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.