Connecting Game Controllers via Bluetooth

Last Update: December 22nd, 2020
Article ID: 686778

Compatibility with modern wireless game controllers is a complex topic. Almost every console controller requires some kind of third-party software to be fully, or even partially, functional via Bluetooth. Due to this, we do not consider most console controllers to be compatible with the Plugable Bluetooth adapter. The behavior of third-party software is difficult to trace since we did not design the software, and most of the time, that software has to override the normal behavior of the Bluetooth adapter which causes compatibility problems with other devices that would normally be compatible with the Bluetooth adapter.

This article will help to shed some light on the compatibility challenges faced with different types of controllers across different operating systems.

Note: Information about third-party software is only provided here for context. We do not officially recommend, support, or endorse these third-party software solutions. If you choose to use these software packages, you are doing so at your own risk.

Understanding Different Controller Protocols

Microsoft introduced XInput in late 2005 as an update to DirectInput. Most PC games produced in the last decade or so have support for XInput. Support for DirectInput is mostly limited to older PC games.

Xbox controllers, since the Xbox 360 controller, have functioned over XInput. There are many other controllers, intended for use with a PC, also map their controls via XInput.

However, most console controllers other than Xbox-branded controllers map their controls using DirectInput. This means that, even after establishing a connection, controllers intended for PlayStation and Nintendo consoles won't necessarily work with a PC without some additional software.

Controller Support on Linux

Linux has extensive support for gamepads. However, it requires extensive manual configuration. Because of this lack of simplicity in configuring controllers, we do not recommend or provide support for using controllers on Linux.

Please see this article from the Arch Linux Wiki (ArchWiki) for details about manual configuration of various controllers.

Controller Support on Windows

Most of the information below is geared toward Windows PCs and is fairly vague about third-party software. This is because, in this writer's opinion, most of the third-party options for connecting non-XInput controllers is fairly lacking. There are many long-term compatibility concerns with most third-party input mappers, especially when it comes to Bluetooth.

Generally speaking, if you are determined to use a Nintendo or PlayStation controller on a PC, it is best to configure it using Steam. Valve has spent significant resources to easily remap controls to standard XInput controls. Even if you are using games from a store other than Steam, you can add it as a non-Steam game and utilize the built-in input mapper of Steam.

There are a number of reasons to use Steam for input mapping. It is likely that the input mapper in Steam will continue to be supported in the long term. Additionally, Steam is focused on interpreting input data through standard Bluetooth interfaces in Windows, rather than overriding normal Windows Bluetooth profile support. This design makes it far less likely to cause conflicting issues with other Bluetooth devices.

Further instructions on controller remapping for Steam can be found here .

PlayStation Controllers

Since the introduction of the PlayStation 3, Sony has used a customized version of Bluetooth to connect controllers to their game consoles. The modifications that Sony uses are primarily to facilitate the way that PlayStation controllers pair with a console and the way they power on a console.

Because there are modifications to how pairing occurs, standard Bluetooth implementations do not work well with PlayStation controllers. There have been third-party software packages that allow PlayStation controllers to connect, such as 'DS4Windows' and 'ScpToolkit', but these programs typically require a USB connection to exchange pairing information, and cause issues with other normal functions of Bluetooth adapters on PCs. The creator of ScpToolkit explicitly notes that there are harmful versions of the software that are distributed with malware and that the software is obsolete , it absolutely should not be installed.

DualShock 4/DualShock 3/Sixaxis

Windows—The most viable way to connect these controllers is to first install the PlayStation Now app—which includes drivers for the controller—and perform pairing of the controller using the instructions for the PlayStation Now app . Once that process is complete, you'll need to map controls using another application (such as Steam).

Sony notes that, when connected to a PC, the following features are not supported:

  • Touchpad is not supported (DualShock 4)
  • The color of the light bar cannot be changed (DualShock 4)
  • Rumble, the motion sensor, and the headphone jack are not supported

DualSense

As of writing this article, the DualSense controller included with the PlayStation 5 connects wirelessly in an unknown fashion. It is assumed that it uses a modified Bluetooth implementation similar to the last two generations of controllers for PlayStation consoles.

Xbox Controllers

Xbox One/Xbox One S/Elite

Note: The launch version of the Xbox One controller does not have Bluetooth built-in. Make sure that you are using a later revision of the controller that does have Bluetooth. Images detailing the physical differences between both versions can be found in this article from Xbox .

Microsoft only recommends using a single Xbox One controller at a time when connecting an Xbox One controller via Bluetooth.

Windows 10—Has native support for Xbox One controllers via Bluetooth starting from the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Please see instructions from Microsoft on how to update both Windows 10 and the controller itself .

Xbox Series

Microsoft has announced that Xbox Series controllers, will work via Bluetooth . Presumably their compatibility is the same as the current Xbox One controllers.

The already-released Xbox Elite Wireless Series 2 controller requires updating Windows 10 to the May 2019 Update (or later) with the latest fixes and updates applied .

Nintendo Controllers

As of this writing, all Nintendo-branded wireless controllers, including controllers designed for the Nintendo Switch, map their controls using DirectInput and connect using Bluetooth Classic. Mapping controls via DirectInput causes the controllers to be incompatible with most PC games without additional software.

Wii Remote

There isn't much use for this controller outside of console emulation. The Dolphin emulator has support for the Wii Remote, but Dolphin completely takes control of the Bluetooth adapter in order to function , and will typically require a third-party sensor bar that operates without the Wii console. Because Dolphin overrides the default behavior of the adapter, we do not support this configuration.

Joy-Cons

The Nintendo Joy-Cons will connect via Bluetooth without third-party software. Without using third-party software, the individual Joy-Cons connect as individual controllers. Additionally, most features such as motion control, NFC scanning, IR, and rumble require third-party software.

Pro Controller

The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller will connect for basic functionality via Bluetooth without third-party software, but has poor compatibility due to controls being mapped via DirectInput. Most features such as motion control, NFC scanning, and rumble require third-party software.

For use with PC games, it is likely best to use Steam to map the controller to XInput for compatibility with most games.

Steam Controller

The Steam Controller is no longer in production, however it can connect via Bluetooth Low Energy on Windows 8.x and above as well as Linux.

Steam is required for this controller. Instructions from Valve on how to enable Bluetooth Low Energy for the Steam Controller, and use it with Steam, can be found here .

8BitDo Controllers

Windows 10—Controllers from 8BitDo that feature Bluetooth connectivity, such as the SN30 Pro and SN30 Pro+ will often have the option of connecting using either XInput or DirectInput. It is recommended to use XInput with the latest updates applied to Windows 10.

In 8BitDo's documentation, they refer to this as 'X-Input' or 'Xbox 360' mode.

Other Bluetooth Controllers

Check with your controller manufacturer regarding the wireless technology that is used, and whether the controller maps its inputs via DirectInput or via XInput.