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Opportunities, challenges await PC gaming in the living room
Opportunities, challenges await PC gaming in the living room Exclusive
September 6, 2013 | By Kris Graft




The console has been the dominant form factor when it comes to playing video games in the living room. But PCs of all shapes and sizes are poised to make their own impact when it comes to the 10-foot, couch-friendly experience.

At least that's according to Matt Ployhar. He's head of PC game advocate group PC Gaming Alliance, and had previously worked on Windows at Microsoft, and today is a senior product planner at Intel.

"[PC-to-TV gaming] might just be one of the key growth opportunities for PCs," he argues. "I believe thereís a ton more room and opportunity here than the market's being given credit for."

What's a PC, anyway?

Before prognosticating about how PCs may or may not take over the living room, Ployhar makes sure to clear up any semantic fuzziness. Namely, to him, tablets are just another form factor for PCs: They're personal, they run OSes and they run applications. In the not-so-distant future, the idea of a "gaming PC for the living room" will look different from the big black box next to your entertainment center.

"With the onslaught of Ďsmartí devices, and the chipset vendors increasingly making SoC [system on chip] solutions more capable, we have to understand that a PC can come in virtually any shape or size," says Ployhar.

Key to the PC-in-the-living-room experience is how these devices will connect to a television. Right now, connecting is pretty straightforward via HDMI cables. But as technology continues to make connected TV experiences simpler, we'll see the cords being cut in favor of wireless tech like WHDI and WiGiG, he says.

"The key point is that itís getting easier than ever before to replace your console with any modern laptop, ultrabook, ultrathin, tablet, et cetera,, and get a very compelling and competitive gaming experience," says Ployhar.

Beyond the technology that enables the actual connections, there's also the improved interface for PC games that enable use of standard controllers that are fit for couch play. Steam's Big Picture Mode is also playing an important role from a PC gaming TV UI standpoint, Ployhar notes.

Reaching the mass market

With Ployhar's background, it's not surprising that he would advocate for various facets of the PC market. Nonetheless, his enthusiasm is curbed by the challenges that he knows PCs will face in the future.

Ployhar says in order for TV-friendly PC games to really reach mass adoption in the living room, they need three things: "Great games content, consumer awareness and affordable price points."

An avid fan of PC games himself, Ployhar plays games that have all kinds of business models. But he says, "If a game developer truly wants to hedge their bets, they really need to consider free-to-play to capitalize on the broadest accumulated market install base possible." And if a developer can optimize a game for both PC and smartphones, that game can be most capable of leaving its mark in the mass market by the virtue of the enormous combined install bases of PC and mobile.

Another way that PC-based game consoles can reach wider adoption in the living room include better multi-gamepad support for pick-up-and-play local multiplayer, says Ployhar.Make good games, obviouslyAll of these technologies and enhancements and business models don't mean much without one factor, says Ployhar: Quality.

"My final word of caution here is for any company shipping this type of a PC-based console is to focus in on game quality. Shipping shovel-ware will eventually backfire, so itís wise to really monitor the quality of the content to ensure you donít shoot yourself in the foot and alienate users from your platform. The PCGA will be launching a certified PC Logo program here in about a month so stay tuned."


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Comments


Will Burgess
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Surprised he didn't mention the biggest problem that faces PC: hardware compatibility. Maybe that's what he meant by "consumer awareness"?

I'm an almost 100% PC-only gamer, and have been for a long time...yet I still face these issues. Just last week I had to dig into my Steam folder to run a couple redists to get Hotline Miami running correctly (totes worth it!).

Kujel s
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I started gaming on PC (with good old DOS) back in the late eighties and ended up converting to console gaming and this kind of thing was a big factor in that.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"Surprised he didn't mention the biggest problem that faces PC: hardware compatibility. Maybe that's what he meant by "consumer awareness"?"

It would help if we would actually teach people how to use computers instead of how to use word.

http://coding2learn.org/blog/2013/07/29/kids-cant-use-computers/

Will Burgess
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Great read, thanks for the link. As a computer-forward 25 year old, who is also the family (and sometimes professionally) IT guy...I found it hilarious.

Chris Melby
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@Aleksander,

Thanks for the link! I've shared it with some friends.

I can't help but roll my eyes when I see some iPhone using newscaster ignorantly proclaiming our children are tech geniuses, just because they have access to so many dumbed-down devices. With iPads being adopted -- via lobbying -- in some schools here in the US, the problem seems like it's only going to get worse...

But who knows, maybe there will be a backlash to tech being so streamlined just like Guitar Hero inspired lots of youth to take up actual instruments?

@Kujel,

I've been using PCs since the XT days and the problems now days are so far and few, they're not even worth mentioning. Both the hardware and the OS have become extremely reliable. Even some of the worst game ports I encountered -- that clearly favored an Xbox -- still ran without a hitch.

Dane MacMahon
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It's a shame Microsoft decided to ignore their existing platform when deciding to quest for living room dominance. Think of the potential of a Windows 7 "big picture mode" designed to work with an official Microsoft controller. Instead they've divided their own market and let Valve pick up the slack, but no matter how well Steam works on a TV there is still that awkward process of getting to it.

Despite being a PC only gamer most of the time I still think the future of PCs in the living room is sketchy at best. It would be nice to be proven wrong, though that brings up a lot of other issues for me. I prefer to game in a separate room and not fight the wife and kids for the TV and quiet. I prefer using a mouse for almost any game not called Assassin's Creed. I wouldn't want the PC to change to where it loses what I love about it.

Brian M
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I think the best of both worlds will be streaming boxes, where you have your PC in another room with mouse and keyboard and office focus, but be able to have it run games to your TV via a great game streaming experience.

Currently the NVIDIA Shield offers the only such experience, but I hope a better TV focused box will accomplish this too. Maybe a cheaper Steam Box can use the power of your desktop from multiple rooms.

Duvelle Jones
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I will be honest, I don't think that Mircosoft is that shortsighted to have over-looked the leverage that they have/had with the general PC market.

I think that is a matter of not cross legal streams since at the time of X-box's start into the market, Mircosoft was still under the eye of the US DoJ for anti-trust abuses. Than and the Europe case as still ongoing.

I can't say that Mircosoft has be as aggressive as they are known to be and from what I can tell the division that is home to the X-box is isolated from the rest of the company to some degree, both of which may have been on purpose.

Matt Ployhar
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Let me first thank Kris for encapsulating the conversation we had into this article.

Will - Compatibility is something I've been immersed in since my days at Msft Game Studios and it continues to follow me even since moving to Intel. (I can't seem to escape it) In short - the 'compat' story is actually orders of magnitude better than it used to be from the 90's & 00's. (The sad part of the story though is we have far less Chip Mfgs in business). We still a long way to go though. I myself still run into maddening issues that shouldn't exist. That said - today's Game Devs (& some good ones already do this) can simply pick a good Intel/AMD Min Config Target and the onboard Graphics will deliver both a suprrising & very compelling graphics and gaming experience. This is a combination of huge advances made in onboard graphics, better game engines, etc. If a Game ISV wants to opt for less scale & more differentiation - then yes - by all means target GPUs. Just be aware that you're making the test/compat/QA process more complex. Also; be aware that under the hood of all 3 of the last gen of Consoles - there were 100's of iterations. So they too suffer from 'compat' issues most of us never see. They address games 'Quality' (of experience/stability/etc) with very vigorous behind the scenes testing via their TCR/TRC processes.

Dane - I have to be careful in what I say about Msft - but in short I very much agree with you. This is something I've been pushing for both at Msft, Intel, and the PCGA. The reason I think "Living Room" gaming has a future is several fold. Did you get a chance to take a look at the Qualcomm booth at GDC SFO? I like their tablet to tv scenario. I believe the TV (Display) in your living will grow in a few directions. Either 1) It becomes another extended screen for your PC-Devices. (via: HDMI, WiDi, WHDI, WiGig, etc) 2) TV's themselves are becoming 'Smarter'. So you'll start seeing all variety of SoC, ARM, etc solutions inside them. This is a growth market for a lot of chip vendors. In order for the PC to become more compelling in a Living Room/Den setting certain things have to be put in place. It helps to have a good UI to navigate, launch games, etc (e.g. Big Picture), and it helps to have device/controller support that makes sense. I won't claim PC gaming in the Living Room is for everyone; but what I will say is that games like Skyrim, BF, StarCraft 2, or even WoW (the Games I play) all look stunning on-a-bigger-screen! It's nice to have the option available.

These are good comments and observations guys. Thank you! Believe me... it helps to have ammunition like this in internal/external meetings. : )

Dane MacMahon
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Great comments on alternate methods for living room adoption. Even as a die hard desk and keyboard guy I love the idea of streaming certain low intensity and controller friendly games to my TV set. It would also allow a supplement for the Wii and similar consoles my kids love, allowing me to slowly and in familiar environs introduce then to "mature" games, while still keeping my machine my own.

Will Burgess
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Thanks for the article contribution, Matt. I think this is a conversation more people in the industry need to be having, even if its a hard problem to solve!

I do agree, the bridge from developer-to-hardware has gotten much (much) shorter, but PC is still a long way off because of the lack of TCR/Cert process. I have done my fair share of time in QA on 360 and know how very thorough the cert process is!

I don't think the answer is "building a cert process for PC" since a cert process costs loads of resources; such a bill would most likely be paid by the consumer, which is counter-intuitive. Instead, I believe the answer is building development tools that create very hardware-friendly builds, similarly to how the XNA framework is "360-minded" so that it nips cert-related issues at compile time.

All that said, I love playing League of Legends on my 55 inch. Skyrim, Guild Wars 2, etc. as well...big AAA titles just deserve to be displayed so largely. :)

Dane MacMahon
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I don't get the "TV is bigger" thing, honestly. My 30" monitor is much larger than my 48" television because I sit much closer to it. I moved my PC to the television when Assassin's Creed 3 came out because I was using a controller and wanted to see how big picture worked. The screen size being so much SMALLER annoyed me.

It's all about distance from the screen.

Luis Guimaraes
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I've been solving this problem for a while already by using a wall projector to play games (and watch Netflix) from the couch using my computer. It's bigger than TV too ;)

Brian M
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I've been really frustrated with my HTPC experiences, its been hard to get everything working with a really nice interface.
My current needs are:
- I'd love to be able to stream my PC games to my TV from my desktop without lag
- A full suite of Media Apps (Plex, Netflix, Media Monkey, Rdio, YouTube) that are have a TV friendly interface. I'm currently controlling everything from my iPhone which is OK but could be better
- Voice Controls, which is making me want an Xbox One if it can cover my other needs
- An insteon program that let me control my lights while too lazy to get up
- Browser access as a fall back
- IR blaster for controlling my Cable box (which I hope to ditch soon) and Amplifier

Xbox One is close, if they open up the store for apps they could deliver the living room dream for me. I could see using a streaming box for my Steam games through its HDMI in.

Glenn Sturgeon
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Its just suprising to me more people don't already have thier PC connected to thier TVs. The only reason not to is the limit of 1080 or lower resolution a tv offers. I've had my systems set to big screens for about 15 years now.
Some act as if having a KB in your lap is a problem, well if thats a problem then i'd hate to know how the perceive real world problems. Just don't buy a recliner with the big (cheezy) puffy arm rests and a laser mouse works just fine. No console comes close to the avalibility of options you have at your finger tips of a living room pc.

Jorge Ramos
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One of the other hurdles that needs to be addressed to using a computer in the living room like this...

To date, my experience with attempting this (and I've tried with several different such platforms before, including a PS3 running YDL), is that it seems regardless of what kind of video connection employed, what kind of TV or what-have-you, trying to run a PC on a TV always looks like total ass. The worst offender by far is oddly (to me) the PS3-Linux, in part because I would have reasonably expected some additional steps taken with the few distro's available that would work on the console to understand that they're going to be connected to a TV, and that some work would need to be done. Instead, no amount of playing with the display settings or or smoothing resulted in anything that was a halfway usable environment until I would attempt to load another front-end app that replaced the ISO's standard GUI. Text and icons were always blocky and looked like they suffered from horrible JPEG artifacting. I understand the official support denied access to the GPU, but I honestly expected better considering that they had so many years before Sony pulled the (official) plug on Linux support.

Steam's Big Picture mode is said to be more optimized to such an environment, which would be nice if I start playing games that way. But that kind of care should be addressed throughout, and IMO it should start with the OS ideally and the default GUI.

Heng Yoeung
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I don't quite understand why the impending Xbox One or PS4 can't be the de facto pc in-the-living room. Just add keyboard and mouse or whatever preferred gamepad you want and, voila, magic. No? And it would be so much cheaper than the traditional idea of a pc. As to running business or productivity apps on these boxes, why can't you? The user base is there. Just start making apps. Mom and dad will ditched their pc's for a box that costs half as much as a comparable pc (in the usual sense). Come to think of it, it would seem that having apps other than games on one of these boxes would tip the scale in favor of the box that does that as the dominant living room media center. No? The dominance, at the moment, cannot be achieved precisely because the market is fractured between Playstation and Xbox. Start making apps: build it and they will come. Wait a minute, isn't that from a movie? My bad. Got off track.

Dane MacMahon
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They're closed systems first of all, and the platform holders are resistant to what you're talking about.

There's a much greater chance of tablets replacing both than there is consoles replacing PCs or the opposite.

Heng Yoeung
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Closed in what sense? Hardware? Most pc's get upgraded within 5-10 years anyways.

How are tablets open systems, since open is what is desired in a box. The only thing open about them is software, which means they're NOT open.

Brian M
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You'll be seeing Boxes like that shortly, even a flood of them. Buy a Mojo, its pure Android so will take Mouse and Keyboard input, then see if Google play has you covered. 95% of what a user needs right now can be covered with a browser.

Really AppleTV could open up the AppStore tomorrow and you'd have devs flood the space with every type of app.

With MS and Sony, they sell the box at a loss (at least to start) so they need to sell to people who will buy games and cover the loss and eventually much more. If everyone who wants the box for their email and word processing bought the system they would just be giving away money.

Heng Yoeung
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Well, it IS possible to sell games on the MS and Sony boxes as well as business and other types of apps. It doesn't have to be solely low-powered email apps and such. The Android boxes you think will flood the market are underpowered for most users. Most people want "open" so they can fiddle with power. The new Boxes due out are just about as powerful as you'll ever need for the next 5-10 years.

Jorge Ramos
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All three console makers seem to actively avoid supporting native key/mouse for anything but text entry, and even that is spotty at best in actual games. let alone using anything but the factory controller for actually playing the games. Let's not forget that Sony's 3.50 PS3 firmware update actually ended up blocking a lot of third party controllers, many of which were designed for those that were less than fully able-bodied, and even (in)famously one of the few third party but LICENSED controllers for the system, as it was often used as a template to create these accessible controllers.

The last console to even openly support keyboard and mouse controls for games was the Sega Dreamcast... and that was primarily for the FPS's, and to facilitate a more natural use for the web browser on the system.

Brian M
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The thing is if you could use an Xbox or PS4 for business applications, offices could buy 1000's of consoles and only buy office or use the browser, which would would cost MS and Sony tons of money and break the whole business model of consoles. Consoles want to make money off licencing games and selling subscriptions, they aren't suppose to be sold as subsidized PCs.

I don't think the android boxes will be under powered for most people, just core gamers. They can play video, run a browser and a word processors/spread sheets and simple games, that cover most normal people. Consoles are made specifically to exploit gamer $$, because we spend a whole lot more than the average PC user does on software.

Kujel s
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MS at least isn't lossing money on their system this time so they could make the X1 run MS Office and still make some small margin at least on that venture but I doubt many would adopt the X1 as a work machine.

Dane MacMahon
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Closed in the sense of Microsoft and Sony decide what works on the system, obviously. When people talk about replacing the PC they often dismiss this aspect, but even for the layman I think it is important.

Heng Yoeung
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When you say that you want a box in the living room, you cannot have exclusivity: the lowest the power bar has to be would have to satisfy the hardcore because that would satisfy everyone. So, Android boxes are out of the question since it can't game for the hardcore.

The problem of corporations buying these cheap boxes for business is, problematic, it is true. It may be that the idea of living room pc isn't feasible in the end since, in order to recoup losses you have to sell games and, obviously, businesses aren't in the business of doing that. It would have to involve a different business model, I think for it to work for businesses. Since I am an avant-garde thinker, I avant-garde a clue as to how that would work. :)

Heng Yoeung
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Well, even on pc's today, we have conformity to some standard, namely, Win-Tel or even DirectX and such. You have predominantly Windows running on pcs built on x86 architecture. So what if that duo is one Sony corporation? Conformity is inevitable at some point. Resistance is futile. Damn. Where are these movie references coming from?

Dane MacMahon
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This is kind of my whole point above though... PCs could do it all. We could have set-top PCs designed for media and games with a Windows "big picture mode" as well as desktops and laptops built for office and Internet. The PC can do it all, the only limitation is what companies want to put on it.

Matt Ployhar
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Awesome discussion and great inputs. I'm admittedly biased on the topic though. : )

So consider my take on this for PC Gaming.

1) I really don't care what OS 'is under the hood' powering my PC game. I want it to be performant & stable.
2) I also really don't care what the form factor looks like either as long as it meets my needs, has the connections I want, supports the controllers I want it to etc. It could be a Tablet (the latest bright shiny PC object), an All in One, a DIY PC, Laptop (Ultrabook/thin), etc. It could even look like a pink bunny. As long as it plays the apps I want on the display/s of my choosing. Again... go look at where Qualcomm is going with this. They even have their gaming strategy posted up on their website. They favor the tablet form factor - but again are not solely limited to that. We have to remember... form factors evolve as user's needs evolve.
3) The key differentiation I see between a PC and a Console is more around the business model. Consoles are 'closed' boxes and proprietary. One of the biggest ROIs this used to bring was a reduction in Piracy. That's pretty much a moot point now as most of the industry is shifting in favor of 'Free to Play'. The other key value add was that it was a predictable dev target. However; you can get that nowadays by targetting today's AMD/Intel (on-board graphics) All 'shilling' aside. It's what I'd target - if for any reason the scale of the market is tough to ignore. At the end of the day - you still need some type of CPU/GPU combo powering that OS & Game-Apps regardless of what it looks like.

Lastly; I'm a big proponent of what I call 'PC literacy'. If I had kids... I'd want them tinkering with a PC to better understand it's innner workings. Crack open a Console and you pretty much void the warranty don't you? Consoles seem kinda done anyway. They've come full circle and with every 'Gen' become more multi-purpose. Sort of ironic that the 8th Gen for all intents and purposes are now pretty much all 'PCs under the hood' isn't it?


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