In many ways, PC gaming is just objectively better than gaming on a console. But getting a full Windows machine to play nice with your living room setup can be less than elegant. Let’s break down your best options for playing PC games on your big living room TV.
We’ve broken our selections down into the best overall, easiest, and cheapest methods of getting full-power PC gaming connected to a TV.
The Best Option: A Dedicated Living Room PC
If you want the full experience of PC gaming, there’s no way around it: you need to connect a gaming PC directly to your TV. That might sound obvious, but there are some hurdles to achieving this. Your average gaming PC doesn’t fit well into a living room: it won’t fit in an entertainment center or mount to a wall. Also note that the preferred connection for high-end PC gaming is DisplayPort, while most TVs only use HDMI for their primary input.
There are a couple of ways you can go about this for a more elegant setup. You can build a dedicated PC for your living room—Mini-ITX cases and motherboards are popular for this purpose. There are pre-made PCs sold in this niche as well, sometimes sold under the “HTPC” (Home Theater Personal Computer) designation.
These generally have all the features of a normal PC, though the smaller size might mean a few compromises, like a low-profile graphics card. On the plus side, and unlike consoles, they can be upgraded more or less indefinitely. Some examples of pre-made Mini-ITX and home theater PCs include the ORIGIN Chronos, Corsair One, and the Falcon Northwest Tiki.
Depending on what you play, you might not need a full-sized gaming PC. You can always plug in a laptop to your TV’s HDMI port, or go with a lower-power desktop with integrated graphics. Even low-end PCs can handle games like Fortnite or Overwatch on the integrated graphics built into the motherboard. AMD’s Ryzen-Vega platform is especially good for a small, inexpensive build, in laptop or desktop form.
The Easiest Option: Streaming Game Services
Not ready to build or buy a full PC? Then your easiest means of getting PC gaming on your desktop is streaming it from a dedicated service. You’ll still need some hardware on your end, but it turns PC games into more of a service than a managed device.
At the time of writing, the best option for this for most users is NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW. The service is in beta, but it streams full-power PC games to any PC, Mac, or the NIVIDA SHIELD (which is the best streaming box around anyway). Right now hundreds of games are supported, and if you don’t have them connected to your libraries in Steam or other publisher systems, you can buy some directly from NVIDIA. As of now, GeForce NOW is in free beta testing—when (if?) it fully launches, it might come with a monthly charge.
If you want something with a theoretically unlimited library of PC games, check out Shadow. The service can stream to any PC, macOS, or Android device, or you can pick up the company’s dedicated Shadow Ghost hardware for easy setup. It costs $35 a month, but you get unlimited access to a virtual PC with GTX 1080-level graphics that can install any game you own. Within the next year or two, streaming game options from Google and Microsoft may also be available.
Note that, for any streaming service, you’ll want an optimal internet connection. 25 megabits per second is an absolute minimum, with low latency being crucial for multiplayer performance. It wouldn’t hurt to get an Ethernet connection in your living room, either.
The Cheapest Option: In-Home Streaming from Your Desktop
If you already have a gaming PC and you can’t move it to your living room, and you also don’t want to buy another one, you might consider streaming from your desktop to your living room. This isn’t the most elegant solution, but it requires the least amount of money to get up and running.
Right now there are two easy ways to get this going. One, you can use Steam’s built-in streaming platform. Steam is probably already installed on your gaming PC, so install Steam on a laptop or use the Steam Link app on an Android TV device or Raspberry Pi.
The dedicated Steam Link hardware is no longer sold, but it’s easy to find on secondary markets like eBay for almost nothing. Steam streams games from your desktop to the remote computer or gadget over your home’s network, with excellent support for controllers or a mouse/keyboard setup. Steam’s Big Picture Mode is a great UI for managing PC games—much better than using a mouse and keyboard for everything—and external, non-Steam games can be added manually.
An alternative to Steam in-home streaming is NVIDIA’s GameStream service. This only works if your main PC uses a GeForce graphics card, and can only stream to the NVIDIA SHIELD, but the experience is more or less the same as Steam in-home streaming.
With your fancy-pants PC gaming setup, you’ll need some way to control it. Here are the best picks for living room inputs for PC games.
Keyboard: Corsair K63 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard ($90)
A mechanical keyboard is the best option for gamers, and this is one of the few wireless models made with gamers in mind. The wireless variant of the K63 uses Cherry red switches for maximum speed and a 2.4GHz wireless connection to minimize lag. (Bluetooth is an option too, but it’s slower.) This particular model is also compatible with the add-on lapboard, which we’ll go ahead and recommend for anyone who doesn’t have an easy way to add a mouse pad to a couch or recliner chair.
Mouse: Logitech G603 ($55)
My personal favorite gaming mouse also makes a great living room companion, thanks to 2.4GHz wireless and long battery life from AA batteries. The Logitech G603 is much cheaper than many wireless gaming mice and uses a standard “shooter” layout with two big, cushy thumb buttons. Connection options are USB and Bluetooth.
Controller: Microsoft Xbox One Controller ($47)
The Xbox One controller is the de facto standard for PC gaming. The newer versions connect to a PC with either a wireless USB adapter or via Bluetooth, and this model can often be found for under $50. If you’re using Steam in-home streaming, we’d recommend the PlayStation 4 Dual Shock 4 controller instead: its built-in trackpad is handy for quickly changing settings, and Steam supports it very well.
Headset: Corsair Void PRO ($80)
For those using a local gaming PC, we’d recommend the Corsair Void PRO wireless headset if you want surround sound and team voice chat. For just eighty bucks it gives you virtual surround sound and easy communication with your team. If you’re streaming with a gadget, the Windows-based driver software might be incompatible: pick up a Logitech G430 (and maybe a headphone extension cable) on the cheap instead.