You’ve got a game console, but you really want to play the games on your PC through your TV. Or perhaps you can’t afford a new console, and want to kick back in the living room with your favorite PC shooter.
Either way, you can’t. After all, your PC is not a game console, is it? It’s not like it supports wireless controls, motion detection, and has a HDMI connection, is it?
Oh, hold on. Your PC probably does do all of that. And if it doesn’t, it definitely has VGA or DVI, which means that there’s a good chance of there being some way of converting that connection to one suitable for your HDTV.
Make Sure Your Hardware Is Up to Date
We’ll get to the main event of hooking your PC up to a nice, big, flat screen TV in a little while. First, we need to make sure that your computer — whether it’s a desktop, laptop, or even a self-build intended as a HTPC — is up to the task.
While pretty much any computer will run a video game, some older hardware may cause trouble. For instance, old CPUs and ancient, juddery hard disk drives will make the PC game console experience pretty frustrating.
So, opt for new or recent hardware.
An Operating System and User Interface
Naturally, you’ll need an operating system to run your games on to enjoy them on your TV. Windows, Linux and macOS are all suitable platforms, and if you’re happy to simply run your desktop through your TV without a dedicated interface, then this is fine.
But you might also like the idea of a game-centered, controller-friendly user interface. Several are available, but perhaps the most popular is Steam, the biggest gaming digital distribution service. Whether you run this in “Big Picture Mode” or instead opt for the Linux-based SteamOS (you’ll have a smaller choice of games, however, but other distribution options are available for Linux-based gaming) is up to you.
Find the Best Controllers and a Wireless Keyboard
With your hardware setup, you’ll need something to play with. While USB is always a good option for controllers, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are now more than adequate and offer more-convenient cable-free gaming.
If you don’t have any controllers to hand that are obviously compatible with your PC, take a look at those that you use for console gaming. Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 controllers, and Nintendo Wii and Wii U controllers can all be used with Windows and Linux computers.
And, as this is PC gaming we’re talking about, you’ll need a wireless keyboard too. If you’re playing Doom or some other hardcore shooter you’re probably using a game controller. If you’re more of a Civilization VI fan, however, the keyboard is a must. Various wireless keyboards are available, from hardcore gaming keyboards to lightweight Bluetooth devices.
(Trust me, Civ VI looks awesome on a big screen TV!)
You’ll Need to Connect to Your TV
If you have reached this stage, then you’re ready to connect your PC to your TV. You have various options here, depending on the output options on offer from your laptop or desktop (or your desktop’s graphics card).
With HDMI Cable
The HDMI cable option is the most obvious. A vast majority of TVs now ship with HDMI as the main (if not only) option, and HDMI cables are far more affordable than they were a few years ago. All you need to do is connect the HDMI out from your computer to your TV, then select the HDMI channel on your TV. On your PC, ensure that the signal is being sent to the TV.
You can do this by opening the Project panel, either by pressing Windows + P or clicking the Project option in the Notifications area (your laptop may have a function key for this too).
Select Duplicate or (for the best results) Second screen only to send your PC display to your television!
With Other Cables
Other cable solutions can be problematic. While many TVs still have VGA connectors, few have DVI (something typically reserved for monitors). The result is that you must find a way of converting the output on your computer to the input on your TV. Often this can turn out well, but with the wrong cables it can turn into a nightmare.
Our look at connecting retro consoles to HDTVs should set you in the right direction here.
With a strong wireless network connection, you can take advantage of wireless streaming technology to enjoy PC games through your TV. An advantage of this is that you won’t even need a dedicated games console PC build: simply stream the game from your PC at one side of the house to your TV at the other side!
However, basic streaming solutions are no good here. For instance, the Google Chromecast should be avoided. While the picture quality is adequate at 1080p, the device isn’t intended for gaming and there is considerable lag.
So what should you use? It probably depends on your budget.
This is the cheapest option, with Miracast and Microsoft Wireless Display devices available for around $20. However, these won’t give you the sort of gaming experience you need for fast, frenetic actions. Should be fine for top-down strategy titles, however.
Wireless HDMI is likely to be the best option in future, however, as the technology is refined.
Intel WiDi/AMD Wireless Display
Intel and AMD Wireless Display are processor-based solutions that can be used in conjunction with a Miracast dongle. Usually limited to laptop computers (Intel WiDi can be enabled on desktops too), if your hardware is compatible with this technology, you’ll find that Miracast is a more attractive option.
Steam In-Home Streaming
Released as a pre-cursor to the Steam machine PC games consoles, the Steam Link box makes this possible, and costs around $50.
While wireless streaming is supported, Ethernet connections are recommended with this solution. All you need to do is hook the Steam box to your TV, log into Steam on your PC, and the device will automatically connect. You’ll then be able to launch games through Steam on your TV!
The final option is NVIDIA Gamestream, which is available to you if you have a suitable NVIDIA graphics card and an NVIDIA Shield streaming media device. The principle is similar to the Steam In-Home Streaming option: you stream games from your PC to your TV through the NVIDIA Shield.
While these are all good options for wireless game streaming, you may find that the best results are afforded with a good quality HDMI cable.
So forget about the Xbox One, PS4, and the forthcoming Nintendo Switch. PC gaming is where it’s at. And you can still play games with your Xbox and PS4-owning friends with these great cross-play games. We’ve already seen 2016 as the year in which PC gaming overtook consoles, and with Windows, Linux and Mac all seeing increasing support from developers and distribution services, this shows no sign of slowing down.
Now is the time to convert your PC into a games console. Any questions or thoughts? Tell us about it in the comments!
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