How to build the perfect set-up for video games
Whether you’re a PC, console or smartphone gamer, there’s a wealth of accessories that promise to improve your experience – and your score. But from mechanical keyboards to high dynamic range monitors the choices and jargon can be confusing. Here is our selection of the best gaming peripherals, whatever you play on.
The PC gamer
There are as many “ultimate” PC gaming set-ups as there are PC gamers – because the range of possibilities is vast and it’s such a subjective process. With the mouse, for example, a lot will depend on how big your hands are and whether you prefer to lay your hand flat across the mouse or hold it in a claw-like grip. However, for all-round performance, the Logitech G502 (£60) is an excellent gaming mouse, lightweight and comfortable, with fully programmable buttons. And it comes with the company’s Hero optical sensor technology for smooth seamless control.
For the keyboard, you’ll want a model with mechanical keys, preferably boasting Cherry MX switches. These can be noisy but are much more responsive than cheap membrane keyboards. You can pay more than £150 for a top-end Corsair or Roccat model, but the Corsair K68 (£120) is an excellent option, reliable and robustly built (complete with spill protection for when you knock over your drink mid-celebration), and offering configurable keys and lighting effects.
As for the monitor, this will depend on your budget and the specifications of your PC. If you have a monster graphics card you might be tempted by a 4K ultrawide behemoth (which will certainly make you future-proof as more games support 4K going onwards), but that will cost way over £1,000. Most gamers will be happy with a 27-inch 1080p or 1440p display (with 1,080 and 1,440 vertical pixels respectively). It should also have no less than a 120Hz refresh rate – but preferably 144Hz – and a response time of one to four milliseconds. You also need to make sure it offers FreeSync technology, which synchronises your graphics card with your screen. If you have an Nvidia GPU you should look for that company’s G-Sync technology.
“The ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q (£600) is a tough one to beat,” says Andy Hartup, managing editor of hardware at Future, a specialist publisher. “It’s a 27-inch IPS (in-plane switching) monitor that ticks plenty of boxes: 1440p resolution, 165Hz refresh rate, G-Sync, and has all the ports and connections you’d expect.”
With speakers, unless you’re an absolute audio purist or have your PC in a barn, Creative’s budget-friendly A250 set (£27) is great. Its two satellite speakers and subwoofer sound surprisingly rich and full given the mere nine watts of power. Alternatively, if you’re looking for headphones, we really like the new Turtle Beach Elite Atlas Aero headset (£130) – it’s incredibly comfortable over long periods, highly customisable and the “SuperHuman” sound system makes it easier to pick out your enemy’s movements and weapon reloads.
The console gamer
Considering that most of us have our consoles in shared social spaces, a decent headset is the most important accessory you can buy. It’s also a vital element of games such as Fortnite or Call of Duty, allowing you to talk to teammates online via a voice mic and to hear the footsteps of your foes. Sound quality is an important factor, obviously, and noise cancellation will keep you completely immersed in the world. However, comfort is key for longer gaming sessions, and manufacturers are now offering technologies such as memory foam head bands and cooling gel in the ear cups. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the high-end options from specialists such as SteelSeries, HyperX, Turtle Beach or Astro Gaming. But if you don’t want to spend more than £150 and – like me – have to share your console accessories with the kids, go for the Razer Kraken X (£50), which looks cool, feels comfortable and works with everything.
As for controllers, most players are best served by the pads that come with the machines. However, if you’re looking for greater precision and responsiveness from buttons and analogue sticks, or want extra options in terms of button layouts, a pro controller might be worth the extra money. For the PS4, the Nacon Revolution Unlimited Pro (£120) is a beautiful, highly ergonomic pad boasting customisable analogue sticks, programmable buttons and even little weights to slide into the controller grips, for those who like a little more heft in their hands. Microsoft’s own Elite Series 2 controller (£160) does a similarly impressive job for Xbox One, complete with adjustable-tension thumb sticks and variable locks on the triggers so you can fire your laser gun faster.
If you’re buying a TV just for gaming, you’ll want a 4K display with HDR 10 (high dynamic range) imaging functionality to get the most from your Xbox One or PS4. Look for models that offer low input lag – the delay between your console sending a signal and your TV displaying it. Some sets provide dedicated game modes, which tweak the settings to cut this down to a few milliseconds. I have always trusted Samsung for gaming, and if you want a mid-range TV that will see you into the next generation of Xbox and PlayStation 5 machines the Samsung Q70R 4K QLED (£1,000) is an excellent option, with lovely picture quality, great Smart TV functionality and that all-important game mode, which cuts the input lag down to 16 milliseconds.
The smartphone gamer
Whether you’re an Apple or Android owner, the first accessory you need for a better gaming experience is a Bluetooth controller. Danish e-sports specialist SteelSeries is known for its quality headsets, mice and keyboards, but we also love its smartphone models. The Stratus Duo (£65) for Android and the Nimbus (£50) for iOS are solid, proper gaming controllers with responsive buttons and more than 20 hours of play on a single battery charge. A separate £10 SmartGrip will fix your phone to the pad.
There are a few earbuds around aimed specifically at gamers. Razer has just released its Hammerhead True Wireless set (£100), which boast an ultra low-latency Bluetooth connection, meaning sound effects should stay in perfect synchronicity with your game – very important for when you’re listening out for footsteps in Fortnite.
Games can be particularly draining on your phone battery, so keep a pocket-sized power bank to hand, preferably one with a rapid charge feature so you’re not left waiting hours before you can start playing Candy Crush again. The Aukey PB-Y13 (£25) is a good slimline option, offering 10,000mAh (roughly 2.5 times the full charge of a smartphone) and quick charge capabilities. It’ll also power your Nintendo Switch.
The VR gamer
The past five years have seen an explosion in virtual reality systems, from the low-end Google Cardboard to the high-spec HTC Vive Pro, which requires connection to a suitably powerful PC. But if you just want a standalone system that will let you easily experience – and share – the magic of virtual reality, the best option right now is the Oculus Quest (£400), a surprisingly light and comfortable headset that doesn’t need to be connected to a PC via a long cable (read: trip hazard) so you can move around freely. It also comes with its own wireless controllers.
“It’s an amazing device that overcomes so many of the pitfalls that consumer VR has been suffering with,” says Dan Page, creative director of the annual VR World Congress event. “it’s relatively affordable, all-in-one, incredibly easy to set up, has pretty minimal screen door effect, doesn’t require the user to be massively technical to use it and it just kinda works”.
Although the image quality is not quite as good as high-end sets such as the Vive, most users won’t notice, and you will soon be able to link the headset to a PC via a USC-C cable to get a boost in performance.
Oculus does sell its own earphones to go with the system, but if you prefer full headphones, the light and comfortable Turtle Beach Stealth 350VR (£55) set is specially designed for virtual reality and you can replace the detachable cable with a shorter one so that it doesn’t dangle around your face.
If you’re taking the Quest on the move with you, a high-capacity battery pack such as the Anker PowerCore 26800 (£35) is the perfect companion. Or if you’re playing mostly at home, the VRGO Mini (currently on Kickstarter, for £170) is a movement controller that looks like a chair cushion – you sit on it and explore virtual worlds simply by tilting in different directions. It cuts down on motion sickness and provides haptic feedback, so you actually feel things like explosions or the rumble of a spaceship engine. In short, you’re getting a virtual reality experience and a lower back massage.
The laptop gamer
If you want to take your gaming habit on the road, the first thing to understand is that it isn’t going to be cheap. Unless you’re restricting yourself to classic games or less demanding independent titles, you’ll want something with an Intel i7 or Ryzen 7 processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX or RTX card, 16GB of RAM and at least a 512GB SSD.
“One of the best value we’ve seen is the ASUS ROG Zephyrus GA502,” says Future’s Andy Hartup. “It has a Ryzen 7-3750H processor (good), a GTX 1660 Ti graphics card (good enough), 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD”. That will be around £1,000.
A lighter headset is a good idea if you’re doing a lot of travelling. “The new Steelseries Arctis 1 wireless (£100) is a good bet,” says Hartup. “It’s subtle in design, so people won’t know it’s a gaming headset. It’s got a USB-C wireless dongle, so it’s wireless for the Nintendo Switch too, and is quite light. The sound is good too.”
As for the mouse, if you’ve already gone all out with a gaming laptop you may as well aim high. As such, we’ll opt for the new Razer Viper Ultimate (£150), which is very light at 74g, ambidextrous and offers an incredibly responsive performance for a wireless device.
At least now you can’t blame your disappointing Overwatch performance on an imprecise mouse.