Digital Foundry's guide to getting the best out of Steam Deck docked

Valve’s Steam Deck is an excellent portable machine for 720p gaming, packing last-gen console performance in a compact shell – but can we push the system further? With a 4K display as a target output we’re going to drag the Deck as far as we can into docked, home theatre gaming. This may seem farcical but new second generation reconstruction techniques – FSR 2.0 and TSR – have just hit commercial games, providing massive performance gains for high-res rendering. Plus, there’s a wide library of older and less technically challenging content that the Steam Deck may be able to accelerate to high resolutions on raw performance alone. So can we actually achieve a good docked TV experience with the Steam Deck on a modern 4K display – or are the demands of high-res gaming just too much to ask from the low-power, low-bandwidth AMD APU at its heart?

While you could of course simply scale up 720p to fill a 4K screen, the results often aren’t flattering. Games at this resolution tend to look blurry and soft, with the scaling tech to preserve sharpness absent on many TVs. 1080p and above content fares better, so that’s what we’ll be targeting here – at a minimum, around double the pixels of the Steam Deck’s internal display. A true native 4K is going to elude us except in simple titles, but we should be able to push image quality quite a bit regardless.

First up, we’re going to be looking at some older and less demanding games – seventh generation console titles are often a good fit thanks to meagre performance demands and solid gamepad support. Half-Life 2 is a good example, running at 4K 60fps max settings without MSAA. Similarly, Deus Ex: Human Revolution hits 1440p60 just fine at medium settings, where image quality is reasonable, performance is solid, and the artwork holds up – and you can even go for 4K 30 if you prefer. Valkryia Chronicles and Dishonored both perform in a similar range at default settings at 1440p, though framerate dips may prompt you to opt for 1080p instead for a better 60fps lock. Both titles do hold up perfectly fine though and even compare favorably to their eighth-gen console ports – a big win for the Deck. Other games of a similar vintage fare worse though, such as Alan Wake, which requires 900p to hit 60fps, and Mass Effect Legendary Edition, which is probably best played on Deck at 1080p30 – equal with PS4 and Xbox One, but not ideal for a 4K TV.

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