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Don’t settle for cloud gaming—stream games from your PC instead

Streaming games is a cinch with a gaming PC on hand.

A laptop sits on a table, with a game on its display. Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

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Cloud gaming is great, but did you know you can use your own PC to play games on your phone or tablet? Remote access allows you to control your PC from afar, meaning you can stream desktop games onto a TV in the living room without needing some lengthy cable or paying for a cloud gaming service. If you already have a great gaming PC and a fast internet connection, you should consider setting it up for remote access so you can take your gaming on the go.

What is remote access?

A diagram showing how a client and host PC interact.
Credit: Valve

Remote access sends and receives media data and inputs to connect the client to the host.

Remote access works by sending the host PC’s audio and visual data to the client device, and then receiving input data from the client device and acting on it. You hook a controller up to a Chromebook, for instance, and your controller’s inputs are carried over to the desktop PC you’re remotely accessing. This is how cloud gaming services work—the difference being those PCs are in a data center, not your house.

What do I need to stream my desktop?

A television, monitor, tablet, and phone all displaying the same game.
Credit: Google

Remote access allows you to use your PC on your phone, tablet, and even TV.

Because remote access requires sending and retrieval of data, it’s best used with a strong internet connection. Many remote desktop apps recommend 15Mbps speeds or better, but you need a minimum of 5Mbps.

There are a variety of ways to set up your desktop for remote access, but the easiest way will be to use a remote access application that’s purpose-built for gaming, one that prioritizes low latency, high frame rate and resolution, multiplayer options, and low/no-stutter streams. Many remote access apps are geared toward IT assistance, file sharing, or enterprise use, so they won’t be as easy to use for gaming.

What remote access apps are geared toward gaming?

A tablet with a gaming library on display, and a phone with a game on display.
Credit: Moonlight / Valve

The best remote access apps for gaming prioritize low latency and high refresh rates.

Some great free apps for remotely streaming games are Steam Remote Play, Moonlight, and Parsec. There are many other remote access applications out there, but they’re either more expensive or best suited for different tasks in a remote desktop.

Of the three above, Parsec is the easiest and most powerful one to get set up, as it supports 4K 60Hz resolution and has a simple UI. Steam Remote Play and Moonlight are good options if you already have a Steam account and/or an Nvidia graphics card, but they require a little more legwork to set up on both the host and client-side.

Setting up the host PC

A desktop PC and a display on a desk.
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

In order to use your host PC as a server, it has to stay on—don't let it fall asleep!

Before you start remote streaming, you need to make sure your PC is ready for it. First,: use a wired Ethernet connection if possible, and make sure your internet speeds are 15Mbps or faster. When you’re accessing your PC, it must stay on and always logged into your Windows account, or you won’t be able to wake it remotely. It would be wise to turn off auto-hibernate (and auto-sleep if you’re comfortable with it), and you must disable automatic restarts until after you’re done remotely accessing it. Finally, make sure you are always logged into the remote access application of your choice.

Setting up Parsec

A screenshot from the Parsec homepage.
Credit: Parsec

Parsec makes use of open source libraries to bring a multifunctional remote access app into fruition.

Parsec is dead-simple to use. First, download it on your host PC (it works with Windows and macOS only). Then in the settings menu check that Hosting is enabled and Stay Awake is enabled, and that the correct display is being recorded if you have more than one display. Finally, go to Computers and press the share button. It will give you an optional URL if you’d like to access the PC from a browser.

On the client, you have two ways of accessing the host: through the Parsec app (available for Windows, macOS, Android, Ubuntu Linux, and Raspberry Pi), or through an online browser (your only option for iOS). On the app, all you have to do is log in, wait for the host PC to appear in Computers, and press the connect button. For web access, copy the generated URL from the host, and open the link on the client’s internet browser—no sign-in required.

When you use Parsec, you’re remotely accessing the PC desktop in its entirety. It will be as if you were using Windows on your client device. To play games, launch them as you normally would on your desktop.

If you’re playing with a mouse and keyboard, there’s nothing else you need to do. However, if you’re using a touch screen or game controller, you might need to configure your game to properly interpret the inputs. Touch capability is natively built into Parsec on its mobile apps, while you can download a game controller driver here.

Setting up Moonlight

Screenshot of Moonlight's home page.
Credit: Moonlight

Moonlight is an open source project that expands on GeForce Experience's capabilities.

Moonlight requires the most work of the three methods to get it running at first, and you can only host from PCs with an Nvidia GeForce graphics card. However, it supports the most client devices compared to Parsec and Steam Remote Play.

Before you download Moonlight, download GeForce Experience. In GeForce Experience, go to Settings > Shield, and turn on Gamestream. (Gamestream is Nvidia’s 1st party remote access software that streams from the host PC to Nvidia Shield devices). Now, download and install Moonlight on the host PC and client device. The easiest way to pair the two will be to have them both use your home network, where you can connect them via PIN verification.

To stream across an internet connection, you need to download the Moonlight Internet Hosting Tool on the host PC before pairing to the client. Then, run Moonlight Internet Streaming Tester to verify it works.

Moonlight runs on top of GeForce Experience, so a lot of host-side configuration will happen through it instead of Moonlight directly. GeForce Experience should automatically detect games installed on your PC, but in the event it doesn’t, you can manually add it to the games list. In Settings > Shield, click Add, open the folder containing the desired program, and click OK.

If you want to remote stream the entire desktop, go to Settings > Shield > Add, add the path C:\windows\system32\mstsc.exe in the Open File box.

Moonlight will also let you set up a VPN, stream HDR content, and forward ports, for instance. The Github wiki is full of guides if you have the hankering for tinkering.

Setting up Steam Remote Play

A drawing of friends playing a game on a TV.
Credit: Valve

Steam Remote Play allows you to play your Steam games seamlessly from a multitude of devices.

Steam Remote Play’s biggest advantage is its multiplayer support. You can stream your PC while your friends play with you. You also don’t need to download anything extra on your host PC.

To get started, open Steam on your host PC. On your client PC, download the Steam Link app (it’s available on Windows, macOS, iOS, iPadOS, Android, Android TV, Samsung Smart TVs, and Raspberry Pi, but not Linux). Log into Steam on Steam Link, and from there launch the game you want to play remotely. If the game you want to play isn’t available on Steam, you can exit the Big Picture Mode overlay, minimize Steam, and then click on your game's launcher of choice. You don’t need to add the non-steam game to your library first for this to work, either!

To play remotely with friends, when you connect to a multiplayer game with Steam Link, invite your friends using the game overlay. Keyboard, mouse, and most popular controllers are supported in Steam Remote Play with no additional setup, but if your controller isn’t supported, you can download a driver or emulator that converts its inputs into XInput or DirectInput on the host PC.

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