Console Gaming on the PC

 By Shamus Aug 25, 2008 38 comments

Some people were asking about my particular console / gaming setup. Ok, two people asked. But I want to put this up so I can link back to it later.

I haven’t had this setup running since the HD crash a few weeks ago, but when things are working right my gaming environment is thus:

I do all my console gaming on the PC. I have a TV Tuner card, which lets me plug my Gamecube and PS2 into my PC, and run games in a resizeable window. (Or fullscreen.) This lets me get the screenshots I need for this website and for comics. It also lets me game from the comfort of my computer chair on my nice “big” monitor. I have direct access to hint guides and whatnot, if the need arises, and I can even put the walkthrough / map in a window right next to the game, which is really nice. This also lets me play adult games, like GTA, which would be inappropriate for the living room. (I have 3 kids.)

When I get my Xbox 360, (after the price drop) I’m going to have it next to my other consoles, about six inches from my router. So, I don’t have to worry about paying one hundred freaking dollars for the Xbox wireless adapter. (I’ve mentioned elsewhere that we own a Wii, but that’s in the living room, and so I can’t really use it for making comics / blogging unless I move it, which is just too much hassle.)

The downside is that the TV Tuner card I’m using is old and cheap. I only paid $10 or $15 for it. It doesn’t support HD anything. It’s basically a television with a mild degradation in color quality as a result of either the conversion from analog to digital, or from the cheapness of the card. This GTA IV comic was made by plugging my friend’s PS3 into the card. If you’ve seen the game in all its HD glory, you can probably see the reduction in color depth. The color banding on the red background is a result of the conversion, not JPGing.

In either case, it’s pretty much going to be unacceptable for using with my Xbox. The reduction in resolution makes it very hard to make comics, since I can’t zoom in on things without them looking like pixel soup. And GTA IV showed me that next-gen games are hard to read on a “television”.

So, I need a new TV Tuner card, which is a purchase I’m dreading. Mild rant follows:

TV Tuner cards are, for whatever reason, very, very tricky beasts. Some work with Vista, but have reduced features in XP. Some only work with XP. Some have great hardware, but come packaged with horrible, buggy, unintuitive software. Some have this 3-second delay between the incoming signal and the image appearing onscreen, which is fine for watching shows but a deal-breaker for playing games. Lots have buggy drivers. Some work, but have visual artifacting. Some support PAL, some NTSC, or whatever all that stuff means, the upshot of which is that you can only watch TV in certain countries, which may or may not be the country you and your computer are currently occupying. Some consume way more CPU cycles than is reasonable. Some are only available in PCI-Express, which is bad if you don’t have a PCIe slot available. Some are great with broadcast TV but bad with cable, and vice-versa. Finding one to suit your particular hardware / operating system / usage requirements / country is a complex puzzle for which there is often no right answer.

TV Tuners have been around for years, but they still have that “new technology” feel to them, with price and quality fluctuating all over the place at random as if waiting for the shakeout that will stabilize everything. Maybe this is a result of the shift to HDTV, which may have thrown things into disarray and sent all the engineers and manufacturers back to square one. I’m not sure.

At any rate, that’s my setup. For the people saying, “Get a PS3″ – my plan is to eventually get all 3 consoles, but the Xbox is cheaper and has a larger library, so getting it first makes the most sense.

So that’s my setup.

201838 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Aww… no PS3 so far?
    Ah well. I can still hope.
    You do save quite a bit of money on the PSN, if you’re into multiplayer. But… you aren’t, are you? I suppose the Xbox is better, for now.
    In other news, I didn’t even know you could route a console to your computer.

    EDIT: It’s weird… I feel like I’m talking to a celebrity. Except not as arrogant, or self-centered, etc.

  2. Shamus says:

    The PS3 is a lot more expensive, and has a smaller library, so going for the Xbox first makes sense.

    PS3 will come eventually, but at that price I’m not in any hurry, particularly since they want to charge me even MORE for a unit that will support my (meager) PS2 library.

    I know the PS3 is a brilliant buy if you’re into the whole blu-ray business, but for those of us who can’t tell the difference, much less CARE, its pricetag is a weapon that will leave behind a grievous wound.

  3. Bethor says:

    Hi Shamus !

    Love the blog, and for once it seems I might be able to contribute something useful to the discussion.

    Unless you absolutely must have a way to capture video from the 360, I would seriously consider plugging it directly into your monitor, either through its HDMI output (with a HDMI->DVI adapter if necessary), or with the optional VGA cable.
    Either option would likely be much cheaper than an HD capable capture card, and would probably yield a better image quality.

  4. Robyrt says:

    I run all my console gaming through the PC too – but instead of a TV tuner, I have a VGA adapter box that switches between monitor and game console. For the 360 in particular, they sell a VGA cable, so a simple splitter would do it for you with minimum effort.

    Good to find someone else who decided a good monitor was just as good as a TV for games, except way cheaper. :-P

  5. Freaky Dug says:

    I’m interested in hearing what card you find that’ll work. I’m going to University in a month and I don’t really want to take two monitors and a TV so I need a way to play my Wii on one of my monitors. I’ve been looking at Wii-to-VGA cables but a TV tuner card might be a better solution.

  6. Snook says:

    My roommate last year had a good TV Tuner but I’ll be damned if I know what kind it was. Worked great with his Vista computer and the quality was decent.

    I didn’t know there was that much trouble with TV Tuners… I just thought we;d come far enough for technology to make sense at times. Shows how much I know.

  7. guy says:

    I’m suddenly glad is don’t use those.

  8. Kevin says:

    Shamus,

    I’m using a Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1600 which has all the form and function that I needed (and a few extras) for a price between $100 and $150 (and probably cheaper elsewhere). I have to admit that I don’t take full advantage of it’s capabilities, but that just leaves me room to grow.

    This card came with my new system (Vista installed) so it would work with that, but I upgraded the system (reverted back to XP) and had no driver issues.

    I’ve also had an AverMedia card in the past and liked it…but the version I had was older so it didn’t do digital TV/Cable signals. The Hauppauge does.

  9. Factoid says:

    Actually I think ALL of the PS3s now ship without the Emotion chip that makes hardware PS2 emulation possible. Pretty sure the only way to get one is to buy an older sku or a used box. Not sure how well the software emulation works because I don’t have one. I’ve heard it’s pretty good, but the PS2 library is huge so not all games get tested for compatibility.

    as for tuners: The ones that have the delay are usually designed for DVR-style viewing. You can set them up like a Tivo and record shows automatically. The delay is caused by a buffer on the card designed to ensure smooth writing to the hard drive. If your hard drive is busy reading or writing something for another application, if you don’t have a buffer you could get skips in your recording.

    Best bet is to not buy a card labeled as a TV-Tuner and buy one labeled as a Video Capture card. The downside is that Capture cards usually don’t come with coax inputs, so if you need one of those you could stream it through a VCR or cablebox using RCA or Composite cables.

    Capture cards are going to run a bit more, but quality-wise they’re much better than commercial stuff. The software is typically less user-friendly but much more powerful, usually offering lots of filtering and noise cancelling features.

  10. Hmm. Is the Xbox360 that much less than a PS3 in practice?

    I know my (ebay, but that’s the street price) PS3-60GB (the last PS3 that included an Emotion chip, and therefore supports nearly all PS2 games) cost me all of $400. Which is about what you pay for an Xbox with a hard drive.

    A few seconds of websearch on HDMI video capture pointed here, but that might be too pricy.

  11. The Lone Duck says:

    Hmmm… If you had some kind of hdmi port on you PC/Monitor, than you could just use the hdmi output on the system. Of course, that might entail buying a new monitor, but next gen systems do have these other options.
    Regarding TV tuners, I have no experience, and will be of no help.
    And responding to the above comment, they phased out Emotion chip support, because it was contributing to high costs and occasional overheating. New SKUs don’t have PS2 support. However, all PS3s have PS1 support.

  12. Kevin says:

    Hey, I never even thought of doing that! What a cool idea. Good luck with the 360, Shamus.

  13. Shamus says:

    For those who are suggesting plugging the console into a monitor:

    Thanks, but that defeats the purposes of what I’m trying to do. I can’t very well make screenshot webcomics if I can’t get screenshots! There is no way around it: I need to buy one of these TV Turner cards. Since a few people have posted suggestions, I’ll list the requirements:

    1. PCI, NOT PCIe.
    2. XP, NOT Vista.
    3. Must run in a window and be capable of vid cap / screencap, preferably with software that wasn’t written by sadists.
    4. Must support HD.
    5. Must work without killing my CPU.
    6. It really should cost less than $100. Should. But like I said, prices are all over the place.

    As for other stuff: TV reception, scheduled recording, cable TV input, remote control, etc. Bah. I don’t care about any of that.

  14. mark says:

    edit: goddamit shamus, you’ve beaten me again. in all seriousness, do you need HD screenshots and windowed gameplay? Xbox 360 Vga cable is such a simpler solution, and with the text size in when playing in high definition, i’d struggle to read stuff or make out distant bad guys in anything under fullscreen…

  15. Avaz says:

    I’ve been thinking about moving the 360 from the living room to the bedroom so I could hook it up to my PC, but until now, I didn’t think it was possible. Now I will definitely have to look further into this! How exciting!

  16. Neil D. says:

    I recently put together a PC as a PVR and everyone I talked to or read on message boards seems to agree that Hauppauge is the way to go. I’m using an HVR1800 and it is doing quite nicely, but unless you need the ATSC tuner for Hi-Def you probably want to go with one of the less expensive models.

    For output to the TV I’m using a Radeon something-or-other, the only one I could find that had a true HDMI output. All the others seem to have S-Video with an HDMI converter, which strikes me as questionable.

  17. Primogenitor says:

    I use a hauppage USB2 stick, though thats mainly because it does digital TV. However, I havn’t had any problems with the drivers/software under XP, though when I first purchased it, there was a bad batch with misidentified firmware on it, so it wouldnt work no matter what I did to it.

  18. Jeff says:

    Neil:
    Probably the All-In-Wonder line, which has all sorts of outputs. Remote control, too, iirc.

  19. So PS3 is no longer backwards compatible all the way back to PS1?

    So instead of the largest Game Library in the History of the Industry it now has the smallest? How stupid.

  20. folo4 says:

    thus I ask,

    WHAT IS A FREAKING TV TUNER!?

    Thanks in advance.

  21. R4byde says:

    Actually I think ALL of the PS3s now ship without the Emotion chip that makes hardware PS2 emulation possible.

    What!? Why’ed they do that? I suddenly no longer lament not waiting for the price drop.

  22. Eric says:

    That ps3 rumor about dropping the ps2 compatability is unfounded. Sony is still listing it with their new series.

  23. hotsauce says:

    Doesn’t help you at all, but I go the opposite way. I use my television as my computer monitor. Because I fell in love with the idea of a 65 inch 1080p monitor.

  24. R4byde says:

    That ps3 rumor about dropping the ps2 compatability is unfounded. Sony is still listing it with their new series.

    What about the PSX emulation? I can’t understand why Sony would drop it, it works/ed great and like Arndt said it gave you the biggest games library ever.

  25. MissusJ says:

    I remember looking at TV tuner cards for the PC we use with our projector- we have TV running through the thing. (consoles and dvds run through the receiver…) I can commiserate with the search being a nightmare. I don’t remember the one we ended up with, alas, and currently the PC won’t even boot up- I discovered that the night of the Olympic opening ceremony. :(

  26. Bryan says:

    folo4 — it’s a PCI card (well, some are PCIe now, apparently) that has various video inputs. That’s pretty much it, though various cards have various other options (hence Shamus’s dilemma). ;-)

    Mine (a Hauppauge PVR-350 IIRC — which suffers from the dreaded delay between the signal coming in and being available on the screen, because the card does MPEG2 encoding; grr) has several types of video input, plus a radio tuner. For video, it has a coax input, a composite input (yellow RCA connector), and an S-video input. For audio, it has RCA inputs (to go with the composite or possibly S-video input), and a coax input for the radio antenna. (Though you can’t easily use the radio input as an audio signal from your VCR, for instance.)

    (So there are in effect four devices in there: one radio tuner hooked up to the coax in that you plug the radio antenna into, one TV tuner hooked up to its own coax in, one S-video decoder, and one RCA sampler thingy. You can choose between inputs with Linux’s “ivtv” driver by using /dev/video0 (video coax), radio0 (radio coax), video24 (not sure), or video32 (also not sure). There may be ways to change what video0 is hooked up to inside the card, as well. You change channels (on the tuner) by sending special requests to the video0 device file (using the ivtv-tune program). Reading data from video0 yields an MPEG2 stream from the card’s encoder.)

    There are also DVB cards, which do digital video decoding (the acronym is “digital video broadcasting”, which applies to the sender, not the card). These might be what I’d look into if I was trying to hook up a PS3 or (eeew!) Xbox. But I don’t know for sure if any would work; it depends on the connectors and signaling that those devices use to send their “HD” data.

  27. Shamus: “3. Must run in a window and be capable of vid cap / screencap, preferably with software that wasn’t written by sadists.”

    This may be complicated if you’re hoping to do it in HD… Because if you can capture video, you might theoretically capture video of a MPAA movie or something. The mere possibility your might do so is the moral equivalent of crashing a flaming bus full of nuns into the local Best Buy’s entrance and using the resulting distraction to steal copies of every game there. And if you were to actually record a few seconds of a movie, well, we’d need to convene international tribunals to deal with such crimes against humanity. Even screen captures are too dangerous, because you could easily take the thousands of screenshots necessary to reconstruction the movie!

    More seriously, as far as I can tell if you’re using HDMI the X-box always turns on encryption, even if you’re just playing a game. (This is based on my Xbox announcing “Reestablished secure connection” whenever I turn it on. So I could be totally wrong.) A component connection might work, but I’m betting lots of the video card makers still have cripples in place because of Hollywood’s whining. So, sorry add additional complications to an already crappy situation, but it seems better to know them up front.

    Stupid DRM preventing legal actions. Grrr.

  28. Thomas says:

    If you’re not already doing so, try using DScaler with your existing card. It’s a TV watching/capture program with more options and filters than a swiss army knife, and usually lets you do things that the official drivers don’t have support for (like support PAL60 input, or tweak the hardware noise reduction). The only downside is it’s rather complicated to configure (though the documentation is pretty good), and some of the fancier noise reduction and deinterlacing chew vast amounts of CPU.

  29. Mark says:

    I got a TV tuner card, which is fine for the older consoles that only do composite output. It’s rather convenient (but getting the software up and running was a pain and a half). For my 360, though, I’ve got all these pixels that just don’t get put to good use with composite out, so I was thinking of picking up the official 360 VGA adapter. And some miscellaneous dongles so I can also use my speakers.

    I guess in that case you’d lose the ability to take screenshots, though. Perhaps you could find a TV tuner that will accept component or HDMI input or whatever?

  30. Matt` says:

    I’ve been through this horrow show myself… trying to get a capture card that actually bloody well works was a hurdle in itself, let alone any other requirements.

    For what it’s worth, the first one I found that I actually managed to get working was a Hauppauge. They seem to be the best ones going.

    From experience of the ones that failed, the common factor was being made in… either Thailand or Taiwan, more likely Taiwan… I forget exactly though, it was a while back. Just check their webpage and if it’s hard to find an English version then steer clear.

  31. Freykin says:

    My solution was to get a small hdtv and use it as my monitor as well. It’s worked fine so far for gaming and other uses, and I needed to get a new monitor anyways at the time so it worked out well.

  32. Erik says:

    Eric: “That ps3 rumor about dropping the ps2 compatability is unfounded. Sony is still listing it with their new series.”

    No, it’s not unfounded. They’ve removed the chip that allowed near-perfect PS2/PSX backwards compatability (since it was, essentially, a PS2 on a chip) and replaced it with software emulation that has problems with nearly every game and plain won’t run a lot of them. It’s that way with newer US ones, and it’s been that way from the start with EU PS3.

    As to why… saving a few bucks per unit on not making the chips, I guess?

  33. KarmaDoor says:

    Shamus,
    If you are indeed stuck with PCI as your only peripheral solution, I’m doubtful that your current computer would be powerful enough for full “console” High Definition (1080p) display *and* recording. Still, something in the 720p range may be achievable, though most of the solutions I see are USB for component input.

    Video input alone is considerably less expensive than video and television (NTSC and or ATSC.) It’s also more likely to have reliable and usable software bundled with it. The best bet I could find on a cursory search is the Blackmagic USB. Component, composite, and s-video (y/c) inputs for under $120. Purportedly it has a built-in H.264 encoder which squeezes the video through USB 2′s bandwidth. Definitely do research before purchasing, though. It’s too easy to get burned on peripherals nowadays, even from well known companies. (Marketing departments tend to oversell hardware designed for markets other than that depicted on the box.)

  34. lplimac says:

    The official, no joke definitions for the former international TV standards (HD changes everything) :

    NTSC: Never Twice The Same Color
    PAL: Peace At Last
    PAL-M: Pay A Little More
    SECAM: Something Entirely Contrary to the American Method.

    You are welcome ;)

  35. Marauder says:

    Erik: Not only are the new PS3′s shipping without the Emotion engine hardware backwards compatibility, they are also shipping without support for the SOFTWARE compatibility as well.

    The newer 80G units no longer have even software PS2 support, and supposedly the forthcoming 160G Units won’t have it either. Meanwhile, Sony still sends shipments of brand new PS2′s to my local Game Stop for sale. I guess they figure they can get more money by maintaining two consoles rather then one “play it all” system.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PS3#Retail_configurations

  36. Bärsärk says:

    I agree that this is a aggressively customer-unfriendly business model.
    To nitpick, though, I am not sure that the Wikipedia breakdown is completely correct. The 60Gb versions I found on sale in Europe all had HW compatibility with PS2 games (I’ve actually bought two around christmas, managing to track down some of the last ones available for me and a friend). Maybe they are NTSC-ones, but I doubt that.

  37. Bai Shen says:

    The reason there’s such a big difference in price is because there’s two types of tv tuner cards. The cheapo ones do software decoding, meaning they rely on your computer’s cpu to handle the video. The ones that do hardware encoding on the card itself won’t tax your cpu, but they also cost more.

    I’ve had good luck with Hauppauge cards, but I’ve only used them for MythTV setups, so I’m not sure how well they work in windows.

  38. Phil says:

    Aha, this is exactly what I’ve got working now, just with a PS2 only.
    Sadly, I get a few second delay between me telling it to do something (ie, move/shoot) and it actually happening; no idea what this could be, possibly just memory…

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