Before we start, here's a picture of my living room:
I forget why I showed you that. Oh, yes, I'd like you to make a note of something. Observe, my friends, the incredibly minor distance between my PC and my television. There's barely a whisper of empty space. The two are as close as can be without jamming my computer into that little cubby underneath the TV itself.
This has to be as good as it gets when it comes to playing PC games on your television. Whenever I hear other people talk about their living room PC gaming setups, they're always talking about "Sunshine" this and "Steam Link" that. It's always a little janky and tedious: the price you pay for enjoying god's own games platform from the comfort of your settee.
But I have my machine plugged into my TV directly. This is surely optimal. There's no reason it shouldn't be roughly as convenient to play my PC on that screen as it is to play my dinky Nintendo Switch.
And yet here we are. Whenever I want to play a game on my television, I have to perform a kind of cost/benefit analysis. Is it worth getting up? Is it worth walking back and forth between my PC and the TV? Is it worth finding the remote? Is it worth maybe having to delete my Xbox One gamepad from my Bluetooth devices list before re-adding it because it's decided not to work? Is any of this worth any of this? What am I doing with my life? Before you know it, I'm in the grip of a depthless ennui.
Compare this to my Switch, which I can activate from a prone position on my sofa by blindly groping for the right controller and hammering the home button. This will switch my TV on, set it to the right HDMI input, and even drop me back into whatever game I was playing if I happened to exit out in the middle of a session.
This is surely the wrong way round. My Switch is about as powerful as a mid-tier hair dryer while my PC has a GPU capable of computing the 72 names of god, but a lack of HDMI CEC support (the thing that lets the Switch tell my TV to turn on and which input to set itself to), HDR support that's still a bit weird even on Windows 11 in 2023, and the fact I have to completely deactivate my second monitor if I want the TV to work properly combine to create the feeling that PC gaming on the television is still stuck in 2005.
Maybe that's understandable to an extent. Most of us still do most of our gaming on a monitor, and Valve says that a mere 12% of Steam users regularly use a controller (that still amounts to 3 billion gamepad sessions last year, mind you), so perhaps a little ongoing jank is forgivable.
Some of this stuff is inexplicable, though. For instance, when I want to play a game on my TV, I'd like the TV to become the sole active monitor. If I just had a single desktop monitor and my television, that would be easy: hitting the Win key and P brings up an option to seamlessly begin outputting exclusively to your secondary display, deactivating the primary until you're ready to return to your desk. It's great.
And it doesn't work at all if you'd rather do that with your third, rather than second display. There's no option for "Third screen only," meaning whenever you want to play on a third screen you have to turn off your actual second monitor in order to trick Windows into treating your third display as your second. Keeping track? Me neither, which is why I usually just stay hunched over my desk instead.
This is, admittedly, a noisome rant from a man who ought to be thankful he doesn't have anything more pressing to complain about, but I've been playing PC games on my TV since 2016, and it's a little baffling that it barely feels any less tedious to get it up and running than it did seven years ago. Support for HDMI-CEC, HDR that doesn't randomly wash out all the colours on my screen, the ability to navigate Windows more elegantly with a gamepad than holding the Xbox button and nudging the cursor with the right analogue stick, none of these seem like particularly ludicrous demands. It all works fine for consoles, after all.
A little science for you (by which I mean I turned on the stopwatch on my phone): From a completely cold boot, with every relevant device starting in an "Off" state, booting up my Switch, turning the TV on, and entering a game took me a total of 14.48 seconds and didn't require that I moved at all.
My PC, on the other hand, required standing, turning my PC on, finding the remote, turning the TV on, setting it to the right HDMI input manually, entering my Windows passcode, sitting down, turning on my gamepad, waiting for it to find my PC's Bluetooth adapter, then tapping the Xbox button a bunch to turn on Steam Big Picture mode. It took 1 minute and 11 seconds, or 395% longer. My smartwatch tells me I burnt four calories doing it.
And I dunno gang, in 2023, it feels like my PC could do a little better than that.