Best Capture Cards For 2018 – Top Buying Guide For Consumers
Have you ever been browsing Youtube, seen a gaming video with 5,000,000 views and thought “I could do that”? Well, the good news is that you absolutely can, but the bad news is that you’re going to spend some money on a setup first. Don’t worry, though! We’ve put together a list of the best capture cards around to get the gameplay from your TV screen to your PC in preparation for your big debut.
Why do you even need a capture card? Well, even if you game on a PC, screen recording software can sometimes lag or stutter, and sometimes can’t keep up with the pace of the game, leading to jerky videos. A capture card is specially designed to record what is onscreen exactly as you see it, so it’s a pretty important investment.
The 6 Best Capture Cards For 2018
Below, you’ll find a table with the name of every product we’ll be reviewing today, as well as a couple of its more important specifications. Take your time, though, we have a lot more to say about them than just this, as you’ll see later.
|Capture Card||Resolution||Frames per second|
|Elgato Game Capture HD60 S||1080p||60fps|
|AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2||1080p||60fps|
|StarTech.com HDMI Video Capture Device||1080p||60fps|
|lackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K||4K||30fps|
|Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro||4K||60fps|
Now that you’ve gotten a feel for the kind of products we’ll be discussing, let’s jump right in and examine them individually for their strengths and weakness. We’ll also break down what kind of person each card is best suited for, so that said, let’s start with the best capture card for the money, the Elgato Game Capture HD60 S.
Elgato Game Capture HD60 S – Best Budget Capture Card
The Elgato Game Capture HD60 S has long been a favorite of people looking to get high quality for a low price and it’s easy to see why – it offers a pretty extensive range of features and functionality that make it perfect for live streamers and gaming channels alike.
This card has two inputs, the first is the impeccable USB Type-C port which is used to power the device and the second is for an HDMI cable (there’s an HDMI out on the opposite side) which is intended to connect your console to the card. This card requires Windows 7 or later or MacOS 10.11.14 or later in order to function properly, so if you’re serious about making your channel work, you might need to think about updating your operating system.
So, let’s get technical for a second. The HD60 S records at around 40Mbps, so you’ll need a fairly decent processor to keep up, (Elgato recommend at least a quad-core i5). It can handle a range of resolutions and frame rates, from 480p all the way to 60 frames per second 1080p and so can be used on anything from the Nintendo 64 to the Xbox One with no problems.
There’s hardly any delay between something happening on your TV screen and it is mirrored in the capture output, so it’s possible to play most games just by watching your PC. If you’re playing something that requires very quick reactions like a twitch shooter, you might find that the tiny delay impacts your performance, however.
Elgato has aimed to make this the only capture card you’ll ever need by providing a host of tools for getting your videos just right. This card gives you the option to add a webcam output or overlay on top of the video itself, record your commentary as you play (assuming you’ve plugged your microphone into the capture card) and live stream directly to popular platforms like Twitch, Youtube, and Ustream. Additionally, once you’ve recorded your footage, you can share it to your social media accounts with just one click.
Imagine this: you’ve just spent an hour or so playing and chatting away and just as you’re finishing up, you realize that you didn’t hit record. Usually, this would be a nightmare, but with the HD60 S, you can slide a bar until you find the exact point your footage started, and record from there like nothing happened. You might want to edit out the few minutes of you panicking at the end, though.
Another main facet of this card is its portability. Many of its competitors have a PCIe connection, which means that they can’t be used in laptops and take some work to fit into a standard PC, but as this model uses a USB connection, it can be easily transported from machine to machine, location to location (although obviously, less powerful machines will have a small amount of lag). This is made even easier by the physical dimensions of the card itself – it weighs just 4 ounces and measures 4.4×0.75×3”, so it’s the very definition of “pocket-sized”.
All things considered, the Elgato HD60 S is a great little capture card with a wide appeal. The video editing features it offers are at the heart of its being and not an afterthought like some of the lower budget cards, plus it can record at almost every resolution you’re likely to come across. The retroactive recording function could really save you a great deal of trouble and as a bonus, the product is pretty inexpensive too, retailing at just over $100. If you’re looking for the best on a budget, Elgato has got you covered.
AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 – Most Portable Capture Card
Modern day technology has a dilemma that few products successfully overcome – specifically, as the functionality grows more advanced, how do you keep the product itself as simple to use as possible? Happily, AVerMedia has struck a fantastic balance with their Live Gamer Portable 2 capture card and as a result, it’s one of the best mid-budget products around.
The casing of this card has the red and black design favored by gamer-targeted products and has just one button and one switch, for maximum ease of use, with the rest of the process happening on a PC. The button in the middle is responsible for starting and stopping recording, whilst the switch toggles between PC and PC-free modes. The ring around the button glows or flashes in different patterns to signify different errors and is a nice example of how aesthetics don’t have to come at the expense of function.
We mentioned PC-free mode just now, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Once an SD card is inserted, you can connect your console and all video is recorded straight onto your portable storage. Of course, you lack the live preview and all captions and overlays have to be added in post, but for those times when your PC just isn’t up to the task, this is an invaluable feature.
Videos are recorded in the widely used MP4 format with H.264 and AAC encoding and can be taken at resolutions of up to 1080p at 60 FPS. There is no method of changing the video quality though, whatever the resolution of your input, that’s what you get back. This might sound like a disadvantage, but at the very least it does stop older games from being distorted, as anyone who’s tried to play a Super Nintendo game which is stretched onto a large screen can attest.
AVerMedia have included everything you need to get started in the box: one HDMI cable (you’ll need another to use PC mode), PS3, component, 3.5mm audio and Mini USB cables, a protective bag and a three month XSplit Premium license which will let you add 3D backgrounds or customised text overlays to your videos. Even better, you can use the RECentral 3 software (also included) to stream directly to Twitch, Youtube or Ustream, perfect for people who prefer a less edited, more natural style of video.
This model has a very low latency and can retroactively record from up to an hour before the button was pressed, which could potentially save a whole lot of heartache. You’ll need at least Windows 7 or OSX 10.7 to use this hardware, and AVerMedia recommends at least an i5-3330 processor as it records at up to 60Mbps in PC mode, although significantly slower in PC-free mode (just 16Mbps).
Similar to the Elgato HD60 S, the main draw of this capture card is its portability. Weighing just 3.4 ounces and measuring at 10x7x3”, it’s a fair bit larger than that model, but still easy enough to fit into a backpack, plus its USB power source means that it can be easily transferred to a different computer if needed.
Overall, we think that the AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 is a pretty great little capture card. Its PC-free mode really opens up a range of new applications and it’s possible to go from opening the box to recording in just a few minutes no matter whether you intend on streaming and recording the gameplay on Xbox One, PS, WiiU, or the Nintendo Switch.
Razer Ripsaw – Best Capture Card With High-Quality Audio
Razer is one of the big PC peripheral heavyweights, so it’s only to be expected that they’d get into the “Let’s Play” market. The Ripsaw is their first foray into this arena, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Straight off the bat, you can tell that they’ve spent a lot of time on the design of the card – it has a sleek, understated appearance that is aimed at people who think the brightly coloured “pro gamer” hardware is obnoxious and it’s small enough to avoid getting in the way during use.
The matte black plastic casing is sophisticated looking and the single green LED on the front accentuates it nicely. This isn’t just for appearances, however – it changes to red to signify an error. The card itself measures at an easily portable 5.1×3.4×0.7” and weighs just 6.6 ounces, so it fits on even the smallest desktops easily.
This card supports both HDMI and component AV inputs and records at a silky smooth 60fps at 1080p, but why should you pay more for this model instead of buying the Elgato? Well, Razer has provided the option to separate the microphone input from the auxiliary, allowing you to use your own professional quality mic to give a running commentary of what’s happening on screen or supply the perfect accompanying track.
There is a very slight delay when gaming using the preview panel, but it won’t be a problem as long as you’re playing a game that doesn’t require super-fast reflexes – it won’t be fast enough to play Call of Duty on, but for 99% of games, you’ll be okay. You will need a fairly decent processor and GPU to keep up though since there’s a large amount of data being processed at any given time – around 60Mbps. Razer recommends at least a 4th generation CPU and a GTX 660/HD7870, so this shouldn’t be a problem for most users.
This card comes with the USB 3.0 cable needed to power it, as well as an HDMI, component AV, AV Multi, and 3.5mm audio cables, ensuring that you’ll be good to go straight out of the box. It’s also designed to work with some of the most commonly used streaming software like XSplit and OBS, plus Razer provides access to a range of step by step guides which will help you get started.
There are a couple of disadvantages of this card, though. Firstly, if you use a Mac or Linux, you’re out of luck, it only supports Windows 7 and up, which seems a shame given the high-end audio system – this is the kind of thing that Mac users usually love.
Overall, the Razer Ripsaw is a strong capture card with a lot to offer. It looks professional and comes from a well-known brand with a history of high-quality products, plus it supports a wide range of input devices and as it can record at 60fps, it allows a user to capture the very latest games exactly as they are shown. Whilst it has limited operating system support, this is offset by the range and quality of features included, and so for a Windows user, this is definitely a card worth considering.
StarTech.com HDMI Video Capture Device – Most Versatile Capture Card
The StarTech.com capture card is a product which is far more versatile than the others we’ve seen in terms of compatibility – it has four different inputs whereas most of its competitors have two, and better still, it records at 60 frames per second all the way up to 1080p.
The inputs are HDMI, DVI, VGA and component, so you can connect anything from an NES to a PS4, assuming you have the right adaptors. Video can be recorded at a wide range of resolutions, from 480p and up, and is stored with no data loss, thanks to the card’s H.264 encoding. Recording at 60fps ensures that your viewers get a more natural looking video, one where any movement looks more sharp and lifelike than 30fps can provide.
It’s a little on the larger side, at 8.1×6.5×2”, but it’s still far from a bulky product. It weighs a little over a pound, too, so it’s not like it’s too heavy to carry around with you, which is just as well, because where this product really shines is its portability.
Like the AverMedia Live Gamer Portable, this mode can record footage directly to an SD card, which is perfect for those times when you aren’t near your PC. Maybe you want to record at a friend’s house or maybe you just like the freedom that a fully portable capture card provides – either way, this product will fit your needs perfectly.
There is a tiny delay between movement onscreen and movement in the footage preview window – as with previous products, it’s not a huge deal unless you want to play very fast-paced games. In these cases, you’ll want to watch the TV screen, but for anything else, you can just play through the output window, no problem.
In the box, you’ll find an AV breakout cable (the red, white and yellow one), a DVI to VGA adapter and a USB 3.0 cable. This last one is important since the card requires USB 3.0 to work due to the high bandwidth requirements it has. USB 2.0 just can’t keep up, so make sure you have at least one 3.0 port before you spend any money on this model – most reasonably new computers have a couple of these anyway, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Also included is StarTech’s own recording software. This lets you record and export videos, as well as taking screenshots and streaming directly to various online platforms like Twitch or Justin.TV. An interesting feature is the recording schedule – you can set it to record your screen at specific times or days, which is great if you have a set schedule for your recordings.
Unfortunately, this product only works on Windows operating systems (Windows 7 or higher), so it’s not suitable for a Mac or Linux user. We’re used to seeing gaming hardware reject Linux due to its inherent awkwardness, but with the growing number of people who game on a Mac, it’s a bit of a shame.
All things considered, this is a fantastically versatile capture card. It can record just about any console from the last 20 years and doesn’t even have to be connected to a PC to do so, as long as you have a spare SD card lying around. The built-in software is simple enough and provides a decent level of functionality, plus the ability to capture 1080p 60fps footage is always an advantage. Although it costs a little more, the addition of VGA and DVI inputs make it an invaluable tool and one which would make many content creators very happy indeed.
Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K – Affordable 4K Capture Card
You can tell something is different about this card just by looking at it. Unlike the others, it plugs directly into your computer’s PCIe socket (a PCIe 2.0 socket or greater is required), allowing it to maximise its speed at the cost of portability. The result is a high-end card that moves around 50Mbps, which is not something to take lightly.
Also unlike the other capture cards we’ve seen so far, this one is capable of recording in 4K resolution – let your viewers take in those crisp colors and level of detail that lower resolutions just can’t compare with and they’ll keep coming back. All lower resolutions are recorded at 60 frames per second, but at 4K, you’re limited to 30fps, which is pretty standard – there’s a lot more information to be processed, after all.
Blackmagic also provides an HDMI cable, a breakout cable and an SD card which contains the manual and recording software on it. We’re not sure why they didn’t just make this stuff available on their website, but if you save it somewhere safe and delete it, you’ve got a free SD card too. The breakout cable allows for capturing footage from old consoles and the HDMI takes care of the new ones, so this is actually a pretty versatile model, despite how simple it looks once installed.
The video capture application provided is called DaVinci Resolve Lite and this takes care of not only storing the footage but also makes editing or color grading really simple and prevents you from having to download a whole host of additional software. As well as being able to capture or stream video, it also has one more trick up its sleeve – assuming you have the right adapter, it will let you back up old VHS tapes or DVDs, but not only that, you can improve them by changing the volume levels or adjusting the audio to sync it with the video correctly. This will be invaluable to collectors or people looking to save those precious home video memories, and so is warmly welcome.
It’s not just Windows that is supported, either: this card also works on Mac and Linux systems, and as a result has a much wider target audience than any of the other cards we’ve reviewed today. This also means that if you have two different systems, it’s possible to switch the card between them regardless of OS for maximum versatility. Linux users will be particularly pleased about this since it’s actually fairly difficult to find a decent capture card with Linux support.
Now, let’s not kid ourselves, this card is relatively expensive. It retails for a little under $190, and Blackmagic seem to know that a lot of people would be put off by this. What if it breaks a week after purchase? In the (highly unlikely) event of a fault, they’ll replace it for you, free of charge for the first 12 months. This is great to see, as it helps gives buyers a little more confidence in their purchase and ensures that they won’t be left empty-handed should the worst happen
When we look at the Design Intensity Pro 4K, we see a powerful capture card that can deliver the best of the best, both to your viewers and to you as a creator. The built-in tools are powerful and offer functionality often left to specialized editing software and the ability to back up and future-proof legacy media has never been more needed as DVDs are phased out. If you’ve got the money to spare, do yourself a favor and buy Blackmagic.
Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro – Best 4K Capture Card for PS4 Pro and Xbox One X
If you’re looking for a capture card worthy of your brand-new 4K display and 4K capable gaming console, whether its the X1X or PS4 Pro, the Elgato 4K60 Pro is one of the first capture cards available on the consumer market which can do 4K at 60 FPS. In addition to recording in 4K, the Elgato 4K60 Pro can also capture 1080p at 60 FPS, 1080p at 144 FPS, and 1440p at 144 FPS in case you also stream PC games on a high refresh rate gaming monitor.
Just like the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K, this capture card goes on your 4x, 8x, or 16x PCI slot, though it’s a bit bigger and features a nice black textured finish while the logo on the card glows when the card is in use. The PC requirements are, as expected, demanding. Elgato recommends at least Intel’s 6th generation Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 CPU and 10-series Nvidia or AMD RX Vega GPU.
In comparison to the other capture cards in the list, the Elgato 4K60 Pro certainly comes out as expensive, but if you compare it to other 4K/60 FPS cards you will realize that it’s actually the cheapest option currently available, by far. So, if you are looking for a reliable and first-class capture card to record your Xbox One X and PS4 Pro gameplay content, Elgato’s got you covered.
Alas, the capture card also has some disadvantages. First of all, the dedicated software isn’t as user-friendly and intact as the one found on previous Elgato cards. Although the software is frequently getting additional features and updates, there’s no option for master copy nor support for h.264 codec available. Furthermore, in case you have an HDR-capable TV, you will be disappointed by the fact that the Elgato 4K60 Pro cannot process the HDR signal, so you will have to disable HDR in the game if you wish to record.
A lot of people get confused when trying to choose a capture card, but at its heart, they’re actually fairly straightforward. To save you time and effort, we’ve created a short guide which should help set your mind at ease and help you to find the card which best suits your needs.
The first thing to consider is your input device. What sort of connector does it need and can it be connected to your capture card? There are all kinds of adapters available, however, for maximum coverage, you’ll want a card which at least has HDMI and component inputs.
Next, video quality; you probably already know that a higher resolution usually means a clearer picture, but this comes with a caveat – stretching a lower resolution source to fit a larger screen distorts it pretty badly. If you plan to record footage from a retro games console, for example, we’d recommend staying at its native resolution.
The new hot topic in gaming is framerate. It offers 60 frames per second of footage with the most fluid movement but is usually only available on videos that are below 1080p, with the full HD footage recorded at 30fps. There are exceptions, however, but these tend to be more expensive, so if you need 1080p, 60fps footage, be prepared for this.
If you’re interested in streaming live footage, you’ll need a decent internet connection. Some streaming software has the option to lower the video quality for better performance on low bandwidth connections, but realistically, if you’re looking to do this professionally, that will only get you so far. A better internet connection beats a software workaround every single time, so maybe call your service provider and see if they can’t help you out.
Your work isn’t done when the recording stops! For the best results, you’re going to want to edit the footage. This lets you cut out unnecessary parts like the application setup or that coughing fit you had that came out of nowhere, as well as add overlays (like your webcam feed or subtitles). You can usually also edit the audio levels if you find yourself a little too loud or too quiet.
Editing your videos adds a real professional air to them, and since most capture cards come with at least basic software, there’s really no excuse not to, especially as the market gets more crowded. If you’ve never done this before, there’s a fantastic guide on Lifehacker which will get you started.
It’s also worth mentioning that video editing software can be pretty resource intensive. In layman’s terms, this means that it’s going to use a lot of your computer’s power and will cause slowdown on older or less powerful machines. That said, if you have a decent PC, you should be okay, and if you don’t, maybe consider upgrading it before you spend over a hundred dollars on a capture card.
Before you go spending any of your hard-earned cash, take a second to think about your PC. Does the card plug into a USB port or PCIe? If USB, is it okay with USB 2.0 or does it specifically need 3.0? If it’s PCIe, does it need PCIe 3+ or will it be fine with 2.0?
What operating system are you using? Many cards only support Windows, so if you use Linux or a Mac, make sure to double check that this is actually supported. It’s also worth noting that you’ll generally need at least Windows 7, although really, if you have anything older than that, you should update anyway – it’s a lot safer.
Capture cards send a lot of data every second, so it’s important to make sure that your existing hardware can keep up with it. Whilst you won’t necessarily need an $800 GPU, it will have to be reasonably powerful – most mid-range gaming PCs will probably be able to handle it without too much trouble. Similarly, you’ll need at least a dual-core CPU, preferably 2.4Ghz or greater, and a reasonably fast hard drive – we’d recommend an SSD since the prices are coming down and they’re much faster than your traditional hard disk drive.
There’s no denying that each product in this list is right for someone, but ultimately, it’s our duty to choose one over all the others. It was a difficult decision, but eventually, we decided that the StarTech.com capture card offered more than the others, not only in terms of framerate and price but also regarding the sheer number of possible input devices.
We hope that this article has been helpful to you, and if so, we’d like to ask you to remember us the next time you find yourself in need of product advice. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and happy streaming!