Game streaming has been a major focus for multiple companies over the past few years, with new devices (or new capabilities for existing hardware) arriving from Microsoft, Nvidia, Sony, and Valve. Companies like Samsung, which lack any kind of game library, are getting in on the action from a different direction and baking support for existing products directly into its own televisions. Some Samsung TVs already support streaming from services like PlayStation Now, and the company has announced it intends to bake in support for Valve’s Steam Link as well.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Steam Link is a $50 product from Valve that plugs into your television and attaches to your home network (wired networking is strongly recommended). It scans for computers already on your network, joins them, and can stream games directly from your PC to your living room television. This works particularly well if you want to game on the couch via controller, though it obviously depends on how well the title supports that control scheme.
By baking that kind of capability directly into Samsung TV’s, the company is positioning itself to lead the market with PC gamers in general — at least in theory. The ability to link a Steam system easily to a new TV makes it that much easier to bring gaming into the living room without worrying about carrying a heavy box or situating a PC near the television. The cost of integrating this kind of capability is likely negligible for Samsung, since smart TVs already regularly carry quad-core processors and several GB of RAM. Running the entire system over wired networking also makes it easy to keep latency low and performance high, provided you have a halfway decent router.
Putting Steam in TVs is actually a great idea, particularly if you want to buy a 4K TV with HDR support in the next 12 months, but don’t also want to shell out cash for a monitor with the same capabilities. Ideally, Samsung would ensure that other features of the TV make it compatible with game streaming — overscan is an issue with many HDTVs, and not all of them allow the feature to be turned off. AMD and Nvidia include workarounds for this problem in their graphics drivers, but they are workarounds, not actual solutions.
There are also questions about how much data would be gathered in situations like this. We’ve seen multiple cases over the past few years about how smart TVs have been variously insecure and gathered data about their owners’ usage patterns, often without the owner’s consent. There are also questions about device security that can’t be ignored, given how this type of smart TV is designed to hook into a local network and interface with a Steam-connected PC. To be clear, there’s no current data to suggest that there’s a specific problem with Steam Link. But smart TVs have had enough security problems that the wisdom of connecting one to your own local network is somewhat dubious.
It’ll be interesting to see if any manufacturers carry this idea to its logical conclusion. It would be interesting to see a smart TV with simultaneous partnerships with Microsoft, Sony, Nvidia, and Valve to carry any streaming service a gamer was interested in, including the ability to stream titles from an Xbox (clearly, Windows 10 PCs are the only hardware that offers this option). Thanks to Steam Spy’s Twitter account for the tip.