Capture Card Buyer’s Guide – October 2017

Best Capture CardHave 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.

Best Capture Card 2017

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.

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 least expensive capture card in the list, the Elgato Game Capture HD60.

Elgato Game Capture HD60 S – Best Budget Capture Card

Best Capture Card 2017
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The Elgato Game Capture HD60 S has long been a favourite 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 a Type-C 3.0 USB 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 being 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.

Pros
  • Highly useful video editing features
  • Retroactive recording – no more lost footage
  • Very inexpensive
  • Highly portable
Cons
  • Powerful PC needed

AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable – Most Portable Capture Card

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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 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 favoured 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 and can be taken at resolutions of up to 1080p. 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. At 1080p, you can record at just 30fps, although 60fps is possible at lower resolutions. As a result, this card is suitable for recording just about anything from the PS3/Xbox 360 era, although, for newer games, the lack of full HD at 60fps is a definite drawback.

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 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 a 2.8Ghz 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 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. Whilst the lack of 60 frames per second capture at full HD is a disadvantage for those looking to stream the latest and greatest games, this card can handle anything from previous generations without any problems whatsoever, so if this is your niche, this might just be the model for you.

Pros
  • PC-free mode lets you record to an SD card
  • Low latency
  • Simple to set up and use
  • Easily portable
Cons
  • Only records 30fps at 1080p

Hauppauge – HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition – Best Capture Card for Vintage Gaming

Best Capture Card for Vintage Gaming
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The next capture card we’ll be looking at is the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition. This card has a pretty simple aesthetic – it’s a square, black case with a vivid emerald coloured strikethrough, small enough to sit on top of a desk without getting in the way, yet large enough that it won’t be misplaced easily.

It weighs just two pounds and measures 5.2×7.5×7.5”, so whilst it is slightly larger than the Elgato, it’s still small enough to be considered portable, and the USB power source only emphasizes that point.

This card uses H.264 encoding for more efficient data compression, which is doubly important when its low maximum bandwidth is taken into consideration. The main benefit of this is that it allows the card to store more information in the same amount of space, thereby avoiding cluttering up your hard drive with gigabytes of unnecessary data. Videos can be stored either in MP4 format or in the AVCHD – the format which can be burned to BluRay and which is used by professional camcorders.

When using this model, you have the option to use either the HDMI or component inputs. This allows you to record straight from just about any console, although if you plan to use a PS3, there’s a technical issue that must be addressed. Sony encrypts their HDMI traffic to stop people from illegally recording footage from things like Netflix or BluRays, so to use this card, you have to use the component cable and change the output to 1080p on your PS3. This is an annoyance, compounded by the fact that this problem doesn’t exist on the Xbox, but it’s not the card’s fault.

The HD PVR 2 allows you to choose your recording quality and depending on your choice, will store from 1Mbps to 13.5Mbps of data. It has no delay passthrough technology too, so you could even play a game by watching your PC screen directly, which is great. As an added bonus, it comes with 6 foot long HDMI and PS3 cables, and a 9 foot long USB in case your console is on the other side of the room.

The included software is pretty decent – it features a quick-response record button in case you need to start rolling at a moment’s notice, plus it has the aforementioned quality selector, a built-in video scaler, a screenshot option which allows you to select the format of your still images, one-click Youtube uploading and live commentary with volume and mute controls. That’s a pretty versatile package! If streaming is more to your liking, you can download the Streameez software from the Hauppauge website which will let you go live on Twitch or Ustream and has several built-in profiles which allow for different internet speeds (the low bandwidth profile reduces the video quality, for example).

Unfortunately, like the AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable, full 1080p footage can only be recorded at 30fps, with all resolutions below given the option between 30 or 60fps. This does open the door to a particular niche, though – vintage gaming. The lower resolution of older games reduces the amount of data that must be processed, plus the built in streaming features ensure that your video won’t be interrupted when live. As an added bonus, some older games like Starfox for the Super Nintendo are notorious for their slow framerates and would benefit from being converted to 30fps.

If you want this card to stream from the current generation of games consoles, it’ll do it, but you won’t get to show the silky smooth movement of the characters. Rather, this card is aimed at streaming games from the last 20 years or so and would be perfect for speedrunners or retro game enthusiasts. If this sounds like you, you’ll find this capture card a fantastic addition to your setup.

Pros
  • Software is user-friendly and very useful
  • Choice of recording formats
  • Efficient encoding means less wasted space
  • Attractive design
Cons
  • Workaround required for PS3

Razer Ripsaw – Best Capture Card for Modern Games

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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, even at 1080p, which gives it the edge over the AVerMedia and the Hauppauge, 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. Secondly, the price is around $30 higher than the Elgato, which we know will put a lot of potential buyers off. People looking for the best of the best will pay more, of course, but we can’t help but feel it would be more attractive with a slightly lower price point.

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 consideration.

Pros
  • Records at 1080p, 60 fps
  • High-quality aux jack
  • Gorgeous design
  • Very low latency display
Cons
  • No Mac or Linux support

StarTech.com HDMI Video Capture Device – Most Versatile Capture Card

Most Versatile Capture Card
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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 scheduler – 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.

Pros
  • Can record 1080p, 60fps footage
  • Has a wide range of inputs
  • Recording software is decent and easy to use
  • Low latency recording
Cons
  • No Mac or Linux support

Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K – Best 4K Capture Card

Best 4K Capture Card
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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 colours 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. As technology advances, we’ll start seeing 4K, 60fps cards, but for right now, this is the best we can get.

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 allow 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 colour 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, high-quality 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 favour and buy Blackmagic.

Pros
  • Records in 4K
  • Can back up and restore VHS tapes and DVDs
  • Built-in editing functions
  • One year limited warranty
Cons
  • Slightly more expensive

Buyer’s Guide

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.

Video

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.

Editing

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.

System

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.

Conclusion

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!