Avid gamers are most likely using the digital marketplace and multiplayer matchmaking app Steam to play their games library on the big screen, even if it’s just the battle royale game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. But Steam and its TV-friendly streaming console Steam Link (favoured by users who aren’t playing on their home computer or a Steam Machine) aren’t just useful when it comes to streaming games to other devices in your home. They’re perfect for remote desktop streaming, letting you view the desktop of your gaming machine on whatever compatible device you’re on at home.
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That way, you can pull up your web browser on your TV, or your copy of Photoshop CC that isn’t on the Mac you’re streaming with. It’s pretty easy to set up, and an incredibly useful trick to have in your arsenal when you want to do a quick check-up on your PC, or look up whatever guide you need to get through a difficult boss fight.
Big Picture Mode to The Rescue
Steam’s Big Picture Mode is what you’ll need to start locally streaming your actual desktop to your Steam Link. You’ll need to pair a keyboard, as well as a mouse (or Steam controller) to your Steam Link to both exit Big Picture Mode and properly navigate your Windows desktop. On your host streaming machine (a PC, in my case), launch Steam. On your Steam Link, connect to your host PC.
Then, using the power icon in the top right, select “Minimise Big Picture” with your controller or keyboard. You’ll be able to then use the Steam controller and keyboard to navigate through Windows. Having some issues? The culprit may be your graphics card, so be sure to check if your drivers are up to date.
Just Use Notepad
“Minimising Big Picture” may not work in every situation (it only worked on my Steam Link, and not my MacBook), but you can try another method of accessing your desktop. To just jump into Windows, you’ll need to add a non-Steam application to your games library. You can use any application, but it makes sense to choose one that doesn’t require much processing power. It’s easy to do, either in the regular Steam window or in Big Picture mode.
Adding a simple app such as Notepad makes it faster than loading something like Chrome, which you can do after you’re properly streaming your desktop. In the Games tab at the top of your screen, select “Add a Non-Steam game to my library” and wait for your list of apps to populate the pop-up window. You can browse for an app like Notepad yourself (located in C:WindowsSystem32notepad.exe) and add it manually. You can do the same in Big Picture mode by visiting the Settings page, and selecting “Add Library Shortcut” under the System section.
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Next, launch Steam on your Steam Link or other device (like your laptop), and select the recently added Notepad. After it boots up, you can hit F1 on your keyboard (Mac users can hit Fn + F1) to gain access to the Windows desktop. You can do everything there, from browsing the web to writing your papers to streaming whatever’s stored on your host computer. It isn’t the same as a remote desktop setup, where you’d be able to access your PC from anywhere, but it beats having to enter and remember login usernames and passwords when you’re just trying to show someone a cool video you have downloaded to the PC in your office down the hall.