Mobile gaming has nothing on PC—the vast library of games available on desktop is tough to beat. However, at the end of a long day, it’s hard to sit at a desk when the couch is oh-so inviting. With the right app, you can play PC games on a TV. But what about a mobile device? That’s where apps like Steam Link, Moonlight, and AMD Link come in to help.
With all these options available, you have a choice to make. Steam Link works well and is platform-agnostic, while Moonlight has a few extra settings, particularly when it comes to controls. (It doesn’t support the rumble feature like Steam Link does, though.) AMD Link, meanwhile, has some good quality settings, but is a bit jankier in my experience.
Connect a Gamepad to Your Device
These apps let you play with on-screen touch controls, but as any mobile gamer can tell you, touch controls are rarely ideal. You’ll have a much better experience if you play with a dedicated gamepad. Any Bluetooth gamer controller should work fine. Just pair it with your iPhone or Android device through the Bluetooth settings like any other wireless accessory.
Otherwise, you can use an Apple-approved made-for-iPhone MFi controller(Opens in a new window) for iPhone or iPad. Android users can even use a wired controller, like an old Xbox 360 model, by connecting it into a USB OTG cable (either Micro USB(Opens in a new window) or USB-C(Opens in a new window)) and plugging that into your device.
Personally, I highly recommend a Gamevice(Opens in a new window) controller. It attaches directly to your device and turns it into a Nintendo Switch-like gaming console. Check the Gamevice website for a controller that matches your device. The Razer Kishi was also developed in partnership with Gamevice.
The Steam Link(Opens in a new window) app is remarkably easy to set up on iOS(Opens in a new window) and Android(Opens in a new window), so long as your mobile device is on the same network as your PC. When you launch it for the first time, it’ll scan your network for computers running Steam and present a list of them.
Tap your computer, and you’ll be given a 4-digit PIN on your phone. Type this PIN into the pop-up that appears in Steam on your PC to initiate the connection. It’ll test the network to make sure it’s fast enough, then drop you at the home page.
From there, tap Start Playing to begin streaming in Big Picture Mode from your PC. Your phone will then mirror whatever appears in Steam on your computer. Now just select a game from your library and start playing. You can even invite friends for multiplayer gameplay via the Remote Play Together feature.
If you want to jump into the settings, you can do so from Steam Link’s homepage. I recommend digging into the Streaming section, where you can change the video quality to Fast if your network is a little choppy, or Beautiful if you have the bandwidth for better graphics, as well as tweak some advanced settings.
If you tap the More button along the bottom, you’ll get some other settings, like which screen to show when you launch Steam, what resolution you’d like to play at, and more.
Pay close attention to the pop-ups Steam offers about controls—many iOS controllers, for example, don’t tend to have clickable thumbsticks, so you’ll need to press Menu + X and Menu + Y. It’s a bit clunky, but it works.
Moonlight(Opens in a new window) is an open-source app for iOS(Opens in a new window), Android(Opens in a new window), and Chrome(Opens in a new window) that reverse-engineers Nvidia’s GameStream feature(Opens in a new window), allowing you to stream games to just about any device (instead of just the officially supported Nvidia Shield). It requires an Nvidia card in your PC.
If you decided to go with Moonlight, ensure the latest version of Nvidia GeForce Experience is installed on your PC. Open the GeForce Experience window, click the Settings cog, and click the Shield tab. Toggle the GameStream switch to on.
Next, jump on your phone or tablet and download Moonlight. When you start the app, it should show a list of your GameStream-enabled PCs on the network. Tap on the one you want, or tap Add Host and enter your PC’s IP address if it doesn’t appear automatically.
Moonlight will give you a PIN, which you’ll need to enter into the pop-up that appears on your PC. Click Connect to view a list of games on your device that are ready to stream. If you tap one, it should start playing right on your device—with full gamepad support, if you have a compatible one plugged in or paired.
If you don’t see the game you want, open up GeForce Experience on your PC, go back to Settings > Shield and click the Add button to manually add a game to GeForce Experience, and it should show up in Moonlight when you relaunch. You can even customize the name and art by clicking Edit in GeForce Experience, if you want it to look all pretty.
That’s all it usually takes to get up and running, but if you want the best possible experience, you’ll probably want to tweak a few settings. Moonlight has many more settings on Android than iOS, but most users should at least tweak their resolution and framerate targets: 1080p at 60Hz is ideal for the best graphics and smooth playback, but if the stream is choppy, lowering it to 720p or 30Hz may help.
I also recommend tweaking the on-screen controls you see. Not all gamepads will have L3 and R3 buttons, so setting on-screen controls to “Auto” (on iOS) or “Only show L3 and R3” (on Android) will give you touch buttons for just those functions.
If you experience any other issues while streaming, there might be a solution—like disabling your firewall or tweaking some of Android’s other settings. Check out Moonlight’s setup guide(Opens in a new window) and troubleshooting page(Opens in a new window) for more. The setup page even has instructions for streaming over the internet, though your mileage may vary depending on your internet speed. Network streaming will definitely produce the best results.
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If you have a Radeon graphics card, you can turn to AMD Link(Opens in a new window) instead. Essentially, you use Radeon Settings to link your iOS(Opens in a new window) or Android(Opens in a new window) device with your Radeon-powered PC via a QR code. From there, you can change settings for performance and quality, maxing out at 1080p and 60fps.
This service is a bit more multifaceted than Steam Link or Moonlight as it can turn your mobile device into a secondary screen for easy monitoring and capturing functionality. You can also stream more than just Steam games, connect with other players for co-op gaming, and even work with other computers.
I recommend starting off with Steam Link. In my testing, it was a smooth experience for most games, though a few had quirks (like a black screen). If you run into any issues or missing features, give Moonlight or AMD Link a try. Graphics and streaming were comparable in my tests, but it’ll depend heavily on your device and network quality.
It’s also worth noting that streaming technology is still pretty new, and it won’t be perfect. Even if your network is relatively fast, streaming performance may be choppy or entirely unusable. You may also get an audio pop here and there, and your graphics will be a tad fuzzier than if you were playing on the PC itself.
Remember, network reliability is as much of a factor as speed, and having a wired connection on your PC can often make a big difference. You may get better results by limiting network congestion, so tell your roommate to stop watching Netflix while you’re trying to stream games.
It may take a little work to things working, but it’s hard to beat playing Tomb Raider from anywhere in the house.
Streaming Beyond Steam
If you don’t need to stream games from Steam—or PC games in general—there are alternatives available. If you subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you also gain access to Xbox Cloud Gaming functionality, which lets you stream Xbox games directly to your mobile device.
Remote Play features, which allow you to connect your mobile device directly to your gaming console, are also available for Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Similar to the above solutions, you would then be able to play Xbox and PlayStation games on your phone, using touch-screen controls.
Jason Cohen contributed to this story.
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