Forget Xbox 720 and PS4, go next-gen in your living room now with a small form factor PC
The PS4 will arrive by Christmas this year and you can bet your bottom dollar that the Xbox 720 will too. But that is a long time to wait and every trailer or confirmed title shown on YouTube makes that wait just a little bit harder.
The thing is though, you can go next-gen right now. In fact, you can go way beyond next-gen, pretty much into the future, with the help of Nvidia’s Titan graphics card and a super-powerful PC. So, what if money is no object? Spend a pretty penny and you can put the next-generation to shame without having to wait, all from the comfort of your sofa.
Keep it small
No one wants a huge desktop PC clogging up their living room. In the days of old, a proper gaming rig meant just that. It was like having a Dalek sitting next to your TV, complete with flashing lights and a fan louder than a jumbo jet.
Now, small form factor PCs can match the power of even the beefiest of gaming rigs, resulting in a set-up that can be understated and subtle, just like a PS4 beneath your TV.
Naturally, such a set-up will come at a price. Right now, we have in front of us a Vanquish Prodigy Titan, from PCSpecialist.co.uk, an expertly put-together machine. Name aside, it's much more understated than you might think. Beneath our TV set, you would barely notice the £1,800 computer turning out the mind-bogglingly good graphics it is capable of.
For measurement fans, the BitFenix Prodigy case it's housed in is 250 x 404 x 359mm in size. The best way to think of it is as two Xbox 360s standing upright next to each other, with a bit extra up top. The bottom line is, it will tuck away nicely in most living rooms.
PC building is full of all sorts of horrible technical jiggery-pokery and over-the-top names - precisely why many opt for the off-the-shelf approach of a games console. Building a system like this is easy to those who know how, but if you want to go next-gen in the PC world and are unsure of yourself, get someone else to do it.
Another tip is to ignore the majority of the silly names because, fun as they are, they don’t necessarily reflect what the system will be. Just insist on things staying small and simple, pay your money and you will get a gaming experience like no other. You can of course always go for that mobile disco of a gaming PC you have always dreamt of, but don’t expect it to look as slick as the PS4 or Xbox 720 when they finally appear.
Make it powerful
It goes without saying that you want your next-gen beater to be powerful computer, so what is it up against? We know that the PS4 will have a single-chip x86-64 AMD Jaguar 8-core processor and 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, with a GPU from AMD capable of 1.84 teraflops of processing power. By all accounts, Xbox 720 will be similar. Splashing out £1,800 on a PC will take those PS4 specs and make them look like yesterday’s news.
Without getting bogged down in technical details, any next-gen PC set-up with something like a Nvidia Titan GPU in it, an Intel i7 processor and 8GB of RAM or more is going to trounce what Sony or Microsoft manage. Yes, we know they will cost (much) less, but this is all about money being no object. And performance. Sweet, sweet performance.
Our system can handle 4.5 Teraflops of gaming power, which is a lot, believe us. In fact it's so much, we don’t see it having issues running any multi-platform games right through the entire life cycle of next-gen consoles.
Crucial to all this power is that it can remain compact. The Titan sits at home in small form factor boxes and doesn’t make much noise, nor require so much power even when maxed out. All you are going to notice is the game on your television screen.
Of course, we can’t say what sort of technical wizardry developers will apply to games on next-gen consoles. Looking at titles the Xbox 360 and PS3 currently handle, its incredible to think what developers can do with so little power.
Get Crysis 3
Our small form factor system is so powerful that we can’t really find any game to make it upset. Absolutely everything we throw at it, from Far Cry 3 to Sim City, is silky smooth. But then you would expect that, because if they weren’t you would be asking for your £1,800 back.
The thing is, none has quite the wow factor of that Killzone: Shadow Fall demo or the Watch Dogs teaser shown at the PS4 launch. In fact, right now, only one game really does: Crysis 3.
Stuck on full whack, Crysis 3 has such incredible graphical fidelity and detail, that it is almost surreal to witness it running smooth. On a nice 50-inch plasma with your small PC hidden away and an Xbox controller hooked up, even better.
Crysis 3 truly is next-gen on a system like this - in fact, it is fairly beyond it. The game is poorly optimised and isn’t hugely exciting in itself, but it sure is a good way to show of your über PC to your friends.
What you really need to consider, is just how amazing games like Watch Dogs will look on your Titan system when they are released, all from the comfort of your living room, games console style.
Get Steam’s Big Picture
We love Windows 8, just read our review. The problem is, we don’t love it enough for us to need to negotiate it each time we want to play a game on our television. A keyboard and mouse on the sofa is always going to be clunky and, for a good while, it was the only option PC players had when they connected systems to their television.
There is nothing next-gen about balancing a mouse on a magazine, with a wireless keyboard on your lap. Thankfully, Steam has come to the rescue.
A constant innovator in the world of PC gaming, Valve’s Steam now features a mode called Big Picture. Clicking this essentially transforms Steam into a full-screen game browser. Think of it like the XMB on PlayStation or the tile UI on Xbox.
Leave Big Picture running, let your computer go to sleep and you won’t ever need to deal with Windows again, should you fancy gaming.
Big Picture also has some features to rival the PS4. Using a paired controller, you can do things like browse the web, or chat with contacts. Big Picture also has a clever keyboard designed to help you type using a game controller.
Cloud saving, friends lists and multi-device support are all built into Steam, so you get that to play with as well. The main thing about Big Picture though is that it creates the illusion of the simplicity of a games console, while you can switch back to Windows should you want to tweak things.
Get an Xbox controller
It goes without saying, but if you really want to rival the comfort and graphical quality of next-gen consoles, you will need an Xbox controller. It’s a choice of either going wired or wireless, with the latter requiring a Microsoft made dongle that you plug into the back of your PC.
Nearly every PC game we have played supports the Xbox controller, with only some obvious things, like strategy games having problems. The Xbox accessories adapter also allows you to connect other gaming kit. We use the Xbox Wireless Speed Wheel for racing games, for example.
The world of PC gaming has always been next-gen and long the forte of tweakers and spec-boasters. Now though, thanks to super-powerful and slim graphics cards like the Titan, it is possible to order a bespoke small form factor gaming rig that will put out mind blowing graphics, over HDMI to your TV, for years to come.
Don't forget either, that this is just the start of things, Xi3's Piston Steambox could mean an even bigger presence for PC gaming in the living room. Whatever happens though, expect your your wallet to feel a lot lighter.