When it comes to top gaming consoles, the Apple TV 4 isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind. The games selection is somewhat lacking, and the remote is difficult to play games with. But by combining the Apple TV with a game controller and an iPhone, you can put together a premium games setup with a vast collection of titles. Better yet, it'll work both home and away.
Using AirPlay to Beam iPhone Games
AirPlay is a feature that beams the iPhone's audio and video to the Apple TV for big screen playback. It's also a handy way to push iPhone games out from a tiny screen onto the same TV used for Xbox and PlayStation gaming.
It's easy to get started: simply connect the Apple TV and iOS device to the same network, swipe up from the bottom of the iOS device screen, choose "AirPlay," select the Apple TV, then toggle the "Mirroring" switch. The device screen should then appear on the Apple TV.
Using a Game Controller to Play the Game
Unfortunately, AirPlay is kind of useless with the need to keep looking down at the touchscreen controls. A new feature introduced with iOS 7 fixes this. Apple now supports game controllers for the iPhone, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. With a game controller, you can play a game on the big screen without looking at the iPhone.
With all these pieces in place, the Apple TV suddenly becomes a killer gaming setup. The controller sends the commands to the iPhone, which runs the game and produces the graphics, all before packaging off the visuals via AirPlay and sending it over to the Apple TV, which in turn pushes it through to the TV screen.
Choosing the Right Game Controller
There's several controllers to choose from, and it all depends on how portable you want to get. This article covers four, but there's plenty more available as Apple has made the controller spec available to several manufacturers. If the controller is "Made for iPhone" it should work.
The first is the Gamevice, available for $99.95. This wraps around an iPhone and connects via the Lightning port. It's like holding a giant Game Boy Advance, and is one of the more portable offerings. The two ends, joined together by flexible rubber, magnetically clip together for ultra-portable travelling.
Mad Catz has two separate offerings that more closely resemble Xbox controllers. The CTRL.i ($59.99) and CTRL.i Micro ($49.99) grip the phone and hold it above the hands. This is great because it allows for on the go gaming while retaining the familiar shape of controllers like the Xbox. It is a bit bulkier though, and a tad top heavy. These connect via Bluetooth, power up with AA batteries and also work with the Apple TV directly.
The Steelseries Nimbus ($49.95) doesn't hold the phone in any way, but if you're only interested in beaming to the Apple TV, that probably doesn't matter anyway as you won't need to look at the iPhone screen. Those who may be interested in portable gaming sometimes will way to factor that in though.
The Nimbus was developed in partnership with Apple, it has a premium feel, charges up using Lightning and connects via Bluetooth. This is the controller Apple tries to sell to Apple TV buyers. It's the least practical for playing on the go, but for AirPlay gaming it's incredible.
Both the Mad Catz and the SteelSeries also work with the iPad, which when paired with the iPad Pro offer a premium gaming experience on the road. Beaming iPad games to the Apple TV is also an option, but the iPad has a screen size ratio of 4:3, so games will appear with black bars on either side. The iPhone's 16:9 ratio better matches most TVs on the market.
Finding the best iPhone games
Apple hasn't made it easy to work out which games support game controllers, so it's up to third parties to sift through the store. Gamevice offers a free app that collects together games with controller support, complete with store links for easy purchase.
There's a wide selection of games to choose from. Action fans will like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," ($6.99) while "Final Fantasy VII" ($15.99) will help relive the days of PlayStation role-playing games. Those looking for something never before seen will like "Leo's Fortune," ($2.99) a fun, colorful platformer, or free title "Real Racing 3" (free) will satisfy NASCAR fanatics.