Steam In-Home Streaming and Gaming Future
By Julian Duque
Steam In-Home Streaming is a new feature that allows you to play games in a low-end computer anywhere in your home as long as you are connected to the same network as your gaming computer. This current feature from Valve, has been on Beta mode during the past months, however it is now available for anyone to use. Here at Benchmark Reviews we were curious of why Valve would release such feature, but with the upcoming Steam Machines, In-Home Streaming started to fit within Valve’s plans.
Before the release of Steam in 2003, Valve had already made a big impact in the gaming industry with titles such as Counter-Strike and Half-Life which are still very popular games today, more than a decade after their initial release. Steam also allowed for a digital download store which quickly became a norm for many game developers as they didn’t have to ship discs with horrible DRM systems to combat piracy that made playing offline impossible.
In the year 2012, Steam faced a major threat from streaming companies such as Gakai that offered games that didn’t need to be downloaded and that could be played at the highest quality possible without very powerful and expensive setups, however these services were not successful due to a combination of factors, but most importantly, the poor gaming experience that was caused by high latency.
In 2013, as a response to the release of the last generation of consoles, Valve started working on what became known as the “Steam Machine”, which is expected to make it’s debut by 2015.
Valve’s Steamy Projects
The announcement of the “Steam Machine” project brought along many challenges for Valve, which hopes to create a competitive product that can accommodate to both the PC and console markets. Those challenges have brought along other smaller projects, such as creating an open source operating system based on Linux, this new operating system will be named “SteamOS”. It is certain that Valve is looking to innovate as they have done in the past, and most likely they will succeed in doing so.
Here is a list of some of the upcoming projects from Valve:
- Steam Machines
- Steam Controller
- Steam Family Sharing
Streaming Into the Future
In-Home Streaming is a tool that is still in an early stage at the moment of writing this article. As early as it is, the tool is more than what I expected since it’s launch date. After testing through various hardware set-ups, the most impressive result we obtained was being able to stream at a resolution of 1080p from a gaming setup to a Microsoft Surface. We were able to stream modern titles with almost no latency, at a playable frame rate over a wireless network. Another interesting feature we discovered when we minimized the game in our gaming setup was the ability to use this feature for other applications, allowing us to stream applications such as Photoshop and Premiere CC.
One key difference between the older streaming services and Valve’s latest feature is how practical Valve’s option is. In-Home Streaming uses the computing power of your main desktop to run a demanding game (or application), then converts it into an H.264 video stream and sends it through your home network to another device, such as a tablet, that then decodes the stream while accepting inputs that are then returned to the main desktop. H.264 is a video compression format that can be decompressed easily even by an old laptop processor, with an imperceptible amount of data loss. To use this service, both devices must have Steam installed in them, so that means support for Linux, OS-X, and Windows based computers.
Steam In-Home Streaming will allow very cheap and low powered set-ups to run the most demanding games with very high details as long as they are connected to a decent network. This will be a unique advantage for Steam Boxes over their competition. However the need for a powerful gaming desktop is still there, making his tool only suitable for a very small market. If Valve manages to create a service similar to those used by other Streaming companies, while maintaining the low latency seen in In-Home Streaming, we might be looking at a Steam Box that is relatively low cost, and will definitely shake the competition.
But will In-Home Streaming change the future of gaming? Although the feature is very promising it is still too early to make such claims. Big manufacturers, such as Alienware, have already presented their Steam Machine models, and although they will be a tough competitor for consoles, we don’t expect them to have a low price tag. These expensive hardware set-ups do not hint at a need for streaming, but if Valve’s plans include creating a reliable long distance streaming service, manufacturers will certainly start looking at cheaper options that will still deliver a great gaming experience.
It is highly unlikely that a streaming service will affect the DIY gaming market, our current networking infrastructure is not able to handle the high bandwidth that streaming high resolutions gamers are so accustomed to need. If Valve manages to create a goodstream infrastructure, it will most likely be targeted to the low-end market and consoles in the upcoming years. The market for DIY gamers is large, and as long as manufacturers allow it to, it will always exist.