The Link, unobtrusive in design, is a little bigger than the Apple TV and quite sturdy. Rubber feet on the underside make sure the thing doesn’t slide around on your media centre stand and the black finish should work well with any other boxes you have.
To the rear of the box are several sockets for various cables – it has an HDMI out plug, 3 USB ports (2.0) and 100mb/s ethernet LAN port. Inside the box it has 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO networking capabilities (for powerline users this is indispensable) and bluetooth 4.0.
Connectivity is extraordinary with the link. Provided you have the correct adapters – you can plug in your wireless keyboard and mouse, Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller (wired) or connect your wireless xbox 360 PC receiver and use your wireless Xbox 360 controllers with it. I plugged them all in and it just worked. No drivers, no installing software – nothing.
I sighed when I started up the link, the box immediately began fetching updates from the Steam servers and I was afraid of having to wait interminable hours for the update to execute as I had experienced with my PS3 in the past, however the update was extremely fast and before I knew it I was prompted to connect to the network.
Personally I have powerline adapters – Fritz Lan 1000mb connections that work in my home at a throughput of about 240mb/s, so I connected using ethernet and cranked up the streaming settings to maximum (unlimited) once I had paired the box with Steam running on my PC.
My PC runs two Nvidia GTX 970’s in SLI so I figured any streaming problems that occurred would be down to streaming issues. As a twitch streamer, I didn’t really like the lack of options for customising streaming settings but for the less advanced user – the options are basically – low – medium and high.
Loading up Fallout 4 at maximum settings and streaming at the highest quality I found I had no issues at all with the gameplay – I had 60 frames per second running very smoothly and to my surprise, very few artifacts and distortions while moving on the screen. Generally speaking, when the Link works – it works well. However certain games it failed to capture completely – Bastion just gave me a white screen and DOTA 2 was unplayable the minute there were any fast moving animations or particle effects.
Input lag for the most part was acceptable but I wouldn’t count on playing anything online that is competitive and relies on ping. The Link, even over ethernet added about 12 ms of ping to my connection.
Wifi usage with the link was unacceptable in my view. From a distance of 7 – 8 metres away from my Fritz 7490 router and through 2 walls the connection resulted in choppy music, massive frame rate drops and packet loss. The playable result was like watching a low quality Twitch stream and I immediately reverted back to my powerline connection.
Verdict: Steam Link is a great little box for streaming your games to your couch with a wired connection. As the firmware is in its infancy there is still a lot to be done to sort out screen capture issues and latency however the result so far is quite pleasing.