Valve's Steam Link vs Nvidia Shield: Two New Takes on Streaming PC Games to the TV
This week was a big one for the future of high quality gaming on the TV, as both Valve and Nvidia unveiled different ways to end traditional console gaming's dominance in the living room.
At the Game Developer's Conference 2015 in San Francisco on Tuesday, PC gaming companies Valve and Nvidia unveiled their respective high-quality TV game streaming devices, Steam Link and the Nvidia Shield.
When it comes to high-quality games, both operate on a similar principle: Streaming high quality games to the TV from a remote gaming machine, rather than running the games on a gaming PC directly connected to the TV (console style). But there are some important differences to know between the two approaches.
Nvidia Shield: Feature Rich, Future-Proof, Hardware-Locked
Nvidia's new Shield set-top box, due to be launched in May for $199, was seemingly designed to place a target right on the heads of console boxes, as it has a wide range of features that could make its nearly console-level price worth it.
First, it's billed as the "world's first 4K Android TV console," according to The Verge, since it runs Google's new set-top operating system. That means it'll be able to stream video from services like Netflix and Hulu, while offering casual gamers the Ouya-like TV gaming experience that Amazon's Fire TV offers (its Bluetooth remote accessory also features a Fire TV-like voice search button to boot).
But it's Nvidia, so it'll also run high quality PC games -- in three different ways. Like the Steam Link, Nvidia Shield will stream games from local devices to the TV using Nvidia's GameStream service. The Shield can also natively play last-generation console games, starting with addictive headliners like Crysis 3 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, according to PC World.
But Nvidia also unveiled a new Netflix-type monthly subscription gaming service called Grid, which outsources the hardware requirements to Nvidia's remote servers, allowing gamers to stream games directly, without downloading or installing anything beforehand.
The Shield comes with impressive hardware, including the muscle-bound eight-core Tegra X1 system on a chip with 3GB of RAM, a microSD slot, two USB 3.0 Ports, an HDMI 2.0 Port, dual-band WiFi, and Gigabit Ethernet. Most importantly for future-proofing according to Wired, it supports HEVC, VP9, H.264 and H.265 decoding. In plain English, this means it's ready for the coming 4K video streaming revolution whether you prefer Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, or another service.
Steam Link: No Frills, But More Compatibility
But one (self-imposed) limitation of the Nvidia Shield box may make Steam Link a more attractive option for hardcore PC gamers looking to play on the big screen without running a long HDMI cable between their tower and their TV: Nvidia Shield only casts local games from PCs or devices running Nvidia graphics cards.
Steam Link, Valve's set-top box that was also announced this week and set to hit the market before the end of the year (in November), is less feature-rich, but will support a wide variety of gaming machines. "Steam Machines, Windows PCs, Macs, and Linux Pcs will be able to take advantage of... Steam Link," states Valve's press release.
And those platforms won't have to run Nvidia graphics cards.
Steam Link is designed with a cross-platform, cross-vendor graphics language; Just hook Link and your machine running Steam software on the same network, and start playing on your TV -- just for $50. Unlike the Shield, there are no new streaming services, the Steam Link box won't double as a video streaming or standalone gaming platform, and its graphics support tops out at 1080p at 60Hz. But for many gamers -- this wireless casting system that costs around as much as many longer HDMI cables -- the price speaks for itself.
Who knew? All along, your PC was the Steam Machine you were waiting for. (Proper Steam Machines are on the way too.)
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