Buying Guide for Best Capture Card in 2018

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Best Capture Card

The development of technologies that enable high definition video quality today may perhaps be the most following update that we could ever have in recording visual media. It has become so universal and ubiquitous, to the point that it is now an indispensable part of sharing gaming experiences with others.

In other words, a capture card is a must for the active social gamer of today. That being said, the choice to get the best or optimal capture card available for your gaming rig can be confusing at best, even daunting at worst.

Moreover, so, we are here to give you the comprehensive guide on what video capture devices are today, as well as the buying guide to choose the best capture card in 2018 that suitable for your preferences and gaming style.

What Does a Video Capture Card Do?

The purpose of a Video Capture Card
Record video session with the best quality is a purpose of a capture card

Video capture cards are primarily designed to preserve and record any video session with the quality that is near or utterly native to the original recording. This is the reason why most capture cards today have a minimum requirement of being able to at least record with 1080p, with some users even strictly requiring their capture cards to record in 60fps.

Specific purposes may vary, such as when you want to capture the moment of that football game in great high frame rate realistic feel. The same also applies when you merely wish to buttery smooth replications of your game sessions, to be used as upload material for websites such as YouTube.

Video capture cards are, of course, designed with dedicated recording hardware within them. Mostly, these devices are capable of doing their own recording business when you are in the middle of your gaming session, which means your PC or console does not have to take the load of having to record your gaming during play.

This also usually means that this video device is possible on any setup if in case you are using different consoles and visual output peripherals. Do take note, however, that some options might be unavailable by default. The console you are using might be different from the setup you might wish to have.

Generally, if you want the highest quality of recorded footage possible for a console, or if you want a universal recording medium that uses different gaming setups on the fly, then a video capture card is highly recommended. Not only this will save you the trouble of having to upgrade your hardware, but you can even reconfigure the separate device if you need to use it on another unit.

How Does Video Capture Cards Work?

Video capture cards work by receiving a GPU’s input data. Whatever the GPU transfers to directly display on an output device, it also transfers to the video capture card. This way, quality is preserved, as what you get is the direct raw data of the processed visuals, instead of just recording what was already outputted.

Aside from receiving input data, the card can also automatically encode the data to the pre-set video container format, and to save on a storage medium. As for streaming setups, the GPU’s transferred data is further processed to be uploaded via the internet, to be automatically encoded and displayed to whatever format the streaming system or service uses.

Encoding is an essential part of a capture card’s operation, as it determines whether:

  • Your videos are going to be saved in a specific container format.
  • Will use video compression to save data storage space.
  • If the recorded session will sustain a net quality loss and produce visual/audio artifacts.

The H.264 video encoding compression standard is the default encoding used in almost all video capture cards. If you see this feature, do not worry, this will not significantly reduce the quality of your recorded footage. In fact, getting your files saved in MP4 format using this compression standard may be an important feature that you would like to use in order for you to save a whole lot of sessions at one without running out of data storage space.

Type of Capture Cards: Internal VS External

Capture cards come in two main categories: Internal and External. The first and the most common are external capture cards.

As described earlier, external capture cards are relatively small devices, often connecting in between the output peripheral and gaming console and onto another PC.

Internal capture cards, on the other hand, connect directly via a PC’s PCI-e (PCI Express) slot, integrating itself into the unit’s motherboard for more direct data processing.

The choice of going internal and external is mostly a no-brainer. If you want a stand-alone device or something you can use across machines, use externally. If you want a dedicated PC that can connect to other units for game footage recording, go internal.

The difference between external and internal capture device

You may, however, want to go internal for one or more of the following specific reasons:

Data Transfer Speeds

For encoding purposes, a PCI-e connection remains faster than USB 3.2, enabling far more leniency for higher quality video recording.

Streaming

By the same vein, internal cards also excel better at reducing latency streaming between broadcasts, due to the amount of video data that can be direct processes at a given moment.

No built-in input

PCs typically do not have video data ports like HDMI, unless a GPU is connected, or the motherboard supports an internal GPU-enabled processor. The internal capture cards act as a direct medium for video data transfer.

High-end setups

Most of the highest quality and most expensive setups fall under the category of internal capture cards. This is mainly due to reason no. 1 (data transfer speeds), but also due to the full versatility of being able to use PC hardware resources for these type of recording sessions.

Keep in mind that internal capture cards are installed on a PC to use that PC to record game sessions from multiple machines. For budgetary and efficiency (level of quality versus the number of funds spent) recommendations, a recording software supported by a more robust hardware combo would usually suffice if using the same PC.

Our Top Choice Capture Cards in 2018

Finally, we arrive at the actual brands and models that we recommend for capturing your gaming sessions. Please take note that this list is presented in no particular order. Also, some may be wholly similar to others depending on the simplicity of your setup, and as such you may simply consider at each of the more budget friendly models purely in terms of price.

Product NameResolution & FPSType
Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro1080p 60fpsInternal
AVerMedia Live Gamer HD 21080p 60fpsInternal
Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition1080p 30fps, 720p 60fpsExternal
Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro

1080p 60/144fps, 1440p 60/144fps
4K 60fps
Internal
AverMedia Live Gamer Extreme
1080p 60fpExternal
Roxio Game Capture HD Pro

1080p 30fpsExternal
Razer Ripsaw1080p 60fpsExternal
AGPTek HDMI/YPBPR

1080p 30fpsExternal
MiraBox USB 3.0

1080p 60fpsExternal
StarTech HDMI USB3HDCAP
1080p 60fpsExternal

1. Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro – Best for PS4, XBOX or Nintendo Switch

Elgato Game Capture HD60 ProThe Elgato HD60 Pro continues the trend of its known brand with its reliability, simplicity, and ease of setup. This particular model is internal, which means it connects via a PC’s PCI-e slot. This means that like the Elgato HD60 S, it immediately negates the worst negative aspect of the old HD60: the usage of an old, slower port.

Of course, with a PCI-e slot, internal processing hardware, and PC mobo integration, the HD60 Pro can potentially outperform even the HD60 S in some setups.

The HD60 Pro has a built-in H.264 hardware encoder, allowing users to record many sessions without worrying too much about editing huge files after or in-between sessions. It should also be noted that this particular model provides the highest bitrates out of all Elgato capture devices so far, at 60 Mbps as opposed to the typical 45 or 30 Mbps from the HD60 S and HD60 respectively. Of course, this may not be an issue if you want HD 60fps recordings, but the higher detail is always welcome for Alltop-end streaming sessions that some gamers might want to optimize.

As for its external design, the HD 60 Pro is just as jet black as any other Elgato capture card, minus the rounded edges, with a very minimal profile that is built to keep your mobo space relatively free.

The Elgato HD60 Pro is one of the best choices out there, an all-in-one solution for all your game session streaming and recording needs.

Main Features:

  • 1080p 60fps recording enabled
  • Up to 60 Mbps (highest for 1080p Elgato cards so far)
  • Great software customization for overlays and simulcast camera feeds
  • Built-in live commentary feature
Pros
  • Very solid, reliable performance
  • Plenty of Stream customization options
Cons
  • Windows 10, 64-bit only
  • No native old connectors/ports support

2. AVerMedia Live Gamer HD 2 – Plug and Play With Very Huge Software Improvement

AVerMedia Live Gamer HD 2With the massive success of its predecessor, the Live Gamer HD 2 tries to deliver once again the HD plug and play features to even better specifications, as well as control options. Like the first Live Gamer HD and Live Gamer Portable, it is an internal type capture card, primarily designed to lighten a load of encoding and recording of game video media away from the PC it is connected.

Performance-wise, and with a very minimum specification requirement for your PC, the Live Gamer HD 2 delivers that straight 1080p 60fps recording goodness on any modern setup that you have. While its bitrate outputs at the technical HD recording standard of 60 Mbps, by using other software such as OBS, this can be bumped into as high as 1.4 Gbps. This is of course, not needed if you need something to use on streaming sessions or to upload to websites such as YouTube, the difference is entirely not discernible.

Unlike the Elgato HD60 Pro, however, the hardware itself is not as low profile, with a large block and tiled grate design. It is possible that the size of the card may block other slots in case you are planning to use other PCI-e devices, so be forewarned. The blue LED is a nice touch to add on anyone’s CPU, but the lack of configuration for it may just be a little bit unsettling for a few more tech-savvy users.

Important note

When using Live Gamer HD 2 with other video preview and streaming software, remember not to switch the default audio device setting (us the Stream Engine), this should prevent any audio-video syncing issues.

Main Features:

  • 1080 60fps recording enabled
  • Up to 60 Mbps bitrate for compressed video
  • No drivers required
  • Easy integration with other streaming/recording editing software
  • RECentral 3.0 proprietary software much cleaner than the previous
Pros
  • Plug and play
  • Can use multiple cards directly
  • Huge software improvement
Cons
  • Maybe visually disturbing for non-blue LED PC setups
  • No Linux support

3. Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition – With Physical Instant Record Feature

Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition

The first thing that instantly noticeable is its size. The HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition sports are slightly larger profile than other capture cards in this list, making it very much more visually prominent on your game recording setup. In reality, however, this version is so much more slimmed down than its predecessor, the old HD PVR, which honestly literally be mistaken for some old century 90s CD player.

Much like the Razer Ripsaw, the HD PVR 2 also sports a good number of default alternative connectors, particularly component cables, which has its second adapters to be connected on its port on the device. This is a significant departure from its predecessor, which, as an older generation capture device, still had every single analog input port on both sides of the invention.

As for its recording, the HD PVR 2 provides different alternative setups for the same console or system, depending on whether the game will be streamed or will simply be recorded. The output is mostly good enough, baseline HD video as it is, with a big button on the top corner that doubles as an instant record button. However, a few tweaks might be needed to optimize brightness levels of recorded sessions, depending on both the console used and the title that will be played for that particular session.

While this newer version is now built to contend with more modern capture cards on the market, the HD PVR 2 unfortunately still suffers from the same “black line syndrome” of the old HD PVR. Thankfully, this is far less prominent and is only actually visible when you carefully edit your recorded sessions on close-up via its proprietary editing software.

Oh, and do note that the HD PVR 2 requires a separate power connection from an outlet, which might be a significant factor in tidying up your recording setups.

Main Features:

  • 1080p 30fps, 720p 60fps recording enabled (set console to matching setting)
  • Instant record button
  • Dedicated component port
Pros
  • Physical instant record feature
  • Direct component port input
  • All-purpose generic recorder
Cons
  • Bulkier than the competition
  • 30fps only at 1080p

4. AverMedia Live Gamer Extreme – High Compatibility with Older Consoles

AverMedia Live Gamer ExtremeThis one is a bit of an older model from the Live Gamer line of capture cards. It takes one side step from the first Live Gamer HD, being that it is an external type and not an internal PCI-e peripheral, but more or less has similar specifications and overall performance. Take it as the portable, plug and play version.

The outer shell of the device makes it seem like it’s a device meant to be plugged somewhere on your motherboard, with all the sharp, straight lines and adjustable front panel. It indeed is not as sleek as the Ripsaw, but it has a profile that is minimal enough to compete with Elgato capture cards.

On the software side, unfortunately, the Live Gamer Extreme still uses the old RECentral 2.0 proprietary record preview software. This particular version of the software is known to have several bugs that cause the program to abruptly cut the signal from the output device, or merely crash altogether. That being said, this has since been addressed with a software version update, though some of the minor hiccups persist.

For optimal usage, it is recommended to record sessions with this particular capture device as you would with the Ripsaw: by opening other third-party recording/streaming software.

Otherwise, the performance of the card itself is excellent, records at full HD 1080p 60fps as it is initially designed for, and has direct compatibility too much older game consoles. Though, at the same price as the RazerRipsaw, it might be far less appealing than other cards of the same category with half or even less the cost.

Main Features:

  • 1080p 60fp recording enabled
  • Native support for much older consoles
  • Several streaming customization options
  • USB 3.0 connection
Pros
  • Straight to console compatibility
  • Top, high-end performance- No default multiple audio track configuration
  • Physically customizable
Cons
  • Bad Proprietary software

5. Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro – Best for 4K Games

Elgato Game Capture 4K60 ProLast but not the least, and perhaps the best one out of everything on this list, is the Elgato Capture 4K60 Pro. Think of it as the HD60 Pro, but beefed up twice its record scaling capabilities and features.

4K is the name of the game for this internal capture card, though that is already obvious from its name. This makes it perfectly compatible for PS4 and Xbox One, both consoles that now have native 4K resolution support.

From 60 Mbps, the maximum bitrate for the 4K60 Pro is now bumped more than double to 140 Mbps. Be warned, however, as the 140 Mbps bitrate can eat up huge chunks of your hard drive data (60 GB per hour) if you’re not careful enough. Thankfully, this isn’t strictly required once again and is only a perk that should be taken by the most savvy players. 35 Mbps may well be just as good as the maximum 60 Mbps of 1080 Elgato cards if you intend to share your videos online.

The 4K60 Pro’s 4K suite provides lots of customization options, as with any popular Elgato proprietary software. However, aside from 4K, this capture card also provides enhanced recording options for 1080p and 1440p resolutions, namely in the form of an amped frame rate recording to 144fps.

If you plan to record 1080p gaming sessions on consoles that do not have 4K resolution features, there is no need to change the settings on the proprietary software before recording. Do take note, however, that the 4K60 Pro will not upscale your 1080p sessions to 4K, and will stream or save it in the appropriate resolution format.

The price to get all of this capture recording swag? $400. At the double the cost of the best contenders on this list, this isn’t your average game capture card.

Now before you complain, other tickets that can provide the same features are usually priced even higher, almost costing as much as an average Mac. So the 4K60 Pro is the budget version of these high-end models. Also, the same reason why it was able to take a spot in this list in the first place.

Important note

Do not purchase the 4K60 Pro if you intend to use it as a bridging capture card unit before you upgrade. As per its 4K recording features, it requires relatively higher specs for the PC that it will connect.

Main Features:

  • 1080p 60/144fps, 1440p 60/144fps, 4K 60fps recording enabled
  • Up to 140 Mbps bitrates
  • Great software customization for overlays and simulcast camera feeds
  • Default 4K suite
Pros
  • Support 4K resolution Up to 2160p at 60fps
  • Best “budget” high-end capture card
  • Blows the rest of the mid-range competition
  • 1080p and 1440p recordings at 144fps
Cons
  • High-end card, high-end PC specs
  • “Pricey” as a 1080p 60fps capture card
  • Still no other alternative ports, new or old

6. Roxio HD Pro – Affordable One

Roxio Game Capture HD PRO

The third of our budget model for this list, the Roxio HD Pro’s main competing point is its relative compatibility. Because like its predecessor, it is often promoted by its user base as a PS3 and Xbox 360 game capture device, and with its connection ports alone, you can see how this description became ultimately prevalent.

Take a step away from the typical boxed design of external cards, the Roxio HD Pro gets this circular edge on the side, engraved with what seems to be a “go” or “play” button. All inputs go to the back side, while all outputs go out front. It is powered by the same cable it uses to transfer data, so no need for an extra outlet plug.

Its performance is solid and definitive, but not as good as any of the other contenders listed here. It is more than adequate for any HD needs you may have. Eclipsed by the likes of the Live Gamer Extreme, but that may not even be noticeable since you would most likely use this capture card for consoles only one generation older than the current.

The proprietary software is nothing to write home about, no particular configurations, just the necessary quality, and data type tweaks. Don’t worry about this though. It is adequate and very stable to provide most of the vital things needed for each recording session.

One thing you may want to note is that since connections run on both sides for the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro, setup may be a bit messier than usual. Be prepared to trim much space to get those wires neat and clean.

Main Features:

  • 1080p 30fps recording enabled
  • Native component inputs
  • Optimized for the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles
  • Auto-share features reminiscent of higher-end models
Pros
  • Excellent PS3 and Xbox 360 capture card
  • Native component inputs – can be a bit messy to setup
  • Competitive price point
Cons
  • Very usable, but not optimized for anything else

7. Razer Ripsaw – The Ultra Low Latency Capture Device

Razer RipsawBeing the known gaming tech brand as they are, Razer, of course, has also released their gaming capture card in the form of Ripsaw. Sporting a design that is more reminiscent of an external HDD rather than just looking like a considerable port adapter, the Razer Ripsaw never fails always to give that premium feel.

A USB 3.0 port supplements the connection port to your recording unit (PC), and aside from HDMI, it has its own native component cable port, so no need to use adapters when recording on older consoles. The Ripsaw doesn’t have its recording/streaming software, so you need to prepare something like XSplit or OBS to provide this feature.

Not a crippling issue and this may be a plus if you consider this slightly weird design option as an open feature, since if it does have its software, it may use a compressed version of the video by default instead of recording lossless HD right on the onset. Performance-wise it is as you’d expect from an almost $200 product, with a very low-latency transfer of video data, to the point that you can even play your game on the preview screen of your other unit with no discernible lag.

Setting it up is also mostly clean and tidy, with most of the ports facing one side like the [other names]. Its complete black design allows it to blend easily on your gaming system, with a nifty rubber bottom to prevent accidental sliding.

Most conveniently, however, is that the Razer Ripsaw also provides an assortment of different cables and port adapters by default. No need to buy separate converters for multi-unit setups!

Main Features:

  • 1080p 60fps recording enabled
  • USB 3.0 connection
  • Various cable accessories (HDMI, USB 3.0, component AV/multi, and audio cable)
Pros
  • Compatible with Windows 7
  • Complete cable accessory line-up
  • Direct external audio recording
  • Direct component port input
Cons
  • Display port strangely missing
  • Similar hardware to Live Gamer HD

8. AGPTek HDMI/YPBPR – Affordable Capture Card

AGPTek HDMI Affordable Game CaptureAnother somewhat unknown brand, the AGPTek Recorder Capture Device doesn’t attempt to set itself apart with stunning software integration or multi-compatibility. Instead, it merely does what it does, record gaming footage, all at a package that is very much affordable to the casual user.

The outer design of this device reeks of mediocrity, good quality but feels cheaper than most brands. Don’t let that fool you, however, because it is simple reliable regarding operation and usage simplicity. Just plug it to the output peripheral, connect a storage device that can easily be powered (such as a USB flash disk), and then hit the big red record button. Press the same switch, and your session is complete.

Customization-wise, this seems like a negative point, since the lack of software may leave more PC savvy users feeling that the product is subpar. However, if you want a straightforward device you can use to record any game footage that you may have instantly, then the AGPTek Recorder Capture Device may be the go-to capture card for you.

Ports-wise, the connections are distributed on the front and back. USB and audio connectors at the front, HDMI and power at the back. A separate outlet provides power.

Warning

When finishing recording sessions, please wait for the indicator light to turn steady green. You may risk losing the recorded data or even causing errors on the storage media if you don’t wait for the file to be saved entirely.

Main Features:

  • 1080p 30fps recording enabled
  • 18Mbps max bitrate
  • Direct to storage media capture
Pros
  • Plug and play- Saves directly to storage media (means no software)
  • Saves directly to storage media
  • Very affordable
Cons
  • Configuration not directly possible
  • Not support for live streaming

9. MiraBox USB 3.0 – With Zero Latency HDMI

MiraBox USB 3.0The Mirabox HDMI Capture Card is the last of the budget competitive models on this list and is perhaps the simplest one to set up. Again, don’t be fooled by the lower price and ugly visuals, as it is a nice viable option for anyone who wants a reliable, 1080p HD recording/streaming card that doesn’t need the hassle of getting into specific (but sometimes additional) optimization tweaks.

The design for this particular device makes it seem like a battery pack. Sporting only three ports, HDMI in/out, and a USB 3.0 port, it is almost as if it is an internal card built as an external one. This minimalist design even rivaling the already relatively plug and play AGPTek Recorder Capture Device.

The feature that sets it completely apart from its budget competition, however, is its native capability to record and stream at 60fps. So, even it is widely advertised as a straightforward general purpose screen recording device, and it can still deliver the needed performance for HD gaming sessions.

Theoretically at least. For any over the network connection, it will put an unusually heavy strain on your network’s existing bandwidth. The issue would usually result in choppy data transfer rates from the USB port but can extend to other devices (communication lag, network hogging, etc.) depending on the setup.

If you intend to use it directly as a recording device or a direct video output extender, or as a cheap capture card for Linux users, then it’s a great device to plug and play.

Main Features:

  • 1080p 60fps recording enabled
  • USB 3.0 connection
  • “Zero latency” HDMI loop out
  • Compatibility for Linux and Mac
Pros
  • Budget 1080p 60fps capture card
  • Very minimalist port layout
  • Doubles as a plug and play mirror display medium
Cons
  • Causes network issues if not set up properly
  • Multiple setup instructions can be confusing

10. StarTech HDMI USB3HDCAP – With USB + HDMI DVI VGA

StarTech HDMI Video Capture DeviceAt a glance, this generic brand looking capture card seems to be wholly unfit for this top list, but don’t underestimate it just yet. The StarTech HDMI Video Capture Device excels at that every single thing it is designed for retro-compatibility.

That’s right; this device is mostly made to optimize and bring out the best picture quality for all of your retro gaming needs. As such, even though it is just as capable of displaying games in 1080p 60fps that is not its biggest priority. It yet has a DVI port, something that you would perhaps never see on any other capture card ever.

Of course, because it can optimize itself to play older consoles, you as the user should manually set all of the pre-sets necessary to accurately record the particular console that you need to set up. Hopefully, this can be saved, loaded and used on the fly as you switch consoles, but this also depends on the software you are planning to use. As such, the StarTech HDMI Video Capture Device is not for the not-so-tech-savvy retro gamer.

However, then, if you want to use it to record modern HD games at 1080p 60fps, then this device is more or less equivalent to a plug and play capture card. No other particular configurations necessary unless you want to tweak something appropriate. It would record and stream sessions like any other top of the line capture device that is available on this list.

Interestingly, the core hardware of the StarTech HDMI Capture Device is weirdly similar to the Elgato HD60 S, which isn’t built for older generation machines. This puts into question why Elgato did not make the HD60 S with retro-compatibility in mind in the first place.

Warning

The StarTech HDMI Capture Device requires a somewhat specific driver setup process before it can be used safely without constant BSOD errors. Check for more details other mainstream sources of capture device information.

Main Features:

  • 1080p 60fps recording enabled
  • Lots of older video input ports
  • USB 3.0 connection
Pros
  • Optimized for retro gaming
  • Has a DVI port for older PC setups
  • Good for retro but still great for modern gaming
Cons
  • Risky driver setup
  • No output connection

Basic Pointers in Buying a Capture Card

Now that we know the basics of what capture cards are, how they typically work, and how they are usually set up, we’ll move into our main buying guide. To start, we’ll first restate the differences between the two main types of these cards:

Internal Cards
  • Connects to a PC’s PCI-e slot
  • Which means, it uses a bit of that specific PCs hardware resources
  • Mostly used for better streaming due to higher potential data transfer rates
  • This is where most top-end capture cards are available
External Cards
  • Connects in the middle between the output peripheral and console/PC
  • The default option for almost any setup
  • Not necessary for recording PC gaming
  • Better for recording and saving sessions to the desired video container format
  • This is the primary type of capture card for entry-level and mid-tier models.

Your Internet Connection

Not much of a technical requirement to capture cards themselves, but is very important when streaming your sessions live. Especially since these devices typically connect to PCs with either proprietary or generic software (such as Open Broadcaster Software) that provides a secondary preview of the streamed footage.

Be sure that the bandwidth of maximum data rate of your Internet connection is way more than the level of quality of your streamed footage. It also needs to be stable and uninterrupted.

Additionally, another reason why your Internet connection may also be necessary is that your recorded sessions might be saved in an uncompressed lossless HD format. These formats, especially those in 1440p and 4K, are specific to be way more significant than standard files of regular 720p and 1080p HD varieties, most especially when using very high bitrates (80 to 100+ Mbps) and high frame rates (60, 90, and 144fps).

Your Gaming Platform

Depending on your gaming platform, the configuration for you card, or whether you would even want a capture card in the first place would vastly differ. That being said, here are a few specific pointers for each primary gaming platform you are going to use:

PC

As mentioned earlier,these video cards are not strictly required for PCs, since recording software already covers the minimum video quality and fidelity requirements. That is unless, you are using it as a streaming medium for another console and PC, in which case internal capture cards might be the better choice.

PlayStation 4

A product of our modern Internet-centric era, the PlayStation 4 boasts a few automated media sharing perks that you can use to record or stream your game sessions, all with the press of that convenient share button. Do keep in mind, however, that the maximum recording time for the PS4’s default software is one hour (set at 15 minutes by default). Also, please don’t forget to turn off the HDCP by toggling it on the options menu, or else none of your game capture will work.

Xbox One

Another contender with similar-ish online media option designs, the Xbox One can also handle both streaming and recording for all your gaming session capture needs. Even worse than the PS4, the Xbox One can only record up to five minutes of your gameplay, making a capture card even more necessary when you want to go beyond just streaming game sessions. Oh, and the Xbox One doesn’t have any HDCP features, so go ahead and plug any game capture to your heart’s content.

Nintendo Switch

While the Switch never had any video capture features by default, one was finally implemented for it last year via a software update. To activate this feature, you need to hold the screen capture button to record and a whopping 30 seconds of your playthrough. Nintendo seriously needs to consider these kinds of options shortly for its later generation consoles. Get a capture card for this one, period.

Last Generation Consoles (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii) – All of these consoles require the use of a capture card to record gaming footage. The setup is pretty much straightforward with the use of HDMI and component cable ports. Also, take note that there are specific capture cards that specialize in optimizing your recording experience with these consoles.

Old Generation Consoles (Sega Dreamcast, all the way down to NES)

Capture cards are again required, but you also need additional peripherals such as adapters/converters, usually direct AV port adapters, to convert the analog signal to HDMI, before routing it again to your capture card. There is strict no need for 60fps settings if you only plan to record on these consoles.

Semi, Combo, and Odd Consoles (Nvidia Shield TV or Retron 5)

These machines take a mention just in case since these are still technically game entertainment devices. As a general pointer, if the operating systems or firmware is modern, it might have its proprietary recording software. Anything else, use an external capture card.

WARNING!

The significantly lower resolution of older, more classic consoles puts it at default risk of incompatibility issues with certain capture cards. Please make sure that the desired resolution setup is available for the specific retro console you are planning to use. This usually only results in slightly deformed aspect ratios, but could potentially not allow users to record at all.

Lastly, a bit of a disclaimer for this section. This article is mainly for helping potential buyers choose which single unit capture card is best for your specific platform. If you plan to use a multi-system setup using two, three or even more consoles, or gaming rigs that are interconnected together, find another guide.

Budget

Like all other tech consumer devices, the cost of a capture card will vary greatly depending on features available, and its brand. Like all consumer tech products, the highest end ones will feature exorbitant prices ($800 – $1,000), that are mostly already way over the baseline of what you would need. Typically, there are three significant categories via price line:

$100 and below$150 to $200$400 to $600

The budget variety. These cards mostly feature only straightforward recoding features, with streaming at a minimum. Most of these are also limited to 1080p 30fps.

The standard cards. This is where most of the famous brand lines such as Elgato meet the needs of capture footage enthusiasts. 1080p 60fps is the standard fare here.

The high-end for mid-tier cards. These cards blow everything else out of the water within their product tier. Exceeding bitrates, 90fps and 144fps recording options reign supreme here. With these very basic price pointers, we hope that you should be able to gauge just how much exactly your capture card would be worth when compared to how it would be used for the given platform or setup that you have.

However, additional pointers may also include:

The minimum price for minimum use.

If you only have a limited number of platforms, or will use capture cards for more or less specific purposes that don’t involve both streaming and recording, somewhere around the official retail price point of $100 should be more than enough.

The ultra-high video, ultra-high specs.

Be prepared to have the receiving machine (the one where the software of your card will be run) with the similar specifications of your higher-end needs. 4K 60fps recording and editing, for example, requires an equivalent minimum of an Intel Core i7 2.3+ GHz CPU, and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU. Additional funding may be necessary to fulfill these specification requirements.

Live Streaming gaming sessions.

Broadcasting your live meetings in 4K or 1440p life consistently without quality or frame loss requires a perfect high-end capture card and setup to work. Be prepared to spend at the very least double the typical amount of any standard game capture setup.

Additional/Lesser devices and peripherals.

Capture cards usually connect directly to another PC to preview or edit the recorded or streamed video output. Some setups allow merely plugging in a storage device, such as a USB flash drive to record the session into a pre-set container format directly. This could lower down the overall setup cost, though be wary of other additional items you may need, such sound media tools, or converters or adapters.

How to Setup Capture Cards?

Setting up capture cards is usually straightforward. Typically, the proper sequence is:

  1. Plug the card in between the console and the output peripheral (TV). This is usually connected to the “In” HDMI port of your card.
  2. Plug the card’s USB on the target end unit can configure or record the footage This is usually just a USB connection through another PC that will use the proprietary software, but sometimes the data is just straight saved on a plug and play storage media.
  3. You can add more connections if you want the video data to be outputted on more peripherals. Make sure that the video data goes in the correct flow, with the correct ports.
  4. If you plan a recording session, edit the saved footage as needed on the proprietary software first, then on the corresponding video editing software second.
  5. For streamers, be sure that other audio video media devices are connected properly on the capture card, with the correct settings to ensure data sync.

A few variations of these five necessary steps will be required for different brands and specific models like sample in this video for Elgato HD60 Pro Capture Card Setup.

On older consoles specifically, HDMI may not be an option, and would instead be connected via component or standard AV ports.

The receiving end of the data inputted onto the capture card can be, as mentioned earlier, either a PC or a data storage device. The entry-level AGPtek HD Game Capture, for example, doesn’t have the option to connect to a PC with dedicated editing software. Instead, it would just link directly to a storage medium such a USB flash disk to instantly save the raw gaming video footage data for users to edit later.

Important note

The type port used on the receiving end of the data may indirectly affect the quality of the final captured video footage. As a basic pointer, always check if a certain 1080p 60fps card uses a USB 3.0 port. On slightly lower resolution/frame-rate setups (720p 60fps, 1080p 30fps etc.), the archaic USB 2.0 should be enough.

Conclusion

Moreover, that is our comprehensive guide about what capture cards are, what they do, what you can do with them, and the most efficient models you can buy right now. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to understand the basics of recording gaming sessions, but we hope this guide sheds some light on some of its slightly more specific aspects.

As for even more specific aspects of capture cards such as optimization and customization, you’d have to consult those users who have already used each card and each software programs that you are interested in applying.

For the most part, however, the best game capture device will usually be the one with excellent connectivity options, and good, stable proprietary software (or compatibility with other software), should allow you to build most of your gaming rigs for HD recording or streaming.

Passtools.com author Richard Bernhardt
Richard is 30-year-old IT and tech enthusiast. He holds a master's degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering which complements his passion for technology and related aspects. Currently, he is initiating various tech-related startup projects including working as the founder of Passtools.com

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