I’ve had the PC running in the living room for over three weeks now, so I thought I’d post an update with things I’ve learned since.
Wireless vs long cable
I was all set on getting a good wireless keyboard and mouse at first, but having tried a couple I can say now that it’s just not really worth it. The problem seems to be a combination of it using the 2.4GHz range – along with the router, phones, baby monitor, cordless phones and everything else – which gives me quite a lot of lag and drops, and the fact that the tiny dongles just aren’t very strong. If I plug one in the back of the PC to keep things tidy, the signal is too weak to reach the sofa properly.
I could spend money and get peripherals on a different wireless range, but for the cost involved it makes much more sense to do what I did; buy a cheap USB extension and hub. I have the end of the extension hidden behind the TV when it’s not in use and just plug in the keyboard and mouse when I want to use it. OK, it’s not the utopian wireless world, but it works well and I can still use the very nice Logitech MX518 mouse I bought a few years back.
Steam as a ‘do everything’ solution
It’s not bad, but not quite there yet. For everything in Steam it’s great, as you’d expect, but the problem is that I have other games like Far Cry 3 and Battlefield 4, which use Uplay and Origin respectively. You can add these other games to Steam to launch them, and it does work, but it would be nice to see Ubisoft and EA embrace the controller-centric options like Big Picture mode does for Steam.
Steam Home Streaming
It’s been in closed beta for a while now, but now it’s available for everyone and I’ve got to say it’s awesome. If you’ve not come across it before, it’s a new feature in Steam that lets you stream games from your main games PC in the house over the network to something less powerful, like an old laptop. Here’s an example. Along with my new PC I’ve got a cheap Lenovo laptop I bought a couple of years ago for about £300. It’s a Core i3 with onboard Intel HD3000 graphics, which means it struggles playing anything from the last few years.
As a test I made things difficult for myself by adding Battlefield 4 to Steam, which isn’t even meant to be officially supported. Despite this, I added it to Steam on the main PC, then updated Steam on the laptop and got a nice little message telling me it had connected to another PC on my network. Instead of a button labelled ‘Play’ next to the game, it said Stream.
Once the game loaded I couldn’t believe how well it worked. It looked amazing, despite me choosing Balanced as the streaming quality (there are three options, performance, balanced and beautiful. Each requires more bandwidth), and was far more responsive than I’d hoped for. I can see for FPS games the little bit of lag introduced might be a deal-breaker for some, but for any other type of game it would work almost perfectly.
There haven’t really been many to speak of. I think the most hassle I’ve had was when a game crashed once and I was using the controller. Because it dropped back to the desktop, I had no way of getting back into Steam without plugging in the mouse again. I know there’s software out there to emulate a mouse with a controller, so maybe I’ll add that as a just-in-case solution.
I recently bought Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition on a cheap deal online, which provided me with a Steam code. Great, I thought, nice and easy. However, it kept crashing when trying to launch. Some googling and I managed to get it fixed, but it was some faffing around removing and re-installing Games For Windows Live. Luckily the upcoming Ultra edition removes GFWL, but it was still annoying. That’s the sort of thing that needs fixing before it gets totally accepted as a console replacement.
All said though, that’s ten minutes annoyance in weeks of hassle-free games playing, so I’m over the moon. I’ve added a load of games to my catalogue and spent very little money. I only wish I’d done this before. If you’re wondering whether to spend the bit extra and get a PC instead of a PS4 or Xbox One – do it! You won’t regret it.