While PC's pack the performance, consoles are often seen as the easy to use, plug and play option. But it is possible to make a gaming PC as simple to use as switching on a PlayStation 4, by turning your PC into an HTPC (Home Theatre PC). You can plug a PC straight into your TV, use an Xbox controller, and have console-beating performance and visuals with almost all modern games across all platforms available to you, while avoiding all of the pitfalls some associate with PC gaming. It's simple to adjust some settings on your computer OS to make it a great Home Theatre Personal Computer if you explore the following guide.
Why Would I Want to Turn my Gaming PC into a Console?
You may call me a heathen. You may call me a pleb. But there’s something I just absolutely love about using gamepads. They may lack the precision and efficiency of a mouse when it comes to certain genres, but I’m a firm believer that comfort literally trumps everything. I don’t want to hunker over a desk while I’m at home, I want to recline like the true primate I’m supposed to be.
To that end I’ve got my PC hooked up to my TV, a suite of controllers, and of course a wireless mouse and keyboard. Somehow though, it just wasn’t enough.
When I boot up my PC I’ve got to get up and pick up my mouse and keyboard, login, open DS4 Windows to ensure PS4 controller support, run Steam, Origin, Uplay, etc, run the game and then finally switch to the gamepad. It’s not the elegant solution I’ve got with the PS4, where I can wirelessly turn it on from my horizontal paradise. It’s absolute bliss, so I got to thinking - can I make my PC gaming experience as gamepad friendly as my PlayStation 4?
Most exclusives nowadays are between XBox ONE and PS4, but those games are usually still available on PC. So why not build a single Home Theatre PC that has all the benefits of the PC, all the games available for XBox, Playstation and PC with all the comfort of the console's lounge setup?
Turning your gamer computer hardware into the best Home Theatre system is straight forward if you follow these steps. Here is a simple guide on how to customise your PC into an HTPC as we make our HTPC into the one gaming platform to rule them all.
What Hardware do you need for a Gaming HTPC
A typical HTPC (Home Theatre PC) is geared towards exactly that, a box through which to play and stream media. What you have to do to get the PC to run as a HTPC is a basic spec PC. If you're aiming for 4K video you will need a fairly decent graphics card to power it. In truth, a simple Chromebox should be enough in this scenario, unless you require masses of storage.
Here on Game Debate, we're all about the games though, so when speccing up an HTPC, we want to ensure it can run the latest with a console quality experience set as a minimum bar.
Hitting 1080p resolution is a priority here, with 4K gaming a little out of reach unless you want to make this primary gaming device and skip the desktop PC altogether.
Here are the specs we would recommend for a Gaming HTPC in 2017:
- OS: Windows 10 64-bit
- CPU: Intel Core i5-6500 or AMD Ryzen 5 1400
- RAM: 16 GB System Memory
- GPU RAM: 6GB Video Memory
- GPU: GeForce GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 580
- HDD: At least 500GB SSHD (SSD preferable)
- Gamepad: Xbox One controller, Dual Shock 4, or Steam Controller
A system like this will be capable of playing the latest AAA PC games on a 1080p TV at High/Ultra graphics for the next few years.
How to Turn Your PC on Wirelessly
OK, so the first issue you will run into is turning on the PC itself. Laziness truly knows no bounds, and walking over to the TV and pressing a button just isn’t an option. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions.
Is there an Android or iOS app that allows you to remotely switch on a PC?
Yes, there is an app which allows you to remotely turn on your PC using Wake-On-Lan. For the first solution, you’ll need a mobile phone. There’s an app called PCAutoWaker and you can configure your PC to Wake-On-Lan. Basically, this sets your PC up so you can send a signal over your wireless network to your PC, telling it to switch on. Through the app (available on Android and iOS) you can trigger it manually or, and here’s the cool bit, you can set it so your PC automatically turns on when your phone joins the wifi network.
So picture this: You finish work and drive home. As you pull up on the drive, your phone connects to the wifi network, a signal is sent to your PC and it switches on before you’ve even set foot outside the car. Bliss.
Just make sure you get your phone close enough to reach your home wifi range and you will be ready to game as soon as you step into the front room.
Can a PC be switched on using a keyboard press?
Some motherboards do support USB wake-up provided your controller is plugged in. Have a little poke around your BIOS to see if it’s in there. Every motherboard is different, so consult your motherboard documentation to find out whether this option is available for you. If you enable this, a specific button press will turn the PC and the controller on. I tested this with the Steam Controller and set the Steam button to boot my PC, exactly the same as my PS button would boot my PS4.
Is there a way to control turning a PC on and off using a remote?
Yes, you can turn on your PC using a remote by installing an infrared receiver into your PC. You can pair this with a programmable remote and use the same USB wake-up signal which allows a registered press to power up your PC, as well as another to shut it down. This is the method a lot of home theatre PC’s (HTPC) use.
If you haven’t got a phone, and your motherboard doesn’t support USB wake-up, and you don’t want to buy an IR receiver, well, you’re just going to have to get up off your butt and turn your PC on the old-fashioned way. Mission failed. So either you arent the right sort of person for this HTPC setup guide oooorrrrr you have transcended to the next level, concluding - why turn your PC off in the first place, you electricity guzzling swine.
How to Log into Windows Using a Controller, Without a Mouse and Keyboard
In terms of using a controller to log into a PC, you’ve got three options. You can use a Steam Controller, which I know not many folks have; you can use an Xbox gamepad (either 360 or Xbox One), or you can set your PC up to bypass the login screen entirely, which obviously offers you no protection.
How to Log Into Windows Using a Steam Controller
Using a Steam Controller to log into Windows 10 is pretty straightforward, as Valve’s gamepad automatically works on the desktop. You can either load up the accessibility options and use the on-screen keyboard, or you can use a picture log-in and use the touchpad to trace a picture. The latter is the quickest option, and I found I could log-in within a couple of seconds; no different to typing in a password.
How to Log Into Windows using an Xbox 360 or Xbox One Controller
If you’re planning to use an Xbox controller to login to Windows, it’s a little more complicated. There’s a free program you can use called Gopher360 that converts your Xbox One or X360 controller into a format that is recognised by Windows as a mouse and keyboard. You can download Gopher360 here. It’s a simple executable file that needs to be run in order to the Xbox One controller to be detected as a mouse. In order to get Gopher360 running automatically when you turn on your PC, just follow these steps:
- Press the Windows key.
- Type ‘run’ and press Return.
- In the new window type ‘shell:startup’. Press Return.
- Copy + Paste your Gopher360 executable into this folder.
How to Skip the Windows 10 Login Screen for Faster Boot
Skipping the Windows 10 login screen entirely is another option. To do this:
- Open the start menu (or tap the Windows key on your keyboard).
- Type ‘netplwiz’.
- A window will open showing your user accounts.
- Just uncheck the box marketed “users must enter a username and password to use this computer.”
You now bypass the profile selection and login page entirely. Be warned, if someone can gain physical access to your PC, there’s now nothing to stop them using it and viewing everything that isn’t password protected.
How to Run all Game Clients on Windows Start-Up or Integrate into Steam Client
If you’re planning to hook your PC up to your TV and make the process as streamlined as possible, you can also cut back drastically on the number of programs you’re running.
Your very first port of call, for simplicity’s sake, is deciding what game clients you’re going to be running. You can either go the Steam Machine route and boot exclusively into Steam Big Picture Mode (the simplest method) or you can run every game client on boot to allow the easiest access to your entire library.
For me personally, I have Steam, Origin, Uplay, GOG and Blizzard all launch at boot. This adds a little more time for the system to be ready to use, but it’s easier in the long run.
- First, you’ll need to open Windows Task Manager.
- Click the ‘Start-up’ tab. Ensure any game client in this list’s ‘Status’ is set to ‘Enabled’.
- Ensure any game client in this list’s ‘Status’ is set to ‘Enabled’.
- If a game client doesn’t appear in this list, press the Windows key and type ‘Run’.
- In the new window that opens, type ‘shell:command’.
- Copy and paste the executable shortcuts to the game clients in this directory and they will now appear in Task Manager.
- Return to Step 1.
The second option is to add all non-Steam clients as games to your Steam Library.
- Open Steam
- Click the burger icon (3 horizontal lines) and from the drop-down list select ‘Add a Non-Steam Game to My Library’
- Check the boxes for all the game clients you would like to add to Steam, eg GOG, Origin, Bethesda, Uplay etc.
- Click ‘Add Selected Programs’.
Once the game client shortcuts are your Steam Library, it’s a good idea to make them easy to find. Right click on them in your Steam Library and select ‘Set Categories’. I personally lumped them all into a folder called ‘1. Clients’ so they’re quick to navigate to within Steam Big Picture Mode. You can now run any game client you want from directly within Steam using a control, and navigate them using the Steam Controller or the Gopher360 application for Xbox controllers.
If you are using a gamepad, ensure the gamepad software is set to run on start-up. This shouldn’t affect Xbox and Steam Controller users, but DualShock 4 users will need to run DS4 Windows on boot, for example. This ensures you can use your gamepad to login and/or start programs.
Within this Windows Task Manager you can also disable any other applications you won’t need if you’re using your PC exclusively as a gaming and media hub. The more you disable, the faster your HTPC boot time will be, and the quicker it will run.
How to Turn your HTPC into a Multimedia and Gaming Hub
Your computer hardware can run like an Xbox One home theatre. For many, the purpose of an HTPC is to turn their TV into a full entertainment setup, with total access to games, music, movies and TV shows. This matches the console feature set, but the neat thing is you can obviously also store large quantities of media, both locally or over your home network.
There are many different solutions to this problem, including well known names like Kodi, but I’m going to run through Plex as the cheapest and easiest to set up solution.
Plex is a free media hub through which all your devices can connect and play content, whether that be on your PC, phone, set-top box, etc. In order to use Plex, you’ll need a centralised hub, or ‘brain’, where all your media can be store. This can either be the HTPC itself, or you can have another storage PC, in your home office, for example, from which the media can be streamed.
- First of all, sign up for a free account and download Plex Media Server on the machine which is going to store the media. An account is required in order to have a login and prevent third-party access.
- Install Plex Media Server and run the program, letting it know where your various media is going to be store. You can automatically split it up into photos, movies, TV shows, music etc.
- Now head to the Plex website on your HTPC and login.
- Click ‘Get an App’ and you can download and install the Plex Media Player.
- Open Steam
- Click the burger icon (3 horizontal lines) and from the drop-down list select ‘Add a Non-Steam Game to My Library’
- Click Browse in the new window and navigate to your Plex Media Player install directory and select the executable.
- Once Plex is in your Steam Library, right click on it and ‘Add to Favourites’. It will now be easier to access through the Big Picture interface.
- Open Steam, click the burger icon and select ‘Settings’.
- Click ‘Interface’.
- Check the box marked ‘Start Steam in Big Picture Mode’.
- If you want to boot straight into Steam, check the box marked ‘Run Steam when my computer starts’.
You will now be able to boot your PC straight through the login process and into Steam Big Picture mode, providing access to your Steam game library and all the media stored on your Plex server.
How to Add Windows Store UWP Apps to your Steam Library
One problem you may encounter is downloading and playing Windows Store titles. All of Microsoft's first party Xbox titles are Windows Store exclusives, including Gears of War 4, Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and Forza Motorsport 7. UWP apps don’t play nice with Steam, and to get them hooked into Steam you’re really going to have to use your mouse and keyboard. Fortunately, this is a temporary approach, so you’ll only need to go through this process once per Windows Store game, and then you can boot them normally through Steam.
First of all, you’re going to need to download a program called UWP Hook. As the name implies, this a tool for taking a UWP app and turning into a working executable that can be identified by Steam.
- Download UWPHook from GitHub here. Throw creator Brian Lima a donation if you’re that way inclined.
- Ensure you have Steam running.
- Open the downloaded folder and run UWPHook.exe.
- Click the circular arrow icon in the top right of the application to ‘Load installed apps’. This automatically scans your PC for UWP apps.
- Check the boxes of any Windows Store game you would like to add to Steam.
- Click ‘Export selected apps to Steam’.
- Restart Steam.
- The UWP app will now be in your Steam library.
Can I Play Console Games on my PC?
Compare PC gaming to how it was 10 or 15 years ago and there's a world of difference. The vast majority of third-party games now also launch on PC, and the list of console exclusives is growing smaller and smaller.
Can I Play Xbox One Games on my HTPC?
Yes, you can play all first-party Xbox games on your PC. As part of Microsoft's Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, all 1st party Xbox One games are also available through the Windows Store on Windows 10. You can even take part in cross-platform multiplayer with your Xbox chums.
Can I Play PlayStation 4 Games on my HTPC?
Yes, you can now play PlayStation 4 games on your PC. Sony recently updated its PlayStation Now game streaming service to include PS4 titles. There is a growing library of PS4 exclusives such as Killzone: Shadow Fall and God of War Remastered that can be streamed directly to your PC.
Can I Play Nintendo Switch Games on PC?
No, at the moment Nintendo has no plans to make its games playable on PC.
And thats it, you now have one gaming platform to rule them all.
Hopefully this HTPC setup guide can prove helpful to anyone else out there who's looking to build a PC with ease of use as a priority. The overall setup can take an hour or two in total, but its a fun, a fairly low tech entry level and once you're there it's a console-style experience with the power of a thousand dollar PC behind it.