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How to Play PC Games on Your TV

connect-gaming-pc-to-television

No need to wait for Valve’s Steam Machines — connect your Windows gaming PC to your TV and use powerful PC graphics in the living room today. It’s easy — you don’t need any unusual hardware or special software.

This is ideal if you’re already a PC gamer who wants to play your games on a larger screen. It’s also convenient if you want to play multiplayer PC games with controllers in your living rom.

HDMI Cables and Controllers

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You’ll need an HDMI cable to connect your PC to your television. This requires a TV with HDMI-in, a PC with HDMI-out, and an HDMI cable. Modern TVs and PCs have had HDMI built in for years, so you should already be good to go. If you don’t have a spare HDMI cable lying around, you may have to buy one or repurpose one of your existing HDMI cables. Just don’t buy the expensive HDMI cables — even a cheap HDMI cable will work just as well as a more expensive one.

Plug one end of the HDMI cable into the HDMI-out port on your PC and one end into the HDMI-In port on your TV. Switch your TV’s input to the appropriate HDMI port and you’ll see your PC’s desktop appear on your TV.  Your TV becomes just another external monitor.

If you have your TV and PC far away from each other in different rooms, this won’t work. If you have a reasonably powerful laptop, you can just plug that into your TV — or you can unplug your desktop PC and hook it up next to your TV.

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Now you’ll just need an input device. You probably don’t want to sit directly in front of your TV with a wired keyboard and mouse! A wireless keyboard and wireless mouse can be convenient and may be ideal for some games. However, you’ll probably want a game controller like console players use. Better yet, get multiple game controllers so you can play local-multiplayer PC games with other people.

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The Xbox 360 controller is the ideal controller for PC gaming. Windows supports these controllers natively, and many PC games are designed specifically for these controllers. Note that Xbox One controllers aren’t yet supported on Windows because Microsoft hasn’t released drivers for them.

Yes, you could use a third-party controller or go through the process of pairing a PlayStation controller with your PC using unofficial tools, but it’s better to get an Xbox 360 controller. Just plug one or more Xbox controllers into your PC’s USB ports and they’ll work without any setup required. While many PC games to support controllers, bear in mind that some games require a keyboard and mouse.

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A TV-Optimized Interface

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Use Steam’s Big Picture interface to more easily browse and launch games. This interface was designed for using on a television with controllers and even has an integrated web browser you can use with your controller. It will be used on the Valve’s Steam Machine consoles as the default TV interface. You can use a mouse with it too, of course. There’s also nothing stopping you from just using your Windows desktop with a mouse and keyboard — aside from how inconvenient it will be.

To launch Big Picture Mode, open Steam and click the Big Picture button at the top-right corner of your screen. You can also press the glowing Xbox logo button in the middle of an Xbox 360 Controller to launch the Big Picture interface if Steam is open.

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Another Option: In-Home Streaming

If you want to leave your PC in one room of your home and play PC games on a TV in a different room, you can consider using local streaming to stream games over your home network from your gaming PC to your television. Bear in mind that the game won’t be as smooth and responsive as it would if you were sitting in front of your PC. You’ll also need a modern router with fast wireless network speeds to keep up with the game streaming.

Steam’s built-in In-Home Streaming feature is now available to everyone. You could plug a laptop with less-powerful graphics hardware into your TV and use it to stream games from your powerful desktop gaming rig. You could also use an older desktop PC you have lying around.

To stream a game, log into Steam on your gaming PC and log into Steam with the same account on another computer on your home network. You’ll be able to view the library of installed games on your other PC and start streaming them.

steam-in-home-streaming

NVIDIA also has their own GameStream solution that allows you to stream games from a PC with powerful NVIDIA graphics hardware. However, you’ll need an NVIDIA Shield handheld gaming console to do this. At the moment, NVIDIA’s game streaming solution can only stream to the NVIDIA Shield. However, the NVIDIA Shield device can be connected to your TV so you can play that streaming game on your TV.

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Valve’s Steam Machines are supposed to bring PC gaming to the living room, and they’ll do it using HDMI cables, a custom Steam controller, the Big Picture interface, and in-home streaming for compatibility with Windows games. You can do all of this yourself today — you’ll just need an Xbox 360 controller instead of the not-yet-released Steam controller.

Image Credit: Marco Arment on Flickr, William Hook on Flickr, Lewis Dowling on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/24/14