How to stream PC games anywhere

Play on your tablet, your phone, or even your friend's Mac.

IDG

IDG

You’ve spent days, months building the perfect gaming den. Kick-ass PC: check. Perfect desk: in place. Supreme gaming chair: acquired. Fridge full o’ grog: brimming. There’s no better environment for gaming glory. Apart from the sofa. Or at work. Or in bed.

While we all love our battlestations, the ability to play PC games elsewhere—inside or outside the home—can be truly liberating. Today we’ll look at some of the best ways to stream your games remotely and look ahead to upcoming services which could allow you to play your favorite titles on any device. Macs, smartphones, TVs, that aging, dusty Dell in the office? They’re all invited.

Network considerations

Of course, if you want to stream the action from that powerful gaming rig in the den to devices around the home—or further afield—your network needs to be up to scratch. All the heavy processing can be performed on your gaming PC, but high-speed, low-latency connections are essential for smooth, remote gameplay.

Let’s be clear: Despite the many weird and wonderful ways to fire data around your home, there is no substitute for wired Gigabit Ethernet. But if you can’t bear the disruption of lifting carpets or drilling holes to wire up the place, decent alternatives are available. My tip? If your home is wired for cable TV, be sure to check out MoCA 2.0 adapters, such as the Actiontec ECB6200 Bonded MoCA 2.0 Network Adapter ($148 on Amazon), which enables data to flow through standard coaxial cables.

I use these adapters extensively throughout my home, with average speeds of 750Mbps—not far off Gigabit Ethernet and more than you’ll need for a game stream.

Linksys EA8500 front Michael Brown

The quality of your PC game-streaming experience relies heavily on your home network speed.

Wi-Fi or Powerline adapters can also do the job, but performance will vary from home to home. If you opt for a wireless configuration, be sure to select the faster (but shorter range) 5GHz networking band on your router over the slower, longer-range 2.4GHz option. If your remote PC is a desktop and its wireless adapter isn’t performing well, then consider upgrading to a modern, high-end model such as the ASUS PCE-AC88 4x4 AC3100 adapter ($109 on Amazon), which can be installed in a spare PCIe slot on your motherboard. A slightly slower, but more convenient option is the D-Link DWA-192 3x3 AC1900 adapter ($70 on Amazon), which connects via USB.

For true remote gaming, let’s not forget mobile 4G LTE connections, which can do a fantastic job with remote streaming. But, be sure your service plan includes generous allowances, as game streaming will quickly chew through data.

Once you have your network in place and performing well, you can check out the game streaming services themselves.

Steam In-Home Streaming

The easiest place to start is Steam In-Home Streaming. That’s right, the ubiquitous gaming platform includes a feature that allows you to stream your library to remote Windows, Macs, Linux, and Steam OS devices. With a decent connection, you’ll experience gameplay as if you were sitting at your gaming PC, though both computers need to be on the same network for Steam In-Home Streaming to work.

Configuration is easy. Install Steam on your gaming PC and the remote device on which you wish to play. Log into the Steam app on both computers and they’ll automatically connect. Your gaming PC, as the host, will need to be powered on and awake throughout the session, so be sure to configure its power settings accordingly.

stream witcher Terry Walsh/IDG

Once connected, look for the Stream button where the Play button normally would be to launch your game.

Head to your Steam library on the remote PC and click through your game selection. You’ll see that the Play button has been replaced by a Stream button. Click it to launch and stream the game to the remote computer. The game will also be displayed on the host PC’s screen, so don’t plan on using your primary PC for something else while you stream games to another PC.

If your stream is struggling, hit F6 (or Start + Y on your controller) to check out your current streaming stats, as shown at the bottom of the image below. It’ll give you the lowdown on capture resolution, streaming latency, ping time, bitrates and bandwidth—all useful metrics for diagnosing issues.

5 Terry Walsh/IDG

Witcher 3 on an iMac? No problem with Steam In-Home Streaming.

For a quick bump in streaming quality, reduce the game’s graphics settings. Lowering frame rates and resolution reduces the amount of data that needs to be captured and streamed, which should mitigate latency. A good-quality, modern AC wireless network should be able to handle a AAA title with ease, but as I mentioned earlier, you can’t beat a cable.

If you want to dig even deeper, PCWorld’s comprehensive guide to Steam In-Home Streaming can walk you through the technology’s nitty-gritty details.

Steam Link

Steam Link Brad Chacos

With Steam Link, you can enjoy your PC games on the big screen TV.

By now, you may have figured out that with Steam In-Home Streaming, your remote PC is really acting as a kind of remote desktop client. All the action is happening on your main rig, with the remote device playing streamed video and relaying your commands back to the mothership. So, you need some kind of remote device, but does it need to be a hefty PC or expensive Mac?

Absolutely not. You can enjoy the same experience with a cheap laptop, or with Valve’s own $50 Steam Link, which often goes on sale at steep discounts. This compact device packages all of the essential technology required to run Steam In-Home Streaming on any HDMI-enabled TV—a remote desktop client, USB ports for controllers, wired and wireless networking plus video out. 

Sofa-based 1080p PC gaming is now a reality. All you have to do is figure out how to position your mouse and keyboard!

Next page: Streaming around and outside your house with Nvidia GameStream.

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Terry Walsh

PC World (US online)
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