PC gaming in the living room, anyone?


— 11:33 AM on December 28, 2012

At my house, our home theater PC has served an ambivalent existence as an everyday, can't-do-without-it DVR system and an ill-used gaming box. We have a nice pair of Xbox 360 wireless controllers for it, but the system's lousy integrated graphics were becoming a problem even for some indie games, let alone big-name titles. Nobody has used it much for gaming lately, until this week, when I finally found the time to drop a discrete graphics card into the thing. The cramped HTPC case and the mobo's daft SATA port locations wouldn't allow it to accept most graphics cards, but I was able to squeeze in a Radeon HD 5770 that's nice and quiet at idle.

With a better GPU installed, I copied over a small contingent of my Steam library, games that look like they might be good to play on a gamepad. Most of 'em were indie games like Limbo and Shank 2, but the biggest payoff by far came from DiRT Showdown. That's a truly great racing game, and it supports split-screen multiplayer, so two people can race against each other in the living room. We've already logged a number of hours in head-to-head racing, and it's been a blast. Heck, I even enjoy watching races between other members of the family.

The 5770's performance is a huge upgrade. Showdown runs beautifully at relatively high quality levels at 1080p. If a game feels slow, I just drop down to 720p before compromising on IQ settings. I suspect the 5770 will run almost anything at that resolution with decent quality levels. Then again, it is the class of GPU rumored to be inside the next Xbox.

I've also been getting used to Steam's Big Picture interface for launching games, which holds some promise for an easier, more console-esque experience up front. I think they still have some work to do—it needs a way to show only installed games as choices to play, for instance—but Valve has a nice start on a living-room-friendly UI.

So it seems we've entered a new era of HTPC gaming at my house. I'm wondering: are any of you all gaming on PCs in the living room? If so, how has it been working out for you? Also, can you recommend any controller-friendly games that make the transition to the couch fairly painless?

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