Even Frank Underwood (you know, from “House of Cards”) sometimes needs to blow off steam playing video games. You do, too. And if you’re lucky, you too have a private den where you can escape from the world. But perhaps not. What about those times when your partner wants to use the TV?
It turns out there’s a way for you to keep on playing your favorite games from any room of your house. Exactly how you do it depends on which game system you own.
Xbox, PS4 or PC?
If you own a Microsoft Xbox One, all you need is a Windows 10 laptop and a Micro-USB cable to sling games around your home. Plug your controller into the laptop, fire up Windows 10’s built-in Xbox app, and your laptop screen can become a portable wireless television for all your Xbox titles. (It works great with a Microsoft Surface tablet, too.)
If you’ve got a Sony PlayStation 4, you don’t even need a Windows 10 computer. You can beam those games to Windows, Mac, a PlayStation Vita handheld, or even an Android smartphone if you’ve got the right software installed. (Search for Twisted89’s PS4 Remote Play app to get that up and running.)
Another option: you can buy slim set-top boxes like the Steam Link and Nvidia Shield to beam PC games to your living room TV.
How it works
What all these solutions have in common is a technique called game streaming. It works practically the same way as a YouTube video does, only with a gamepad attached. Much like an Internet video server halfway across the globe delivers your favorite cat videos to your Web browser, here your Xbox, PlayStation or gaming PC delivers the processing power to stream games from the other side of your house.
You might be surprised how well game streaming works. While a lot depends on the speed of your home network (more on that in a minute), games can now run nearly as quickly and fluidly over a good Wi-Fi connection as they do hooked up to your flatscreen.
But before you start slinging games around your house, you may need to invest in a few tech products.
A great home network
There’s a reason CNET reviews routers: They’re not all the same. The Wi-Fi built into your cable box or DSL modem probably won’t cut it for streaming games.
Instead, you’ll want an excellent wireless router, preferably one with three or more antennas, support for the 802.11ac protocol (currently the fastest form of consumer Wi-Fi), and one that performs well on the more reliable 5GHz frequency band (the radio signal it uses to connect). Two of our recent favorites: the Asus RT-AC87U ($300, £300, AU$450) and the $400 (£400, AU$530) Asus RT-AC5300.
You’ll need to make sure your wireless router has a strong connection to your devices, too; every wall between your router and gaming device, and the more distance you put between the two, can interfere with your signal and potentially make your games slow and unresponsive. With a high-quality router, a flight of stairs and a few feet of drywall shouldn’t matter, but check your Wi-Fi signal strength before you begin.
You may want to hook up your game console or your PC with a physical Ethernet cable for optimal results, since it reduces the need for your home Wi-Fi to be perfect.
Oh, and try to keep your network free of congestion while you’re playing. I’ll often notice a bit of lag, or a hazy image, when my wife starts watching her YouTube cooking shows.
Can any of this game streaming goodness work outside your home network? It’s technically possible with an Nvidia Shield…as long as you’ve got an amazing internet connection at home and at wherever you plan to play. For any other form of streaming, you’d need to trick the software into thinking your internet connection is a local area network, which can be a complicated, error-prone process.
A streaming device
Here are the best ways to beam games around:
Steam Link ($50, £100 bundled with Steam Controller, not yet available in AU)
The easiest way to play PC games on your big-screen TV without lugging a desktop around or running cables through your walls. Just plug it in and power it up, and it’ll automatically recognize any Steam accounts on the same home network. It’s got USB ports, but it doesn’t come with a controller — unless you buy a bundle.
Nvidia Shield ($200, £150, not available in AU)
If you’ve got an Nvidia graphics card in your gaming PC, the Shield is another way to beam those games to a TV. You can hook up a mouse and keyboard if you want, but it also comes with an excellent Xbox-style gamepad.
Your old laptop (Free)
Whether you’re streaming games from Xbox One, PS4, or a gaming PC, an old laptop with a decent network connection might be all you need. For Xbox, you’ll have to install Windows 10 on the laptop first, and plug in your Xbox One gamepad. For PC, you just need to log into your Steam account on both computers simultaneously.
Your new Android phone (roughly $15, £15, AU$20)
You can stream PlayStation 4 games to Sony’s own Vita handheld or the defunct PlayStation TV set-top, but there’s a better way. Buy a Nyko Smart Clip to attach your phone to your PS4 gamepad and a USB-OTG (USB On The Go) cable to connect it, then search the Web for Twisted89’s PS4 Remote Play app.
Nintendo Wii U ($300, £240, AU$430)
If all you want to do is play some games while your partner uses the TV, the Nintendo Wii U does it right out of the box. The controller has a built-in LCD screen and direct wireless connectivity, so a fancy Wi-Fi router isn’t required. Just know that with an estimated wireless range of just 26 feet, you won’t be streaming very far.A controller
While some streaming solutions like the Nvidia Shield and PlayStation Vita come with their own controllers, you’ll often need to provide one to play your game remotely.
If you’re streaming from Xbox One or PlayStation 4, just plug your existing console’s controllers into your PC using a standard Micro-USB cable (the kind that charges most non-Apple smartphones). If you’re using the controller with your phone, buy a cheap USB-OTG adapter to make the cable work with your handset.
If you’re streaming from a gaming PC, though, things get a little more complicated. You could connect a wireless mouse and keyboard. But using those on the couch might make streaming feel a little unresponsive because of how long they can take to send your commands. Instead, I’d recommend that you pair an Xbox gamepad ($60, £40, AU$90) with one of Microsoft’s official wireless adapters ($25, £20, AU$30), or try the $50 Steam Controller (£50, not yet available in AU) if you’re willing to tackle its steep learning curve.
Trust me, it’ll all be worth it. The next time you’re sick in bed, you’ll be able to keep on playing your favorite games from under those comfy blankets.