Mobile gaming has nothing on the PC—the vast library of in-depth games on the desktop is tough to beat. But at the end of a long day, it's hard to sit at a desk when the couch is oh-so-inviting.
The new Steam Link app for Android can stream PC games to your phone or tablet, so you can play right on the couch. Unfortunately, it was blocked from the iOS App Store, but there's an alternative that works almost as well: Moonlight.
Steam Link vs. Moonlight
You may not realize this, but game streaming has already been available on mobile devices for some time. Moonlight is an open-source app for iOS, Android, and Chrome that reverse-engineers Nvidia's GameStream feature, 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, but as long as you have that, you can stream games right to your phone, tablet, or even another PC.
If you're on iOS, you'll have to use Moonlight for now, since Steam Link has been blocked from the App Store. But if you're on Android, you have a choice to make: Steam Link works well, but requires a gamepad and doesn't have very many settings. Moonlight has lots of settings you can tweak to alter performance, and supports gamepads and touch controls. (It doesn't support the rumble feature like Steam Link does, though.)
I recommend starting off with Steam Link. In my testing, it was an incredibly smooth experience, and if you run into any issues or missing features, give Moonlight a try. Graphics and streaming were comparable in our tests, but your mileage may vary depending on your device and your network speed.
How to Connect a Gamepad to Your Device
Moonlight lets 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. (And Steam Link requires one, so you don't have a choice.)
If you're using an iPhone or iPad, you'll need an Apple-approved, made-for-iPhone (MFi) controller. I highly, highly recommend the Gamevice ($79-$99). It attaches directly to your device and turns it into a Nintendo Switch-esque gaming console for any game that supports MFi controllers (thankfully, Moonlight does). If you're on more of a budget and willing to prop your tablet up somehow, though, the SteelSeries Nimbus ($50) is a good standalone alternative.
Android users don't have anything quite like the Gamevice for tablets, but there are Gamevice models for Samsung Galaxy phones ($40-$70). For everyone else, the SteelSeries Stratus XL ($40) is a solid wireless gamepad. If you have a wired Xbox 360, Xbox One, or PlayStation 4 controller, you can also use those by plugging them into a USB OTG cable (either Micro USB or USB-C) and plugging that into your device.
If you're using a wired controller, just plug it in and your device should recognize it. If your controller is wireless, pair it with your device from your Bluetooth settings like any other wireless accessory.
How to Set Up Steam Link and Start Playing
The Steam Link app is remarkably easy to set up. When you launch it for the first time, it'll ask you whether you want to pair a Steam Controller or another controller (if you don't have one plugged in already). Pick your hardware of choice and continue.
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Once that's done, the app will 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 popup 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."
Big Picture Mode
It'll begin streaming Steam Big Picture Mode from your PC, and you can select your game and begin streaming.
If you want to jump into the settings, you can do so from Steam Link's home page. You can change streaming 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. But for the most part, I found Steam Link's default settings to be just about perfect.
How to Set Up Moonlight and Start Playing
First, 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 from your respective app store (iOS, Android). 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 popup that appears on your PC.
Games to Stream
When you click Connect, your phone or tablet will present you with a list of games, 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.
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.
From Moonlight's main screen, tap the arrow on the left (for iOS) or the settings cog along the top (for Android). 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. You may also get better results by limiting network congestion—so tell your roommate to stop watching Netflix while you're trying to stream games.
Lastly, I 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.
It's worth noting that streaming technology is still pretty new, and it won't be perfect. You may get an audio pop here and there, and your graphics will be a tad fuzzier than if you were playing on the PC itself. But it's hard to beat playing Shadow of War from the couch, without having to fight your spouse for the TV.
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 and troubleshooting page 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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