Developer experiences from the trenches
Steam is launching Big Picture Mode this week. I’ve been excited about this since I hooked our gaming PC up to our big TV. I put together a list of products that you’ll need to do this properly. Monoprice is insanely cheap but makes up some of the cost in shipping. It’s worth it.
First, for A/V, use something like this HDMI cable for video.
ATI video cards have built in 5.1 audio, so feed this into your receiver to get full 5.1 audio for your games. It’s really simple and avoids the need for a dedicated audio cable.
I also believe in having a POWERED usb hub at the destination near the TV rather than at the PC. This is great for headphones and hooking up wireless devices without straining them (and depleting batteries). You will be using a wireless keyboard and mouse.
This USB hub is powered and has a ton of ports. I own 3 and can recommend them.
You will also need USB extension cord(s) in order to run the hub to your PC. Depending on the length, you may need a repeater which amplifies the signal. One or two of these ought to do the trick: link
For controllers, the best is the Xbox 360 wireless controller. Here’s an Amazon linkto the Xbox 360 wireless receiver. These just work. Plug it into the USB hub that is near your TV.
For i/o, consider the Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400.
You won’t be playing games with that touchpad, but it does let you navigate without hassle from the couch. Yes, you can do things like use iPhone apps for navigating but they are all useless when your computer goes into the BIOS and you have to drop everything and plug in a usb keyboard. This is the way to go.
As for setup, the PC is in my office with a monitor hooked up via DVI. On Windows 7, use Windows Key-P to bring up projector options to switch between the monitor and the TV. This allows the PC to continue operating as a normal desktop machine while making it easy to switch to running it on the TV.
Because the computer is in the office, there is nothing fancy about ethernet or power running that has to be done. And it’s a hell of a lot quieter than an Xbox because it’s in the other room.
Finally, we put the computer into sleep mode when we’re not using it and set it to wake on keyboard press. With this setup, we can fire it up to watch a show or play music and then it powers down again without having to boot it fresh every time.
Make sure your video card has good performance at 1920x1080, since that’s your TV’s native res. No 720p here — 33% more pixels than an Xbox. We use an ATI 6970 for this and it’s quite good at running most modern games at 60fps with 2xAA.
Grab zap straps from Monoprice so you can neatly tie your USB extension and HDMI cables together after you run them to your receiver.