Street dates be damned--your local retailer has decided to release Sony's DualShock 4 controller into the wild before the PlayStation 4 is even out. And even though the box says it's only compatible with PS4, that's a white lie: you can also hook the PS4 controller to a PS3, or even your computer if you're feeling adventurous. Now admittedly, it's not preferable to an Xbox 360 controller; we'll explain why in a bit. But if you're still curious about how to control your PC games with your new jet-black, next-gen console controller, or you just want answers to some frequently asked questions, read on.
Use a Micro USB cable to plug the PS4 controller into your PC
Simple enough, right? Your PC won't magically detect a wireless DualShock 4, so you'll have to hardwire it using the Micro USB cable which comes bundled with the PS4, or any Mini B Micro USB cable you happen to have handy. Once it's plugged in, your computer should automatically recognize it and all its buttons, included the center pad (though it won't function as a touchpad) and the PS button. The controller will also light up with a pleasant yellow hue. Success!
Check if your DualShock 4 controller is connected to your PC
Need a little visual reinforcement that proves everything's working? We can't blame you. In Windows, go to your Control Panel. Under "Hardware and Sound," click "View Devices and Printers." A generic-looking controller should appear in the top left; right-click it and go to "Game controller settings," then "Properties." Here, you can see how your computer is detecting the DualShock 4's inputs, including the calibration of both joysticks and your squeeze on either trigger.
Is a PS4 controller better than an Xbox 360 controller for playing PC games?
The short answer is: No. Here's why: When plugging a controller into a PC, your computer needs an API to recognize the new form of input. An Xbox 360 controller uses Microsoft's own XInput API, which helps make it such an easy plug-and-play option for PC gaming sans mouse-and-keyboard. On the other hand, the DualShock 4 uses DirectInput, an older API also built by Microsoft.
Sony may offer PC support for the DualShock 4 at a later date, but for now, you're on your own trying to change the API (or in their words, " In regards to DUALSHOCK 4 supporting full compatibility for playing PC games, there are no details to share at this time"). And that's a problem, because DirectInput has some pretty damning limitations: no rumble or vibration effects, less accurate detection of how you're using the triggers, and no way to detect headsets plugged in via the controller. Ouch.
But wait! The PS4 controller has a far superior D-pad compared to the average 360 controller, making the DualShock 4 a good fit for emulated games. We can't give you the exact details on all that illegal business, but if you're looking to play 8-bit and 16-bit games with a tactile, modern-day method of input, then you might want to give the DualShock 4 a shot. Still, you'd have a better time buying one of those cheap NES/SNES to USB adapters online and using the "real" deal. But hey, it's your money.
How does the PS4 controller work with Steam?
Most PC gamers have become dependent on Steam for all their needs; with its huge support base and frequent game sales, we can't blame them. Steam's Big Picture mode was made with controller support in mind--but will it work with a DualShock 4? Yes, but not particularly well. It varies on a game-by-game basis, but it pretty much always feels like a crapshoot.
We tested a variety of games in Steam Big Picture mode with mixed results, sampling games that all worked smoothly with an Xbox 360 controller plugged in. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Borderlands 2 simply refused to recognize the DualShock 4, even though Steam Big Picture "saw" the controller just fine. The Wolf Among Us functioned, but the button array was permanently jumbled, and controlling the viewpoint with the right analog stick flat out didn't function. Soundodger+ worked like a charm--but that's a one-joystick-one-button rhythm game. Feel free to give your favorite Steam games a shot, but don't expect them to function with a DualShock 4.
Will a PS4 controller work on a Mac?
Yes. For proof, check out this Vine video by Chris Gallizzi. This is likely the same case as plugging a DualShock 4 into a PC: it can hypothetically function like any other gamepad, but it's up to you to figure it out. Until further notice, Sony won't be helping anyone troubleshoot how to get a PS4 controller working with their Mac.
More PS4 info
And now you know the ups and downs of using a DualShock 4 with your computer. If you’re looking for any more info on the system, check out our comprehensive coverage of the PlayStation 4 and all the PS4 games. You can also find out how to use a PS4 controller on PS3.