Steam Link Latency Tests (5/5)

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Posted by FlashFlood_29 (4239 posts) -

Hey guys, so I just bought the Steam Link and the first task I knew I had to do was run some tests, and share my experience with you all. I remember there were a lot of people wanting to know how well it performed in all sorts of conditions. Before we start, here are my PC and network specifications and then let's get into it. If there is more information on my setup you'd like added or if you have any questions or tests you'd like answered/run, please feel free to ask and I will see what I can do.

GPUGTX 980
CPUi7 4790k (4.7GHz)
Ram16GB
Storage500GB SSD + 3TB HDD (Samsung 840 Pro + WD Black)
OSWindows 10 (Up to date)
Moden/RouterC2100T
Network2.4Hz Wired; 5Hz Wireless
TVSamsung 48J5200 (29.2ms Response Time, great for TV)

My desktop is located in my room which is not the greatest of places to play video games when there are more than three people involved. Four can manage but it is cramped. This means I typically move my whole desktop to the living room to accommodate 4+ people when playing PC games. This is less than ideal so I had always been contemplating the purchase and use of a Steam Link for such situations, but I'm someone that splits hairs when it comes to specifications and results. So as a pessimist, I held off. Well, I have some friends coming over tomorrow and I finally decided that I wasn't going to let my pessimism hold me back anymore. If it works, it works; if it doesn't, at least I gave it a shot.

Contents, Build and Connections

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Out of the box, Valve gives you all the tools you need to get yourself going. The Link itself, a CAT6 cord (~10ft), HDMI 2.0 (Silver Plated) (~7ft), and a power cord with an adaptable power connector. In addition to the standard North American Type A connector, you get three others. They are type G (UK), type C (Europe), and type I (Australia, China). The size of the link is about the size of an average hand up to the second knuckles and it is light. There's a nice little grip on the underside. You get 3 USB 2.0 ports on the link, and connections for the other cords that you would expect.

Performance

Comparison Video

Setup

First, my baseline is all optimal settings and the changes and results to these settings will be mentioned within the subsections here. I'll underline the key words here to allow for easy navigation. The performance setting of fast/balance/beautiful was kept on balanced, and my TV's game mode was enabled throughout as well. Within Steam, I kept enabled the "hardware encoding through GPU," and "hardware encoding through Intel iGPU," settings but can test without those turned on if someone would like. There's a setting of "Prioritize Network Traffic," that I toggled but didn't properly test because there was no other network usage. I'll come back to that and update the post. If there's specific scenarios people want me to test as far as network usage (while downloading, other devices streaming specific amount of videos, etc.) let me know and I'll see what I can do. My DS4 pad was kept wired to remain a constant variable and will be individually discussed later in the post.

Wired

A 50ft CAT6 cable was used to connect the Link to my modem directly. This is an old, used, somewhat weathered cable. The frequency is a standard 2.4Hz when wired. I threw some Dark Souls 3 up on the TV and played some PVP. Immediately, and I mean immediately, I was amazed. We've all heard about quality loss there. Well I've only been playing DS3 on my 1440p monitor at 144hz but with the game locked at 60fps. So, although I can't compare the Steam Link 1080p60 with GPU direct to TV 1080p60, I can still speak from the perspective of someone coming from a higher resolution and refresh rate. Well it was just as beautiful as I expected. The fps were consistent and image quality clear. It seemed just as clear as any other 1080p game I've played. That's great and all but what about the input latency? Can't play action games if there's input latency. Well guess what, I couldn't notice a bit of difference in controller response time! No perceived latency. Okay, okay, subjectivity is one thing, but let's see some objective results. I popped up Titan Souls and tested the response of the rolling. Keep in mind that my monitor's response time is 1ms in contrast to the TV's 30ms. There's only the slightest ever difference between the Steam Link and direct response times. You could have a worse difference between two different TVs! Take this from a person who is very anal about compromise and playing in the most optimal of ways available to me and, I would play any game on Steam Link based on my experience so far. In fact, I kept playing Tital Souls and defeated a boss. Real world tests!

Wireless

Moving on to Wireless. Here is where the frequency of the signal should make a difference. My modem is outputting a 5Hz signal which to my understanding works through walls better. The Link was ~30 feet away with one wall (closet) between it and the modem. I fully expected artifact when I launched Dark Souls 3, but I saw no difference in image quality. Still clear as ever. To test response times, I once again launched Titan Souls and started rolling again (video). Again, absolutely no difference, perceived and when looking over the videos. I was amazed with the initial wired testing but I was FLOORED when I tested this wireless. Insane. Here's a panorama of the setup. The PC is in the far left corner you see (faint red light you see) and the Link is right under the living room TV . Oh, and don't mind the CAT6; I just left it out.

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Pad support

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Before getting into it, can I just say how awesome it is that the Link has bluetooth built in? Because that's damn awesome. This also means I can utilize the BT with multiple controller while also utilizing USBs for other ones to not bog down the BT connections.

Pairing

So now we come down to Pad support. I was using the DS4 and had been using it wired up 'til now. The setup of the wireless controller was kind of tricky. When there's no controller connected to the Link it shows a screen that asks you to connect a controller as you would expect. The only problem is you can't pair your controller while it's wired and you can't connect it while it's not paired (to access the bluetooth devices pairing screen). To circumvent this, I started the searching function of the DS4, hooked it up wired, and had to quickly select it on the pairing screen before it stopped searching (due to it sensing that there's a micro USB) attached. At that point, I could disconnect the cord and use it wirelessly. Connecting additional controllers is far easier because you're already on the screen and you don't have to worry about them halting their search. It's not too difficult to do once you know it, but it's a fairly clunky process.

Latency

Wired was already covered in the Performance section so here is where we'll tackle wireless. Well... this is easy because there was no difference I could tell. Not even when I sat 15 feet away from the thing.

So there you go! My experience with the Steam Link! I have to say, I am still floored. This product works as intended. If you're worried about quality and latency, and have a setup similar to mine, don't be. The thing performs as advertised. My pessimistic side was half expecting an experience similar to PSNow but boy, that would be so far off that I couldn't even. When I tried playing God of War 2 through PSNow, I immediately could see the difference and was questioning if I wanted to play with the rest of my trial. With this, I am definitely going to be using often. I can NOT believe I have been missing out on this for so long with all of my parties. Do yourself a favor and jump on it. Remember, since this is a local network service, your down/up speeds don't matter. But I am curious to see if there would be a difference with a 2.4Hz wireless signal because those are still common. Anyway, thank you for reading! Let me know if you want me to test any specific scenarios!

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#2 Posted by bigrob029 (14 posts) -

Great break down! I jumped on the link back in January, best pc/peripheral purchase in a while.

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#3 Posted by nickhead (1239 posts) -

I love my link and for awhile was relying on the wireless (it also worked pretty great for me, my link is in a room one floor directly above my router). Until a few months ago though, where for no reason, using the Link would crash steam on my host PC. I drove myself mad trying to figure this out, testing different beta versions, old versions of client/link, etc. I never really figured out what happened, but its now a fear that looms over everytime I use my link.

I have to specifically turn on my link, run downstairs to my PC, launch into Big Picture Mode, run back upstairs and connect to my PC in order for it to work smoothly. I still never found solid answers to why this randomly started happening in forums, but for now I have a fix.

I started also using the black magic that is powerline adapters just to be sure I have a solid (ish) connection.

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#4 Posted by Hamst3r (5454 posts) -

I too am enjoying my Steam Link. The only problem at the moment being that Street Fighter IV stopped working, it doesn't recognize any controllers, wired or wireless. Haven't tried it in a month or so though, should probably give it another shot or do some reinstalling.

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#5 Edited by Lunnington (534 posts) -

Thanks for the write-up. I bought a Steam Link a while ago and had a frustrating experience via my wireless network. I'll be switching to Googie Fibeys in June and I think their router will be better for wireless and I'll try it again.

If not I'm just gonna have to do some work and run an ethernet cable into that room (somehow).

Have you tried testing it on your wireless network in 2.4Ghz mode instead of 5? I'm curious if you notice a big drop in quality. That might be my main issue. My router doesn't support both modes at the same time, so I have to use 2.4 because like 1 device in my apartment doesn't support 5.

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#6 Posted by Barrock (4062 posts) -

I love mine. 2 questions though.

1. Is there any way to display a games frame rate when streaming using the link?

2. Is it normal that the game also run on my PC monitor with completely different graphics settings?

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#7 Posted by Slag (8108 posts) -

Awesome writeup @flashflood_29!

I've had a link for some time now and while I really really like it, I definitely notice issues from time to time mainly with controllers.

Like @hamst3r I've had issues with Ultra Street Fighter IV recognizing anything, but also with XCOM:EU, Ori and Undertale. The sensitivity on Dragon's Dogma is amped up that it is unplayable without altering config files. I suspect the Link doesn't work great Afterglow wired Xbox360 controllers, although I'm not sure why.

I did notice occasional resolution issues on MGSV:TPP and Tomb Raider. But I'm not sure how much is my TV or the Steam Link.

And lastly I've noticed that the Link seems to hiccup during long play sessions and that the screen will start to artifact in some jarring ways, that only goes away after quitting and relaunching a game.

But overall it works incredibly well and I don't notice any latency at all.

The setup I'm currently using is a 50ft Cat6 cable into my router, seems to cut down on the artifacting issue.

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#8 Edited by FlashFlood_29 (4239 posts) -

Thanks, everyone. Glad to help.

@slag: Yeah, I can't say I've had long play sessions on it but I've played Gang Beasts for about an hour straight with seemingly no problems. Haven't had any funky controller issues besides the ones mentioned in the blog.

@barrock said:

I love mine. 2 questions though.

1. Is there any way to display a games frame rate when streaming using the link?

2. Is it normal that the game also run on my PC monitor with completely different graphics settings?

1. Any options you have in Steam Big Picture mode (which I'm pretty sure are all options period) are what you get when you use the link.

2. Yeah, the game will run on your monitor at whatever the resolution you choose for the TV/monitor you're playing on.

@lunnington said:

Have you tried testing it on your wireless network in 2.4Ghz mode instead of 5? I'm curious if you notice a big drop in quality. That might be my main issue. My router doesn't support both modes at the same time, so I have to use 2.4 because like 1 device in my apartment doesn't support 5.

Just want you to know I'm not ignoring this request; I haven't had the right opportunity with my free time to do it. I'll try and squeeze it in when I can.

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#9 Posted by Lunnington (534 posts) -

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