Steam link gotcha

This post is a follow up to my previous post Local game streaming.

After using Steam link to stream my games from my desktop to my ShieldTV, I ran into some issues. It was working fine for some time until I fired Steam link up one day to be greated with the Windows desktop background, instead of what was supposed to show; Steam’s Big Picture Mode (BPM). I figured this was just another Windows fluke, so I rebooted the machine and the client (my ShieldTV) just to have the same thing happen again.

So I figured it must be something I changed on my desktop which made it behave like this.
After going through and trying some of the settings in Steam and mocking around with Windows I came to a dead end, with no solution found. I tried running BPM from the desktop itself which worked as expected.

So I figured I’ll give it a rest and come back to it later. After a good nights sleep, I remembered the one thing I really changed was switching of the monitor (since when playing a game, the monitor on the PC would show the game as well and it’s just wasting power).
This is the main culprit of this specific issue. When Windows does not detect a monitor, the GPU is not initialized in the same way as when a monitor is plugged in and switched on. When I turned on the monitor the issue went away immediatly.

HDMI ghost plug

I still wanted the monitor to be switched off during my gaming sessions. Now I had more of a direction to search for a solution. I remembered reading about similair issues in relation to different usecases, such as bitcoin mining and running headless Linux graphical interfaces.

Turns out there’s a product category just for this. A dummy HDMI plug, sometimes called a HDMI ghost plug, that tricks the operating system into thinking a monitor is plugged in and switched on. So I went online to get exactly one of those, which doesn’t have to cost much.

After plugging this in to one of the open ports on my GPU, I can switch off the monitor and still have Steam Link work properly.

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