Why am I sad that a tiny black puck which streamed games over a Wi-Fi network will soon disappear from shelves around the world? Because too few people experienced the magic that the Steam Link affords.
Over the past couple years, it seemed like PC gaming juggernaut Valve couldn’t give away the gadget fast enough, charging as little as $2.50 for the $50 gadget on sale. That’s probably why the company is quietly discontinuing the device today, though the company will continue support. (Valve says the Steam Link is already selling out around the world, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.)
My pet theory? The Steam Link was just too tough an idea to get every PC gamer’s head around. The little black box beams PC games to your TV through the power of streaming – a nebulous concept that basically boils down to this: plug in a controller, keyboard and mouse, even a set of headphones (the Steam Link supports practically any USB peripheral you can think of) and you can control your PC from across the house as if you were in front of it.
A friend once described it as a wireless HDMI cable, and that makes an awful lot of sense — but it’s a one-way cable that requires you to have a good Wi-Fi router or an Ethernet cable, plus a computer running Steam to be the host.
But once properly set up, it works like a charm. The Link offers practically lag-free gaming in crisp 1080p, 60 fps, and is reliable enough to play Twitch-tastic games like Nidhogg, Duck Game, and Speedrunners, not to mention competitive fighting games, so long as your router can handle it.
I’ve been using one at weekly social gatherings to play 4-player couch games for a couple years straight. Since you can minimize Steam and control your Windows desktop, too, I’ll sometimes use it as a way to play videos from streaming services that I can’t easily access (think VPN) with my Roku or Chromecast.
Here’s how much I love this gadget: When the Steam Link hit $20, I actually bought a second one that I keep pristine in the box, just in case my primary ever conks out. But the Steam Link — launched in 2015 — admittedly doesn’t have as many reasons to exist today as it did back then. Valve has since brought the Steam Link app directly to Android phones and Samsung smart TVs, where it can support 4K streaming, unlike the original puck. (Apple rejected the Steam Link app for iOS.) And Valve no longer seems to have a hardware business it feels the need to promote, recently hiding the hardware section of its website after its overarching Steam Machines initiative fell flat.
A decent laptop can also easily stand in for a Steam Link as long as you’ve got Steam installed and a way to connect it to your TV, via Valve’s in-home streaming service. Still, I’ll never agree that any ol’ laptop or phone would have been an acceptable substitute for my trusty Steam Link. I’ve never tried a wireless HDMI-like connection before, or since, that was anywhere near as bulletproof as this.
I’ve asked Valve if it can provide lifetime sales numbers for the Steam Link, and I’ll update this post if I get a reply. But for now, buy it while you can.