In the olden days (2015 or so), connecting a PS4 controller to a PC was a harrowing process, with unpredictable (but hilarious) results. Now, PC gamers can use the DualShock 4 with relative impunity, thanks to better software, better hardware and better Steam integration.
Still, plugging in a DS4 is not quite as simple as using an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller, so if you’d like to bring a PS4 peripheral to a PC party, here’s what you need to know.
Wired or Wireless
You can plug a PS4 controller into a PC just as you would an Xbox One controller, by using a microUSB cable. Give the computer a few minutes to install the drivers, and you should be good to go. Actually using the controller is another story, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Sony also released a wireless adapter, and if you intend to use your DS4 and PC together a lot, it’s a worthwhile investment. Be warned, however, that while the device initially retailed for $25, it’s become much harder to find in recent months, and you’ll either have to hunt down some older stock, pick up a used unit or pay through the nose for it.
Setting it up is extremely simple. Just plug it in and give it a minute or two to install drivers. Then, physically press the driver into the USB slot for about 3 seconds. This will activate the pairing process. Hold down the Share and PS buttons simultaneously on your DS4, and the controller should bind itself to the wireless adapter. To pair it to your PS4 again, just connect it to the console with a microUSB cable.
How to Play PC Games with a PS4 Controller
Once you have the peripheral set up, there are four ways to play games with a PS4 controller. (There are more if you’re willing to install unofficial third-party software, but that would make this into a much longer and more complicated article.) Two of them work extremely well, and two of them require some legwork.
While Steam has its very own controller that gets a lot of Valve’s attention, the popular digital distribution platform added DS4 support in 2016. You can do some pretty cool stuff with a PS4 controller on Steam — if you’re willing to do some programming yourself, anyway.
Unlike Xbox controllers, PS4 controllers don’t simply work with Steam by default. The process is a bit convoluted, but you can take full advantage of the DS4’s unconventional features, including its touchpad and light bar.
First, ensure that your DS4 is hooked up to your PC. Then, open Steam and activate Big Picture mode. (Click the controller icon in the upper-right corner.) Big Picture is Steam’s living room mode, and for some reason, it’s the only way you can get into the nitty-gritty of controller settings.
Once you’re there, click on Settings (the gear icon in the upper right), and Controller Settings in the leftmost column. Check the box that says “PS4 Configuration Support.” You’ll be asked to register your PS4 controller to your Steam account. After that, you can change each button’s functionality, use the touchpad like a mouse and even pick a color for the light bar. While it’s admittedly a pain to do this for every game in your library, it’s also fairly foolproof.
Tom’s Guide also has a comprehensive guide to using a PS4 controller on Steam, which is well worth your time if you intend to use your PS4 controller primarily as a Steam peripheral.
MORE: The Best PC Gaming Controllers
Whether you game through Steam, GOG or direct downloads, your game may have an option for native PS4 controller support. All you have to do to enable it is enter the game’s settings, find its controller configuration options, and tell it that you have a DS4 hooked up.
There’s no official list of DS4-compatible games, but the PC Gaming Wiki keeps pretty respectable tabs on the topic. While not every title works perfectly with the PS4 controller, you can still play games like Okami HD, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Wolfenstein II, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered.
PlayStation Now used to work on smart TVs, PS3s, PS Vitas, PSTVs and more; now it’s been restricted to PS4s and Windows PCs. At least the PC app allows native DS4 support — for the most part. To take advantage of the PS3 game-streaming service on your PC, just download the app from Sony, then boot it up.
Although you can use pretty much any controller for PS Now, a DualShock 3 or 4 is your best bet. Once your DS4 is connected to your PC, you can use it for any PS Now game. You can click the right side of the touchpad as Start and the left side as Select if needed; otherwise, every other button is the same as on the DS3, including the PS button for bringing up the menu.
One word of warning, however: for some unfathomable reason, the DS4 does not work to navigate the PS Now menu outside of games. You’ll have to use a good, old-fashioned mouse and keyboard instead. While it’s obnoxious to have to switch back and forth between control schemes, the controller at least works flawlessly in-game.
If you own a relatively powerful PC (Core i5 processor, 2 GB video card, at least Windows 8.1), you can stream content from your PS4 right to your computer. (You can do this with a Vita as well, if you’re one of the seven or eight people who owns one.) Just download the software to your PC, enable Remote Play in your PS4 settings (it’s in the Remote Play section; no surprise there), and make sure the two devices are connected to the same network. The first time you connect, you’ll have to input a code, but the software walks you through the whole process.
The DS4 is the only controller that works with Remote Play, so there’s no special trick to using it. Just connect it to your PC, then play as you would on your PS4. As long as your connection is strong and relatively uncrowded, you shouldn’t encounter any lag. To shut down remote play, just waggle your mouse to bring up the options menu.