If you haven’t quite gotten around to buying a game console or a streaming device that doesn’t mean you have to be locked out from enjoying the latest games, movies and TV shows on your big-screen TV. Chances are that the PC sitting on your desktop – and in many cases even your laptop – is capable of providing you with a first-class gaming experience to rival the latest consoles. It can also allow you to stream Netflix, Stan and other streaming services in style.
Nobody wants to sit at their desk to watch a movie. And when it comes to games, unless you’re playing a mouse-and-keyboard based shooter or MMO, you’d probably rather be relaxing on the couch immersing yourself in an interactive world. The good news is that modern desktop PCs – and many laptops – make getting video and audio from your PC onto the big screen a quick and easy thing. And even if your particular PC is determined to make things hard for you, there are easy solutions!
The HDMI cable
Most modern PC graphics cards – ones from the past few years, certainly – will have at least one full-sized HDMI output on desktop PCs. Laptops often feature an HDMI output as well, though if they do, it’s usually a special smaller-sized HDMI connector. In other cases, manufacturers leave out HDMI altogether and use an interface called DisplayPort or its miniature variation.
The solution is simple, really – figure out which type of connector your computer has on offer, and buy a cable that can handle it. HDMI cables that have a mini HDMI (or even micro HDMI) plug on the other end, as well as DisplayPort to HDMI cables, are easily found at computer stores for a fraction of the price you’d pay at the big chain stores. And remember, digital IS digital – the beauty of HDMI is that if it works, it works.
Where you might run into problems is with cable length. Most of us don’t have the PC sitting next to the TV, after all, so a fairly long cable might be needed to make the connection. Here’s where digital cables can cause problems. While you won’t have any problems sending 1080p video down a 10 metre cable, it’ll need to be a good quality cable that’s well insulated from interference. That’s why you’ll usually find longer HDMI cables are substantially thicker than the short ones you’re used to. Try to keep your cable run as short as practical.
One of the most useful inventions for home video in years, Google’s inexpensive Chromecast HDMI dongle plugs into your TV and connects to your wi-fi network. Once you’ve done the easy setup, you can stream video to your TV from just about anywhere. Not just your PC, but also your phones and tablets. On Windows and MacOS it’s as simple as loading up the Google Chrome browser, heading to the content you want to stream and clicking a button. You can even mirror a browser window to your TV for big-screen browsing if you like! Some apps on PCs also directly support Chromecast – Spotify is one example. At only $59 for the standard Chromecast, it’s a must if you’re just getting into streaming to your TV. However, there’s one thing it won’t stream – games. And that’s where our next device comes in.
A nifty device that’s admittedly a little pricey at $90 – though frequently heavily discounted – Steam Link is a little streaming box from the people behind the Steam game client on PC and Mac. What it lets you do is play games on your powerful desktop PC, but stream the video wirelessly to your TV and handle your game controllers, even if the PC is in another room. It even lets you use a keyboard and mouse remotely if you want, thanks to its built-in USB ports. If you’ve already got a collection of games on PC and don’t want to both buy a console and have to buy the games again, this little device is potentially a no-hassle solution that gives you the best of both worlds.
This one’s mainly for you Apple users – AirPlay is a proprietary Apple streaming tech that’s only available on Apple products (the one exception for Windows users is iTunes, which has AirPlay support built in). Similar to Chromecast, it lets you send video to your TV via your Wi-Fi or wired network. However, in order to display it, you’ll need an Apple device that can receive it – and that means an Apple TV. You’ll be up for $239 for one of those. And once you’ve got one, you’ll find you rarely need AirPlay at all as there are native apps for just about everything that run on the Apple TV itself (there are some exceptions, though, like Twitch).
If you’ve noticed the “cast to TV” option in some Windows 10 apps, that’s not an indication of Chromecast support, but rather an open standard called Miracast. If your TV supports it and is connected to the same network as your PC, you may find this works pretty seamlessly. However, compared to other options it tends to be slow and unreliable. Not to mention inflexible, as very few apps support it.
If you’re really stuck for a way to get your computer’s video onto your TV – for example, if you have no HDMI output on your graphics card or laptop – then VGA might be your last resort. This is the ancient video format that used to be the standard for computers in the era before digital video arrived. It’ll still work fine as long as your TV has a VGA input (often labelled “PC”). The down sides: picture quality is going to be pretty sub-par, you may need to mess around with drivers on the PC, and VGA only carries video – you’ll need to run a separate cable if you want to hear anything. It’s far from ideal, but if it’s all you’ve got right now, it WILL work!
Put your PC to work!
What you’ve got sitting on your desk is a computer far more powerful than any of the currently available streaming devices. When it comes to games, if it’s a fairly recent PC it’s likely far more powerful than any console, too – even the upcoming ones. Getting your PC hooked up to your big-screen TV can open up a whole world of entertainment. Plus, if you’re lucky, you don’t have to pay for anything more than a simple cable. It’s well worth it!