As they say, success is better when you can share it with others. And as gaming further enters mainstream culture, your potential audience of viewers grows. Luckily, the best capture cards are here to help you showcase your game footage in an exciting way.

Like it or not, our favorite pastime has developed its own social characteristics. All sorts of communities that support gaming have sprouted up. Sometimes these are within established social media platforms or on their own exclusive sites.

Obviously, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and Twitch come to mind for most of us, but there are tons of others out there. In turn, those mad killing sprees, dirty no-scope trick shots, penta-kills, shopping cart drive-bys, and hilarious moments hold more value than ever before.

The best way for most gamers to capture and preserve these moments is by using a game capture card. The best capture cards can help you share your in-game plays, set up a stream, create a YouTube Channel, build a library of video clips, and much more.

On this page, we compiled a list of the best capture cards. We also discuss which gamers will benefit most from a capture card. Ready to capture and share video like a pro? Read on.

Zoom Out: Comparison Table of the 20 Best Capture Cards

We’ve curated this list of the best capture cards available. For an in-depth look at each model, check out the Zoom In section below.

ImageCardResolutionInterfaceCost
Elgato HD60 S+1080pUSB 3.0
Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.24KPCIe
MiraBox HSV3211080pUSB 3.0
Elgato 4K60 S+4KUSB 3.0
AVerMedia Live Gamer Duo1080pUSB 3.0
Elgato Cam Link 4K4KUSB 3.0
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2N/AUSB 3.0
Elgato HD60 Pro1080pPCIe
Extenuating Threads 4K Cam Link4KUSB 2.0
Elgato HD60 S1080pUSB 3.0
AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt4KThunderbolt 3
AVerMedia Live Gamer HD 21080pPCIe
AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K4KPCIe
AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 21080pUSB 2.0
AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini1080pUSB 2.0
Razer Ripsaw HD1080pUSB 3.0
Mirabox HSV3234KUSB 3.0
AVerMedia Live Gamer ULTRA4KUSB 3.0
MyPin Game Live Box1080pUSB 3.0
StarTech.com HDMI Video Capture Device1080pUSB 3.0

Zoom In: A Closer Look at the 20 Best Capture Cards

Next, let’s take a closer look at each model.

1. Elgato HD60 S+

The best capture card overall

Manufacturer: Elgato | Resolution: 1080p (4K passthrough) | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰💰💰

Elgato has been the name in capture cards for years now, and there are plenty of good reasons why. One is that they encode crystal clear images with minimal latency. Another is that they come with user-friendly software that makes capturing, streaming, and recording audio and video incredibly easy.

That’s why our pick for the best capture card overall is the Elgato HD60 S+. It’s the latest iteration of their popular line of external capture cards. It captures 1080p at 60FPS, just like the HD60 S, but it also has 4K passthrough. That means you can play at resolutions up to 4k and stream at 1080p at the same time!

  • USERS LIKE
  • 4K passthrough
  • Fast, easy setup
  • USB 3.0 offers low latency, 5Gbps connection speed
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Doesn’t capture 4K
  • Doesn’t work with USB 2.0
  • Roughly $50 more than the HD60 S

2. Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2

The best premium capture card

Manufacturer: Elgato | Resolution: 4K | FPS: 4K/60, 1440p/144, 1080p/240 | Interface: PCIe | Price: 💰💰💰

Willing to spend a bit more for the best? A direct PCIe interface is much faster and more stable than even the fastest external device. That’s why the Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2 is our pick for the best premium capture card.

The 4K60 Pro MK.2 has all the same qualities that we love in the HD60 S+, but with the added benefits of PCIe. It can also capture video at higher resolutions and framerates. It can do 4K at 60FPS, 1440p at 144FPS or 1080p at 240FPS!

  • USERS LIKE
  • Works with multiple resolutions
  • Fast, stable connection via PCIe
  • The best option for high refresh rate streams
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Almost $250
  • Maxes at 60FPS in 4K
  • Not compatible with HDMI switches

3. MiraBox HSV321

The best cheap capture card

Manufacturer: MiraBox | Resolution: 1080p | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 2.0 & USB 3.0 | Price: 💰

You don’t need to spend over a hundred dollars to start capturing AV. The MiraBox HSV321 is an excellent choice for those looking to get into the streaming or video recording game without breaking the bank.

It can capture 1080p video at up to 60FPS. It uses a quick, USB 3.0 connection to keep latency to a minimum, but you can also get 720p if USB 2.0 is your only option. The MiraBox probably won’t end up being your “forever capture card,” but it’s the best cheap capture card for those who just need something for light-use to get them started.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Under $100
  • Works with USB 2.0
  • Plug and play, no drivers needed
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Runs hot
  • Produces saturated colors
  • Multiple reports of audio issues

4. Elgato 4K60 S+

ThThe best 4K capture card

Manufacturer: Elgato | Resolution: 4K | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰💰💰💰

4K is the high-end video resolution, but capturing it can be a considerable strain on the resources of every device involved due to the massive quantities of data being encoded. The Elgato 4K60 S+ makes the process a lot easier.

It has an HEVC encoder built-in, which minimizes CPU load and file size, taking the pressure off your computer. It also has a built-in SD card writer. That means you don’t even need a computer to use it! This is ideal for any situation where you might want to record 4K footage remotely.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Quality, high-definition recordings
  • HVEC encoder takes stress off CPU
  • You can record without a PC with SD card writing capability
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Almost $400
  • No 1440p capturing
  • Takes a lot of fine-tuning to work properly

5. AVerMedia Live Gamer Duo

The best dual capture card

Manufacturer: AVerMedia | Resolution: 1080p (4K passthrough) | FPS: 4K/60, 1080p/240 | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰💰💰

Want to capture a console and a DSLR camera all with a single device? The AVerMedia Live Gamer Duo has two separate HDMI inputs, meaning you don’t need two separate capture cards to record two separate input sources.

Not only that, but it also has a super low-latency passthrough up to 4K/60FPS, and passes 1080p at 240 FPS. Plus, it has RGB!

  • USERS LIKE
  • Records HDR
  • Fast, stable connection via PCIe
  • Captures up to two separate sources simultaneously
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Complicated initial setup
  • Reports of difficulty synchronizing audio
  • RECentral software and adjusting settings can be tricky

6. Elgato Cam Link 4K

The best capture card for a camera

Manufacturer: Elgato | Resolution: 4K | FPS: 4K/30, 1080p/60 | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰💰

You don’t need to spend the extra money on a capture card with an HDMI passthrough if you’re just using it to capture a camera. The Elgato Cam Link 4K is the best there is if you’re looking to turn your DSLR, camcorder, or action cam into a webcam that would make the Logitech C920 hang its head in shame.

There are cheaper knock-off cam links on the market, but the Elgato is distinguished by its ultra-low-latency, which is vital for streaming live. It captures 1080p at 60FPS and 4k at 30FPs.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Works with a wide variety of cameras
  • Easy installation and custom software
  • Compact design with no messy cables
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • 4K tops out at 30FPS
  • Cheaper options available
  • Doesn’t come with connective cables for camera

7. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen)

The best device for capturing audio

Manufacturer: Focusrite | Mic Preamps: 2 | Interface: USB 2.0 & 3.0 | Price: 💰💰💰

Are you a musician looking for a good capture device to record or stream your music? Maybe you like to record voiceover and you’re looking to step up your game? Let me direct you to the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen). This compact little gizmo comes equipped with two extremely well-rated mic preamps. 

It also comes with several pro tools, including “First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite, 3-month Splice subscription, and your choice of one free XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument.”

  • USERS LIKE
  • Under $200
  • Fast, USB Type-C to USB 3.0 connectivity
  • High-performance converters enable you to record and mix at up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Some driver issues
  • Cheap included USB cable
  • XLR input sometimes catches as stereo

8. Elgato HD60 Pro

The best capture card for streaming

Manufacturer: Elgato | Resolution: 1080p | FPS: 60 | Interface: PCIe | Price: 💰💰💰

Whether you’re streaming on Twitch, Facebook, or YouTube, you probably shouldn’t do it at a resolution over 1080p. Most viewers don’t have the internet speed to keep up with that kind of data-flow — even if you have the necessary upload speed to post it. Twitch only allows its streamers to go up to a maximum of 1080p at 60FPS.

The Elgato HD 60 Pro is the best capture card for streaming because it combines the reliability of a PCIe interface Elgato like the 4K60 Pro MK.2 with the affordability that comes with a 1080p pass through. It’s everything you need for the best stream possible and nothing you don’t.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Under $200
  • Top-quality imaging
  • PCIe interface allows for an ultra-fast, stable connection
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • No DisplayPort
  • No 4K passthrough
  • Passthrough limited to 60FPS

9. Extenuating Threads 4K Cam Link

The best capture card for recording video

Manufacturer: Extenuating Threads | Resolution: 4K | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 2.0 | Price: 💰

You might not need the kind of ultra-low-latency found in the Elgato Cam Link if you aren’t streaming video live. The Extenuating Threads 4K Cam Link can record 4K video at 60FPS. This is ideal for YouTubers and anyone else who wants to record their video for later use, but the lag makes it difficult to recommend for live-streamers. 

So why buy it? Well, it’s one fifth the price. The Elgato Cam Link is definitely the better option overall, but nothing competes with the Extenuating Threads 4K Cam Link in terms of affordability.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Under $20
  • Easy, plug-and-play set up
  • Compact design without messy cables
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Some loss in picture quality
  • Noticeable delays in video capture
  • Some reports of users not receiving a 4K output

10. Elgato HD60 S

The best external capture card

Manufacturer: Elgato | Resolution: 1080p | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰💰

Maybe you want to stream with a laptop. Maybe you don’t have a spare PCIe slot. Maybe you want to move your capture card around or simply don’t feel comfortable installing components inside your computer. There are plenty of reasons to want a capture card that connects via USB.

The Elgato HD60 S is our choice for the best external capture card because it has nearly all the features of the HD60 S+ but for a sizable discount and some significant advantages over the original HD60. It doesn’t have the 4K passthrough, but your captured media will retain the same quality, and you’ll get to save a few bucks.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Under $150
  • Excellent video quality
  • Super-low latency with USB 3.0, 5Gbps connection speed
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Requires USB 3.0
  • Colors on the video feed may be a bit off by default
  • Elgato’s firmware and software get constant updates

11. AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt

The best Thunderbolt capture card

Manufacturer: AVerMedia | Resolution: 4K | FPS: 4K/60, 1080p/240 | Interface: Thunderbolt 3 | Price: 💰💰💰💰

Thunderbolt 3 is the fastest external connection on the market. It’s twice as fast as USB Type-C and eight times faster than USB 3.0. The AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt is the only capture card on the market that takes advantage of this ultrafast interface for an almost complete loss in latency.

It captures 4K at 60FPS and can take 1080p up to 240FPS. It works with both Mac and PC, but it cannot be connected to USB Type-C, so only get it if your computer has a Thunderbolt 3 port.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Works with Mac
  • Fantastic video quality and color correctness
  • High-speed and stable connection via Thunderbolt 3
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Over $400
  • 4K tops out at 60FPS
  • Doesn’t work with USB Type-C

12. AVerMedia Live Gamer HD 2

The best PCIe capture card

Manufacturer: AVerMedia | Resolution: 1080p | FPS: 60 | Interface: PCIe | Price: 💰💰

We’ve already talked about why PCIe is the best interface, but which is the best PCIe capture card? It’s another one from AVerMedia! (There’s a lot of them from here on out.) The Live Gamer HD 2 isn’t the most feature-rich PCIe capture card on the market, but it has features and a price point similar to the Elgato HD 60 Pro, making it an ideal value option for streaming.

If you only need to run 1080p at 60FPS, then this is a great one to go with. It also has multi-card support and AMD Ryzen support.

  • USERS LIKE
  • RGB
  • Fast and easy setup
  • Solid build quality and stylish design
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Driver issues
  • Some functionality issues with OBS
  • Reports of freezing after multiple hours of use

13. AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K

The best capture card for PC

Manufacturer: AVerMedia | Resolution: 4K | FPS: 4K/60, 1440p/144, 1080p/240 | Interface: PCIe | Price: 💰💰💰

Most modern consoles top out at 30-60FPS. Gamers running a two-PC setup need a little more juice. The AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K is a magnificent capture card and a close competitor to the Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2. 

It captures 4K at 60FPS, 1440p at 144FPS, and 1080p at 240FPS, making it an ideal card whether you want to capture some great quality imaging or some fast-paced action without dropping any frames. That’s why we think it’s the best capture card for PC. Surround sound passthrough and RGB are added bonuses.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Easy setup
  • Fast and stable PCIe interface
  • Crisp, vivid, and smooth image quality
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Limited RGB control
  • RECental software can be finicky
  • Ugly “No Signal” image pops up immediately when changing resolutions

14. AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2

ThThe best capture card for Mac

Manufacturer: AVerMedia | Resolution: 1080p (4K passthrough) | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 2.0 | Price: 💰💰

Finding a capture card compatible with Mac OS can be tricky, and some of the options are on the more expensive side. Luckily there’s the AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2. Not only is it compatible with Macs, it’s a great little capture card that comes at an even better price.

The Live Gamer Portable 2 captures 1080p 60FPS with a 4K passthrough, so you don’t need to sacrifice your viewing experience for the sake of your stream. It can also capture headset commentary and party chat if you want those to be a part of the feed.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Under $150
  • Compatible with Macs
  • 4K passthrough for high-resolution gaming
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Doesn’t work with 1440p
  • Poor customer service from AVerMedia
  • Switches are not intuitive and require manual research

15. AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini

The best capture card for PS4

Manufacturer: AVerMedia | Resolution: 1080p | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 2.0 | Price: 💰💰

Got a base PS4 and looking to capture your gameplay? The standard PS4 is a 1080p machine that tops out at 60FPS, so there’s no point in spending extra money on features you won’t need.

The AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini has 1080p video recording at 60FPS, making it the best capture card for the PS4. It’s reasonably priced and has a few great features like its H.264 encoder that help it stand out.

  • USERS LIKE
  • $100 price point
  • Works with Macs
  • Reliable, no blank screens or audio issues
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Driver issues
  • About .25 second latency
  • You need to download extra software and drivers to unlock the full capabilities

16. Razer Ripsaw HD

The best capture card for PS5

Manufacturer: Razer | Resolution: 1080p (4K passthrough) | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 2.0 & 3.0 | Price: 💰💰💰

You might need a little more power if you upgraded to a PS4 Pro or a PS5. The Razer Ripsaw HD represents the popular gaming hardware company’s first foray into the capture card market, and they made a strong start. It’s competitive with the Elgato HD60 S.

The Ripsaw HD captures 1080p at 60FPS and has full 4K and 1440p passthrough.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Good video quality
  • Easy installation and setup
  • Works with both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Reports of audio mixing issues
  • Lightweight, not the best build quality
  • Included software isn’t very extensive

17. Mirabox HSV323

The best capture card for Xbox One

Manufacturer: Mirabox | Resolution: 4k and 1080p | FPS: 4k/30FPS, 1080p/60FPS | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰

Are you looking for the best capture card for Xbox One or the Xbox One X? The Mirabox HSV323 has everything you need. It has USB 3.0 connectivity for a fast connection and comes at an incredibly low price.

The Mirabox can do 1080p 60FPS capture for streaming, but it can also do 4K at 30FPS if you have a One X and want to record some video for YouTube. 

  • USERS LIKE
  • Works with Macs
  • Under $100 (and frequently goes on sale)
  • Good build quality with all-aluminum construction
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • 4K limited to 30FPS
  • No included software
  • Requires separate 4K cable for 4K capabilities

18. AVerMedia Live Gamer ULTRA

The best capture card for Xbox Series S/X

Manufacturer: AVerMedia | Resolution: 4K | FPS: 4K/30FPS, 1440p/60FPS, 1080p/120FPS | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰💰💰

If you got yourself one of Microsoft’s new consoles, then you want to make sure your capture card is up to the task. The AVerMedia Live Gamer ULTRA is the best capture card for Xbox Series X/S consoles because it’s fast, stable, and more than capable of handling whatever your console has in store.

Live Gamer ULTRA records 4K at 30 FPS, but its passthrough works at 60FPS, so you still get to experience Ultra HD with superior frame rates.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Ultrawide screen support
  • 4K HDR passthrough at 60FPS
  • Fast and stable USB Type-C to 3.0 interface
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Only works with provided cable
  • Reports of audio popping /stuttering issues
  • Instances of a high pitch tone while it is running

19. MyPin Game Live Box

The best capture card for Nintendo Switch

Manufacturer: MyPin | Resolution: 1080p | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰

Nintendo is known for many things, but high resolutions and fast frame rates aren’t among them. You don’t need to spend a ton of money if you want the best capture card for the Nintendo Switch. The MyPin Game Live Box has everything you need at an excellent price.

It can capture 1080p at up to 60FPS. It also has YPbPr (component) and AV (composite) inputs for all you retro console gamers out there!

  • USERS LIKE
  • Plug and play setup
  • True stereo audio capture
  • YPbPr (component) and AV (composite) inputs
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Some latency issues
  • Requires some adjustments in OBS
  • Doesn’t include second HDMI cable

20. StarTech.com HDMI Video Capture Device

The best capture card for old consoles

Manufacturer: StarTech.com | Resolution: 1080p | FPS: 60 | Interface: USB 3.0 | Price: 💰💰💰

Are you into retro gaming? Need something for a console with a pre-HDMI interface for your older consoles? The StarTech.com HDMI Video Capture Device supports HDMI, DVI, VGA, and Component video input sources, making it the best capture card for old consoles. It even works with SCART RGB if you buy a with a SCART-VGA cable.

You aren’t going to be able to stream your retro console’s video in true high definition without an expensive upscaler like the Micomsoft Framemeister XRGB-Mini, but the StarTech.com HDMI Video Capture Device is the next best thing.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Good video quality
  • Uses USB 3.0 for low latency connectivity
  • Multiple different input sources for a variety of retro consoles
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Over $150
  • Cheap USB cable
  • Driver issues cause blue screen to crop up repeatedly

Capture Card Guide Part I: The Basics

Capture Cards

Capture Card Terms

Here are a few key terms you’ll need to know when learning about capture cards:

  • Capture: The process of capturing live video and audio in analog composite video, RF modulated video, S-video, or digital video such as SDI (Serial Digital Interface) or HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface).
  • Record: The process of recording video and/or audio in digital data (in the form of a media file) that is compatible with your computer.
  • Stream: The process of transmitting and receiving data over a network as a constant, continuous flow.
  • Encode: The process of converting raw sequences of characters into a coded form. CPU encoding to H.264 is one of the most commonly used formats of video content.
  • Broadcast: The process of distributing and sharing video and/or audio content with an audience via any electronic mass communication medium.

Many gamers want to get their gameplay on YouTube or Twitch, whether it be for fame, fortune, fun, or the women (or men).

The best capture cards come into play by helping gamers achieve their goals, providing them with a variety of broadcasting and recording options. Most commonly, capture cards are used by gamers to record themselves playing a game. Either they stream this content or save it for later. Some creative gamers will even do cool editing and whatnot, then upload the finished video to sites like YouTube and Twitch.

They then use these platforms to provide walk-through game videos, gameplay highlights, game reviews, and other creative content.

Pretty cool, right? Let’s learn more about the benefits of capture cards.

Capture Card Benefits

Capture cards give you more freedom and control over your recorded and streamed footage. Other benefits include:

  • Better game performance while recording
  • Versatile file formatting
  • Uploading to social media outlets
  • Personalize and edit game footage
  • Customize your stream’s experience for your viewers.

It is important to note that the quality of the video you capture is reliant on the source you are recording from. Obviously, there’s going to be a big difference between capturing N64 footage vs. capturing gameplay from a PS5. Additionally, quality is impacted by whether you’re using a high definition or standard definition connection.

Capture cards usually come bundled together with game capture software. Some of this software is useful, and some of it frankly sucks. The better software can assist you in recording, setting up a gameplay library, and customize your Twitch channel. It may also help you in recording voice commentary along with the in-game footage when producing videos.

For streamers, there are free and paid streaming software options. We have a list of the most popular software here.

OBS
OBS Studio in Action

For those of you with PS5 and Xbox Series X|S consoles, there are built-in recording features in both of these consoles. They don’t come without severe limitations, however. Big console streamers and YouTubers are still choosing to use game capture devices over the built-in software. This is because they need more options and freedom than what Sony and Microsoft offer.

Two parts of streaming that require significant computer resources are capturing and encoding. Video encoding is an extremely CPU-intensive task, while capturing is relatively low impact. But for both instances, game capture cards are a useful tool to help get these tasks done efficiently.

Setting Up a Capture Card

It’s good to know what you’re getting into before buying one of these cards. In the image below, you can see what a reasonably standard setup looks like.

Setting Up a Capture Card

Minimum System & Connection Requirements

  • Solid Upload Speed: ~ 5mb/sec for 720p & 10mb/sec for 1080p
  • PC or Console: ~ i5 or i7 Processor PC or 8th gen console
  • 2 HDMI Cables
  • USB Cable

Setting up one of these capture cards might sound like more trouble than it’s worth. Especially when there are easy options like the “share” button on the PS4.

We understand that argument. But using a capture card combined with powerful streaming software is the best way to turn heads. It gives you complete control over your stream.

Think about it. You’ll be able to display custom graphics and intros, show scoreboards, show chats, insert multiple cameras, and re-position screens. And that’s just a taste of you can look forward to!

A new console or PC gives you the power to stream. Using dedicated streaming hardware and software gives you the ability to make a production.

Capture Card Guide Part II: Types of Capture Cards

There are two main types of capture cards: internal and external. A capture card is installed in one of two ways. Internally, by installing it in a free expansion slot. Or externally, connected via a USB or thunderbolt connection to a computer. Depending on the device and what you are capturing, you will be using HDMI cables, component cables, or DVI cables.

External Capture Cards

External CC

External capture devices are small capture cards protected by a hard case. The nice thing about external capture cards is that you can use them with numerous computers. They are portable, and you can move your card from room to room or even take it over to your buddy’s house.

How do external capture cards work? External capture devices capture and record gameplay without a computer, using their own internal storage, a memory card, or an external HD to record footage.

These types of cards come in HD and standard definition.

Internal Capture Cards

Internal Capture Card

Internal capture cards are typically designed for intensive use. Many gamers report much more success and reliability from these types of capture cards, though external cards have improved in recent years.

Install an internal card into a PCIe slot, and you don’t have to worry about your CPU and GPU getting overworked. That’s because internal capture cards reduce FPS spikes by taking the recording load off of your hardware. Many dedicated PC streamers install an internal capture card to their secondary streaming computer.

Capture Card Comparison

External. Portability is a wonderful thing, particularly with game capture devices. Move your capture card from room to room, or take it with you on the go. Moreover, some external capture cards have built-in internal memory, SD card slots, or the option to connect an external HD and record to there (or some combination of those features). If you’re a console gamer and you can’t get a PC/laptop close to your console set up, this is the way to go.

Internal. It is important to note that you will need an open PCIe slot to install an internal capture card. These are best for those gamers doing strictly PC gaming, but they work for consoles too (if you can get a desktop PC close to your console). These really shine in a two-system streaming setup, where one of your computers is a dedicated streaming machine.

Capture Card Guide Part III: Do I Even Need a Video Game Capture Card?

Streaming on PC

There is a lot of conflicting information out there surrounding these devices. Uneducated consumers and misleading advertising contribute to this problem.

Furthermore, the devices themselves are complex. When you get into the realm of broadcasting, recording, encoding, capturing, and all the other technical jargon, things can get complicated. On top of that, you have dozens of opinions on which is the best capture card. Whatever the case, we are going to simplify this complex subject.

In general, game capture devices are of the most benefit to console gamers. Even with the newest consoles, there are limitations to how much game footage you can capture and what you can do with it.

Capture cards may call for a more complicated setup initially, but they open the door to having more control over your recordings. Capture cards will also aid you in setting up a professional, high-quality video stream. This is an excellent way to distinguish yourself from the multitudes of other streamers, and it becomes easier to personalize your stream. Furthermore, high-definition at 60 FPS will provide a much smoother viewing experience.

We are going to break it down by gaming system to help you decide whether you need one.

PC

NZXT PC

You don’t need a capture card to stream or record your games on PC. All you need is broadcasting software (OBS, XSplit etc.) and a beefy system. That said, capture cards can come in handy, depending on your setup. There are two main categories of PC streamers: single system and dual system.

Single System

If you have a cutting edge system with a powerful GPU and CPU, you’ll be just fine using screen recorder software to capture and record your game footage.

Want to know why? Check out this post on the OBS Project Forum (OBS is the gold standard in open-source recording software) by Moderator Krazy:

Capture cards in single PC setups are pretty much completely useless unless you intend to do the encoding with the hardware encoder on the card, but the quality on anything under 200 bucks is going to be completely horrible.

OBS can’t use most of the hardware encoders anyway (not that you want to), so all encoding is still going to be done by your CPU. The built-in capture methods in OBS are already as efficient as possible, so the only way to lower streaming impact without losing quality is to build a second, dedicated streaming PC and use the capture card to grab the image from your gaming rig.

Mod Krazy

This is why, for single system streamers, your money is probably better spent on a more powerful CPU.

Dual Systems

The situation where investing in a capture card makes the most amount of sense is when individuals desire the ultimate solution: having a second PC that handles all the streaming.

A capture device helps you connect this second PC to your primary PC, which allows you to maintain optimal performance on your gaming rig. This is particularly important for competitive gamers, e.g., those who need to play at a competitive FPS rate, capture & record, AND stream simultaneously.

This is how two system setups work. Your primary computer is the dedicated gaming machine that outputs it’s video to the capture card. The second PC with the capture card works as an encoding/streaming machine only. For those of you with lower-end systems, you have two options. Buy/build a costly ultra-gaming machine or get a secondary streaming computer and a capture card.

Getting this set up can take some time, but it is worth it if you plan on using it a lot. The game capture unit is installed on the second PC. The second PC captures what is happening on the first PC. Consequently, the gaming PC is not affected by the heavy CPU-intensive encoding tasks when streaming. This helps you maintain a stable FPS rate when playing, recording, and streaming at the same time.

That’s because recording and compression work is done by the capture card and second computer, not by the main gaming computer’s CPU. This lowers your primary computer’s load, focusing all its resources on the game you’re playing. Therefore, a capture card is beneficial in a two-system setup.

Consoles

Consoles are where capture cards really shine. Here’s are just a few of the ways capture cards enhance your console-playing experience:

  • Stream in higher quality (consoles stream in low bitrates)
  • Use custom overlays & brand your stream to set yourself apart from other streamers
  • Retain viewers with a lag-free, high-quality stream
  • Easily create and manage a video clip library on external storage

Now, let’s take a look at streaming on PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

PlayStation 4/5

PS5
Image Credit: PlayStation

PlayStation gamers will benefit significantly from a capture card. That’s because capture devices give you more flexibility and help you do all the extra fancy stuff. Instead of using Sony’s limited software, you’ll transfer footage to your laptop or PC, where you can create a stream and/or record and edit gameplay footage.

Streaming

Let’s go over what Sony has done right. Streaming is easy and quick with PS4/PS5 software, as you can stream directly to Twitch. After all, there’s a “share” button right on the controller. All you need to do is link your account, give your channel/stream a title, and then select “Start Broadcast” after hitting the share button on the controller.

Recording

PlayStation has some nifty built-in software that records up to 15 minutes of gameplay at a time. The downside is, well, its only 15 minutes of gameplay.

Once again, the Share Button is the first step to getting the job done.
Simply double-tap the button to begin recording. Then use Sony’s built-in video editor called Share Factory to get the footage ready for posting.

Ready to export those clips? Follow these simple steps:

  1. Plug an external memory unit into the PS4.
  2. Use the Capture Gallery feature.
  3. Select Options
  4. Choose to copy the video to USB.

Easy but monotonous.

Obviously, having a game capture card will enable you to sidestep much of this hassle and give you more versatility when managing your gameplay footage. Also, you’ll not have to keep hitting “start recording” after every 15 minutes.

Xbox One & Series X|S

XSX
Image Credit: Xbox

Like the PlayStation, a game capture device is going to give you more flexibility when working with your gameplay footage. It will provide you with more control over your streams and recordings.

As is the case with Sony, using a capture card lets you step outside Microsoft’s limits. You’ll be able to capture an unlimited amount of footage and send it to your laptop or PC, where you can then stream, record, edit, etc.

Streaming

Broadcasting is baked into the Xbox. Twitch direct broadcasting is available. As with the PlayStation, it is a simple setup:

  1. Open the Twitch App on the Xbox
  2. Select login
  3. Open twitch.tv
  4. Activate on your phone or computer
  5. Enter the six-digit code on your TV to link the accounts

Now all you have to do is select the “Broadcast” tile to start streaming.

Recording

The Xbox also has a built-in “Game DVR.” The Game DVR allows you to record a clip of up to 5 minutes. When you’re ready to record, go to snap an app and select start recording. When you’re done, choose stop recording. You can view these recordings in Show My Clips.

You can then edit these clips using the Upload Studio. And if you want to transfer the videos to your PC, you can use the OneDrive app on your Xbox.

Unfortunately, these recording features come with even more limitations than the PlayStation. If you’re looking to do some serious recording, it is going to be a pain in the ass stringing together 5-minute videos. You can begin to see where a capture card comes in handy.

PS3, Xbox 360, and Older Consoles

If you do not have a newer PlayStation or Xbox, you will need a capture card to stream your games. Game capture devices are going to be the only route for PS3 and Xbox 360 gamers. This generation of consoles and those preceding it are not capable of recording or streaming gameplay. They do not have built-in recording tools like the Xbox One and PS4. Having a capture card is the only way to capture, record, and get streams set up with older consoles.

Capture cards are the required middleman to get the gameplay footage from your console to PC to Twitch. You will also need broadcast software such as Xsplit, FFSplit, Wirecast, or one of the other options out there.

Capture Card Guide Part IV: Technical Issues with Capture Cards

Generally, if you are using relatively new capture card products with more modern electronics, you’re not going to run into any issues. Just don’t expect HD quality without an HD ready device and HDMI cable.

While capture technology isn’t brand new, it isn’t old either. Manufacturers are still perfecting their products. Audio and video quality results will vary, particularly with older components and televisions.

When issues do pop up, it’s usually user-error. Maybe their old TV doesn’t have an HDMI port, or something like that. Whatever the case, the fact of the matter is there are 1000’s of TVs, different formats, and other electronic devices out there. Creating a device that is perfectly compatible with all of them is a tall order.

You’ll always want to check the required system specifications before buying a capture card. Follow the directions that come with the device, and take your time setting things up. If you get stuck, there are YouTube videos covering most brands of capture cards and the typical setups. If all else fails, you can get in touch with the support service backing your capture card and do some troubleshooting.

HighGroundGaming_highGroundView_br

Related Reading