CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Video Games

Play your games where you want: The best ways to stream games on PCs and consoles

Get some gaming done away from your TV or PC with these streaming options.

Let's say you're *this close* to completing that latest grueling quest in Fallout 4, but you just can't stand to sit at your computer monitor for another minute. Or your marathon Halo 5 multiplayer session has bumped into the start of a Red Sox game. And now your spouse's icy glare is forcing you off the TV. You, my friend need to start streaming your games.

So what is game streaming?

Game streaming is a more interactive version of video streaming (think: Netflix). When you stream a movie or TV show through Netflix, you're not actually downloading that video to play it. It's playing on a remote computer somewhere on the Internet and the images and sounds are being sent to your TV or computer.

It's the same idea with game streaming. And with games, streaming technology is breaking down years-old barriers between consoles and PCs. Now, not only can you easily play your PC games on your TV, but you can play your console games pretty much anywhere in the house. And there are lots of ways to do it.

For just one example, you can stream from your Xbox One to a Windows 10 PC. To do it, all you have to do is turn on your Xbox One, use your wireless home network to connect it to your Windows 10 PC or tablet and voila: Now you can control your game from your PC while the game is actually running on the Xbox One. The Xbox One sends the video and sound to the PC and the PC knows (once you have a game controller connected to it) that it, not the console, is the system you're controlling the game from.

Several companies are using different approaches to making their game systems more flexible. Here are some of the best options for streaming your games. Whether you're getting your game on with a modern video game console or on a PC, you thankfully have a few options.

Top pick for PC gaming: Valve Steam Link

steam-link-02296.jpg
Nate Ralph/CNET

What you need:

  • Steam Link ($50)
  • TV or display that supports minimum of 720p resolution
  • PC running Windows Vista or newer, Mac OS X Yosemite or newer, Linux Ubuntu 12.04 or newer.
  • Input device like a gaming controller, or mouse and keyboard

Is it right for me?

Valve's Steam Link is a minuscule device that makes it easy to play PC games on your television. Once connected to the same network as your gaming PC by Wi-Fi, or wired down by Ethernet cable, just plug the Steam Link into any display that supports HDMI. Steam Link will stream your PC's display to your screen and you'll see all of the games you've purchased on Steam -- games purchased on other platforms (like EA's Origin or GOG.com) will work just fine, once you've added them to your Steam library.

The Steam Link has USB ports and supports a mouse and keyboard, and many modern gamepads, including the Xbox 360's controller. If you own Microsoft's Xbox 360 Wireless Adapter, you can plug that into use your Xbox 360 controllers wirelessly. And the PlayStation 4's DualShock controller can be paired over Bluetooth. Valve also offers the readily customizable Steam Controller. It offers programmable touchpads you can tweak to navigate many games, but it'll set you back another $50.

What are the drawbacks?

Valve recommends sticking to a wired network, and I agree. My experience has generally been flawless, thanks to connecting by Ethernet to a well-oiled home network and a capable gaming PC. Some Steam Link testers have reported seeing a drop in performance in games when streaming over the Steam Link. And while some of my colleagues are doing just fine thanks to capable wireless routers, our own testing was often laggy and stuttery. But the biggest drawback here is the lack of support for 5.1 surround sound audio; being stuck in stereo is one of the few things that keeps me from using the Steam Link full time.

Runner-up for PC gaming: Nvidia GameStream

nvidia-gamestream-04092.jpg
Nate Ralph/CNET

What you need:

  • An Nvidia Shield device, like the Shield Android TV
  • TV or display that supports HDMI; 4K Ultra HD support is required for 4K streaming
  • PC running Windows 7 or newer; an Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 or higher; 3.1GHz Intel Core i3 or 2.8 AMD Athlon II X4 630 or higher; 4GB of RAM

Is it right for me?

Nvidia's GameStream uses Nvidia's GeForce GTX graphics cards to pipe games installed on your PC over to a TV, by way of compatible Nvidia Shield devices. If your PC has a supported Nvidia graphics card, you can play games remotely on a Shield or Shield Tablet, or stream them over to your 4K TV and play in 5.1 surround sound with a Shield Android TV. Opt in to Nvidia's GeForce Experience Beta, and you'll get access to features like GameStream Co-op, which will let you stream your gameplay to a friend's PC, and even let them jump in on the action -- no specialized hardware required.

The Shield Android TV includes a controller, and the Shield tablet supports Bluetooth gamepads. You can pair a keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth for games that require it, and you can readily add games installed on your PC that aren't officially supported by Nvidia's GameStream. And Nvidia's Shield lineup are Android devices too: full access to the Google Play Store means you can give your PC a rest and sample some mobile gaming on your TV.

What are the drawbacks?

Nvidia's wares aren't cheap. The Shield Android TV will set you back $200, and the base model Nvidia graphics card you'll need starts at about $100. And while the ability to play 4K games is awesome, if you don't have a gaming PC that can handle it, or a 4K TV, you'll be better off sticking to the less expensive Steam Link.

Top pick for gaming on a console: Microsoft Xbox One paired with Windows 10

xbonew10-04383.jpg
Nate Ralph/CNET

What you need:

Is it right for me?

If you own a PC that runs Windows 10, you'll be able to easily stream everything on an Xbox one directly to your PC, over your home network. Just log into Windows 10's Xbox app and hit the "Connect" icon on the menu on the left to pair with your console. You'll also need to plug in your Xbox One controller via a Micro-USB cable, if you haven't picked up a wireless adapter.

Your console is doing all of the hard work, which means your PC doesn't need to be a powerful one -- note that the teensy screen on a Windows 10 tablet will offer less room than a gaming PC's monitors. That means any Windows 10 PC in your house can suddenly be a display for your Xbox One; that'll be really handy if another member of your household wants to watch TV, but you're pulling your hair out trying to defeat the final boss in Halo 5. You can now go finish your game on a Windows 10 tablet or PC, while your partner catches up on their favorite TV shows. Instant win-win. And best of all, the transition is seamless: you can just pause the game on your Xbox or PC, and pick up right where you left off when you switch platforms.

What are the drawbacks?

The Xbox One's streaming functionality only works with machines on your home network, so don't expect to tap into your Xbox while you're on the road. You'll also have the best experience if you're plugged into your home network with an Ethernet cable; I've got a rather capable router and a speedy connection, but when I'm streaming action over Wi-Fi, things can get really choppy.

Runner-up for consoles: Sony PlayStation 4 and PS4 Remote Play

playstation-vita-04371.jpg
Nate Ralph/CNET

What you need:

Is it right for me?

The PlayStation 4 is also capable of streaming games over your home network to a secondary display. But your options are rather limited: PS4 Remote Play runs on the PlayStation Vita, the PlayStation TV, and a select group of Sony devices.

If you don't mind playing console games on smaller screens, this might work for you. The Vita will require you to adjust to some occasionally awkward virtual controls to replace physical buttons that aren't available, but the Xperia devices can pair with a DualShock 4 controller. The PlayStation TV can also work with a Dual Shock 4, and with Remote Play you can effectively play your PS4 from any display in your house. And like the Xbox One and Windows 10, you can switch between devices at your leisure without much hassle.

What are the drawbacks?

I've gotten a surprising amount of use out of the PlayStation Vita's PS4 Remote Play, but it's still not really enough of a reason to go out and buy the $200 handheld device; the $100 PlayStation TV's allure is similarly limited. Unless you already own one of these supported gadgets, you likely won't run into Remote Play. Of course, this could all change soon -- Sony has promised support for Remote Play on PCs.

Honorable mention: Nintendo Wii U

wii-u-04396.jpg
Nate Ralph/CNET

What you need:

  • Nintendo's Wii U

Is it right for me?

Nintendo's tablet controller doubles as a secondary display, and in many games you can get a full view of the action right on that little screen. I'm aware this is technically stretching the definition of the whole streaming thing, but when I need to grab a little time with Yoshi's Woolly World without hogging the entire TV, it's a neat option to have on hand.

What are the drawbacks?

The range on the Wii U tablet is extremely limited, so don't expect to wander your home, or even your tiny San Francisco apartment. The Wii U's library is also a bit lacking.