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PC On TV: Showing Off For Fun & Profit

A fix for office chairs causing painful bottoms

My significant other has been away a bit lately, and being the wanton reprobate that I am, I immediately took advantage of this unmonitored freedom. Then I got bored of wandering around the shops in my underpants while bellowing David Bowie and Bing Crosby's Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth at pensioners, so I devised some other way to indulge myself. But what?

I had it. The sofa was mine, all mine. The television was mine, all mine. I need no longer be banished to my tiny, airless 'study' to play PC games. I lugged my brute of a system (purely in mass, not in power, alas) to the living room, shivered at humiliating recollections of abortive, time-wasting similar attempts past, and set to work.

This time around, it was an immediate success. In the past, I've either had a horribly fuzzy picture because I was trying to feed a high-resolution PC video signal into a standard definition TV via a composite or S-Video connect, or I've spent ages dicking around with scaling and custom resolutions because the graphics card and the HDTV didn't see eye-to-eye on picture size. Then there was the problem of getting sound from the PC to the TV or amp, and the mouse and keyboard, and the resultant mess of cabling I had to put away every time the PC was restored to its dingy place of origin.

A recent (but cheap) graphics card upgrade to an NVIDIA 560 (non-Ti) had disappointed me by not being up to Serious Sam 3 with all bells and whistles belling and whistling, but its HDMI output entirely made up for the performance shortfall. No delving into the darkest depths of NVIDIA's drivers to get rid of over or underscan, and as this card also had its own basic onboard soundcard, the HDMI carried an audio signal too: no more cables required. Most non-budget cards of that kind of age (and the preceding generation - so really we're talking NVIDIA 400 and 500 series and AMD 5x and 6x series cards) should offer similar.

And that, basically, was it. I wot-I-thunked Assassin's Creed: Revelations this way, with the console port trend of supporting 360 pads out of the box making controls a cinch, and it looked absolutely magnificent. The prettiness of PC, the scale of console.

I happen to have a console copy of the game around too, and even sat back a few feet on a sofa, the addition of ramped-up antialiasing, anisotropic filtering, ambient occlusion and all the other PC version pimp-ups running at 1080p, made for a game that looked dramatically better on computer. I've also been playing Skyrim this way, with a bunch of tweaks and mods applied, and I'm pretty sure any console-only Skyrim player would weep at the sight of it looking like this on a 40" screen.

That's the full and only strength of my point, really. Just wanted to recommend you try it if you haven't already. It's been a possibility, one way or another, for years now, but it feels like the tech's finally reached the sweet spot wherein it's as easy as connecting any old set-top box or console to your HDTV.

A few things to watch out for:

  • Fonts will seem squinty-small at 1080p, especially if your sofa's a fair way back. You can bump up the Windows font size to 125 or 150% without altering overall resolution in Control Panel - Display.
  • Only more recent (and often pricier) graphics cards have HDMI outputs. And not many tellies have DVI, which may mean you'll end having to use VGA, which offers a lesser picture quality and a greater risk of resolution irritations. So, your best bet is to pick up a DVI to HDMI adaptor and use that. Here's the frankly overpriced Amazon offering, but with a bit of searching you should find somewhere that has 'em for only cost a couple of quid/dollars. Bear in mind this won't magically add audio to the output though - that only happens on cards that natively have an HDMI output and their own sound chip onboard. So you'll still need a separate cable from your standard sound output to the TV or amplifier.
  • If you're getting over or underscan problems - where the picture just isn't fitting right on the screen, have a look in your graphics card's driver control panel, which has options for tinkering. This may mean you end up running Windows at weird resolutions, like 1920x996, and in turn some games may not support this. Powerstrip is another option for precise screen size/resolution tweaking.
  • A wireless keyboard and/or mouse are the neatest and most practical way of controlling your setup given the likely distance between you and your PC, but if you don't want to buy new hardware you can pick up USB extension cables cheaply that will help stretch your wired keyboard and mouse as far as required.
  • If the PC can't reach its router from its new living room position, you can try wi-fi - again, cheap USB adaptors are easy to come by. I'm personally a fan of Powerline Networking though - it generally offers a more stable, faster connection than wireless. This cheapie should do the job.
  • Oh, and you might want to buy or create some sort of lap tray to balance your mouse and keyboard on. You will of course look like a toothless old person about to tuck into their watery TV dinner, but it's much better than trying to waggle the mouse across your thigh or the arm of the sofa.

Any other tips for successful PC-TV interfacing, folks?

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