In this comparison article, we’ll briefly examine three solutions that let you game from the comfort of your very own couch. We’ll be taking a look at dockable handhelds, including the Nintendo Switch and the Steam Deck; home consoles, including the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5; and a full-blown home theater and gaming PC right smack in your living room.
The pros and cons of each category of system will be weighed to help guide you to the best partner for your big living room television. Let’s begin!
Dockable Handheld Consoles
THE GOOD: The best of both worlds
The first systems we’ll be looking at are, ironically, the ones you can actually play outside of your living room. The Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck can be played either on-the-go using their built-in screens, or slotted into their respective docks for higher-resolution gameplay on your home TV. Both systems run their native displays at 60 FPS, but at different resolutions. While the Switch is 720p on its personal screen and up to 1080p when docked, the Steam Deck goes further with an 800p native screen and the ability to (theoretically) output up to 8K at 60 FPS, or 4K at 120 FPS. The kinds of games that the Steam Deck can support at these resolutions remains to be seen, as few games will likely perform well at or above 4K on the device. Unlike the Switch, the Steam Deck does not accelerate its hardware when docked, meaning the performance you get on-the-go is the same performance you get at home.
THE BAD: The weakest link
The Nintendo Switch and the Steam Deck are the least graphically capable options on this list for a simple reason: they’re compact and lightweight enough to permit portability. Sacrifices must be made to keep the system light, and to keep it from generating so much heat that it liquefies your fingers from running the tutorial of Yoshi’s Woolly World. That’s not to say that they’re bad additions to your living room, but they won’t give you quite the same raw performance as a PlayStation, an Xbox, or a gaming PC. As such, those desiring cutting-edge graphics with high frame rates and high resolutions on their TVs should look elsewhere, as the Switch and Steam Deck have different priorities.
VERDICT: Who are these systems for?
Quite Predictably, those who travel or who seldom find themselves at home would get the most out of these dockable handheld consoles. The Steam Deck is likely the better option of the two due to its hardware superiority, broader library of games, and relative openness for modding and emulating. This becomes an especially strong recommendation if you happen to have another device you can share a Steam library with, like a gaming laptop or a home gaming desktop. The Switch, on the other hand, is a bit more user-friendly, optimized for handheld battery life, and often cheaper—so it would likely be better for younger players, players who value Nintendo’s current-gen games above all others, and those who don’t also have a PC to play games on. The Switch also encourages lots of couch-cooperative play, making it the better system if you love having company over. The Steam Deck, conversely, will more rarely permit couch multiplayer due to the relative rarity of local multiplayer in PC games.
(Playstation 5, Xbox Series X or S)
THE GOOD: Price-to-performance kings
Dedicated home consoles tend to provide phenomenal value for the systems themselves, with even the latest consoles being as cheap as $300 brand new. They come with just about everything you need to get started (besides a TV and a game) all in the same box, making them appealing as an all-in-one gaming option. If you’ve got a little extra money to spare, some of the higher-budget consoles are venturing beyond the restraints of 60 FPS at 1080p. Modern consoles can output many games at 2K or 4K, provided your TV supports it, as well as up to 120 FPS. Finding a high-refresh-rate TV is more difficult and much more expensive than finding a 4K TV—but if you do manage to snag one that displays 120 frames per second, you can do some gaming in near-PC fidelity from the comfort of your own living room.
THE BAD: Two sizes fit all
The main reason such powerful hardware is so cheap is that you’re being locked into a limited ‘ecosystem;’ the consoles themselves are loss leaders because they know people who own them will spend big bucks in the long term on games, DLC, controllers, online services, and more. Along the same lines, while it’s a step in the right direction for Sony and Microsoft to have two models each of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X, choosing among four total options is still a drastic limit compared to the endless customization (of both hardware and software) with something like a desktop PC. Only the Xbox has actual power differences between the two models, while the two versions of PlayStation 5 vary only in the presence or absence of a disc drive. The Xbox Series S and X, featuring 4 and 12 teraflops of processing power respectively, provide some degree of tailoring for matching your gaming experience to your budget, but many will still find it lacking compared to building a PC fine-tuned to your needs. And beyond that, the lower-cost console variants being ‘cheap’ choices is not telling the full story, because the fact that both Xbox and PlayStation 5 lack a disc drive on their budget models makes it impossible to get used games.
VERDICT: Who are these systems for?
Mostly, these are for players who want a cheaper up-front cost for a highly capable gaming machine, who prefer to do as little set-up as possible, and who don’t need portability. Because of the high cost and rare discounts of games on consoles (and the deep, frequent discounts available through many platforms on PC), traditional consoles can be more expensive for avid gamers over the span of a console generation—especially for players paying online service subscription fees apart from their home internet costs. But for those who only play a handful of big games per year, consoles can provide an excellent value for the price. That makes them fantastic choices for those who simply want to game without any of the added complexity or initial cost of a gaming computer. Those paying for game passes do get to enjoy one additional benefit, though: their gaming library is expanded and they get to try out tons of titles before they buy them. For many living room gaming enthusiasts, home consoles will strike a nice balance between price and performance.
(Self-built or Pre-built)
THE GOOD: As good as it gets
From sheer size of the compatible game library to versatility and customization to pure graphical fidelity, there’s no questioning that PCs sit at the apex of gaming. If you’ve got the bucks for the build to get started, a PC can provide an outrageously high-quality experience—even in the comfort of your living room. If your budget isn’t sky-high, an excellent gaming PC can still be made for only a few hundred dollars more than an Xbox Series X or a PS5. And a properly built PC can push that fancy 4K TV to its limit, and therefore provide a beautifully vivid picture. While we always recommend building your own PC for the best price-to-performance ratio possible (we’ve got some resources to help with that if you’re interested), pre-built PCs can provide a similar experience without the assembly steps, albeit often at a higher price and potentially with some wonky part choices.
THE BAD: Wait, I need how long of an HDMI cable?
Unless your PC is built specifically to sit in your living room, your options for getting the funny little running man off your monitor and onto your television are limited. Building a dedicated PC that looks sleek enough to fit into an entertainment center is an open option, but can be much more difficult (and more thermally precarious) than a standard build. And the specialized parts are sometimes expensive. And home-office-bound folks may face the new issue of being largely unable to play from their desk. So, that leaves two primary options: streaming from your PC to your TV, or physically connecting the two. Some smart TVs can download the Steam Link app, which can be used to stream any PC program (not just Steam) right to your TV; that is, if your internet can handle it without butchering the image. Other options for streaming include using a Google ChromeCast or an Apple TV. Otherwise, you’ll potentially need quite a long video cable to slither all the way from your home office to the living room TV. And then you’ll still have to figure out how you’re going to connect your controllers (again, wired or wireless)…
VERDICT: Who are these systems for?
Gaming PCs are for those who value broad game compatibility, maximal frame rates, and high resolutions over all else. They’re getting the best experience and the biggest library of games, and they may not actually be paying more than a console player in the long run in order to have it—but they’re definitely working a lot harder and spending a lot more at first to get things going. This option for living room gaming is for those who want to push their TVs to their maximum capabilities, who don’t shy away from a larger one-time price tag as a long-term entertainment investment, and who are motivated enough to figure out how to make it all work. Unless you make a low-profile build that can slip right under your TV, streaming to your TV can be a finicky process. Or maybe you just don’t mind having a big, standard PC in your living room? We don’t judge.
Whether you game on-the-go and prefer dockable handhelds, you gun right for the big leagues with a custom PC under your TV, or you opt for something in between, we hope this guide helped steer you into the right direction for your next entertainment center upgrade.
People with a big interest in that ‘custom PC under your TV’ option should also check out our big guide on building a PC for living room gaming, which has some example builds you can consider.
If you feel like we missed something or you just want to say hello, leave a comment or pose a question!