation.

The Beta Participation option allows you to easily opt in to the Steam client beta. You can easily opt out by coming back and choosing to opt out of all beta programs.

In the window that appears, choose Steam Beta Update from the list and click OK. You'll be prompted to restart steam, which you should allow by clicking the Restart Steam button.

Opting-in to the Steam client beta means you'll be using a developmental build which includes additional beta features other than In-Home Streaming. You can revert back to the stable build by following the same process detailed previously and selecting NONE - Opt out of all beta programs from the list.

Opt-in to the beta update on your machines and log in to both with your Steam account.

Streaming Steam Games

The process of launching a game to stream is very straightforward and handled automatically within the Steam client. If you're familiar with Steam already, streaming a game is just like launching one that's installed locally.

To do so, on the machine you wish to play the game on, open the Library tab in Steam, select a game from the list and click Stream. If the game is also available to install locally, you may need to first click the downwards arrow and select the Stream from... option.

The Stream button will replace the traditional Launch one when streaming from another system.

The game will launch and be fully playable. To exit the game, use the in-game menus to quit and return to the Steam client.

Streaming Non-Steam Games

Though it's not officially supported, In-Home Streaming also works with non-Steam games and applications that you've added to the library on the host machine. This feature doesn't work for all games, however, and can be problematic with those that do.

To add a non-Steam game to your library for use with In-Home Streaming, click Add a Game in the lower-left corner of the Steam client. Next, select Add a Non-Steam Game, tick the box next to your chosen game and click Add Selected Programs. If the game does not appear in that list, click the Browse button, locate the game and click Open.

This option can be used to add Windows-only games to your Steam library to be streamed to OS X.

To launch the non-Steam game, select it in the Steam library and click Stream. If it's compatible, the game will then launch and you'll be able to play it, streamed just as if it were a regular Steam game.

Optimising Streaming and Troubleshooting

If you're finding your streams are not performing as you'd like them to, there are a number of In-Home Streaming-specific preferences that you can set to change your streaming setup. These options are found in Steam > Preferences > In-Home Streaming.

Use Steam > Settings > In-Home Streaming on Windows.

To change what Steam prioritises when streaming (i.e. framerate vs quality), select the respective radio button under Client Options on the streaming machine. Fast favours higher framerates while Beautiful prefers quality, with the default Balanced option attempting to balance both. If you're finding the streams are showing a lot of lag, the Fast option should help to increase performance.

To set more options (specifically, the stream bandwidth limit, resolution and whether hardware decoding is enabled), click the Advanced Client Options button.

The Fast/Balanced/Beautiful options are an easy way of switching whether streams prefers performance or quality.

Additionally, there are some advanced options you can change on the host machine which adjust how the stream is encoded and broadcast. To access and change these options, click the Advanced Host Options button.

Additional Tips

If you're still experiencing performance issues, there's a number of additional troubleshooting measures you can look into to improve your streaming experience.

If you're using a wireless Internet connection on either the host or streaming system, consider switching to a wired one instead. On newer MacBooks, you may need to purchase a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter in order to set up a wired Internet connection.

Switching to a wired Internet connection will often improve performance.

Additionally, to improve performance, change the game's video settings to a reduced resolution with any VSync option (sometimes called Sync Every Frame) turned off. These settings will often be found from a menu within the game itself.

You can improve performance by adjusting the game's resolution in it's video settings.

If you continue to encounter performance issues or other bugs, refer to Steam's Knowledge Base article on In-Home Streaming which lists up-to-date known issues and advice specific to the current version.

Conclusion

In this tutorial, I have shown you how to opt-in to and use the In-Home Streaming beta in Steam. To learn more about using Steam on your Mac, refer to the Gaming with Steam on OS X tutorial. Furthermore, if you're considering building a new PC to use as your streaming machine, take a look at the How to Build a Steam Machine for $500 tutorials.

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