Are you aspiring to be the next big thing in the gaming scene? Why not try your hand at streaming or uploading videos, both of which are continuing to explode in popularity for both streamers and viewers alike.
Dedicated platforms like Twitch and YouTube are making it accessible for newbies and veterans alike. Even the social media site Facebook has opened its doors for streamers to flourish, becoming one of the fastest-rising platforms in a span of a few years.
Of course, you’ll need the basics like having a gaming setup (PC or console) that’s capable of pushing out consistent gaming performance, not only providing you an optimal gaming experience but taking viewers into account as well by offering a stutter-free stream feed. However, the most important aspect of streaming is the means in which you are to deliver it – namely, capture cards. But what is a capture card, exactly?
What is a Capture Card?
A capture card is a device that allows you to capture gameplay footage and record it or stream it live to your platform of choice. They are favored by streamers due to the convenience in setting them up, along with the compatibility they offer with major gaming platforms like PC and console. Capture cards work by acting as a pass-through device between your gaming machine and monitor/TV.
Normally, you would connect your PC or console directly to a monitor/TV, but with a capture card, it is connected between your gaming machine and display device. This allows it to gather the necessary data (audio, video, etc.) and feed it to your streaming computer. Yes – most streamers will have two PCs for streaming; one for gameplay and one for their stream. Or, they’ll have a console and a PC.
Capture cards have a plethora of features that are tailored to different gaming platforms, so choose whatever suits your gaming setup the most. Without further ado, here are what we think are the best capture cards for recording gameplay or streaming 2020.
The Best Capture Cards of 2020
First on our list is the AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus, a handy capture card that doesn’t even require a PC to be connected when capturing in-game footage. It comes in a sleek, portable design just the size of a harmonica, allowing you to lug it around with ease. Also, it offers the convenience of easy switching between PC and micro SD card settings thanks to the extra-visible LED indicators to tell you this from that.
Due to this capture card’s micro SD functionality, you won’t need to use a flash drive to save all of your captured footage – not to mention this needs your dedicated streaming PC to run if you purely need to record gameplay directly to your storage device for future use. For streaming, the AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus offers the RECentral program to provide you with overlaying functionalities to optimize your stream’s output. RECentral also allows you to record in-game party voice logs for consoles without needing to plug in an extra cable for that seamless capture experience.
Also, it is compatible with streaming software like OBS, XSplit, and Streamlabs, providing a plug and play experience thanks to its driver-free implementation. The device allows passthrough of 4K 60 fps video from your gaming machine to your display device without any hitch at all, while keeping the streaming resolution at a smooth and crisp 1080p 60 fps Full HD.
If you’re in the search for a more affordable capture card for your streaming needs, the Razer Ripsaw HD surprisingly offers value for the money – quite unexpected knowing the brand’s reputation for its premium price points. This capture card features an external design that can work well with various platforms, especially consoles like the PS4, Xbox One, and handhelds like the Nintendo Switch. It comes in a sleek enclosure that has all the basic features you need for streaming, including the needed audio and video outputs.
The Razer Ripsaw HD allows 4K 60 fps video passthrough to allow you to enjoy high-resolution gaming while streaming, with the actual streaming resolution being set at 1080p 60 fps Full HD thanks to its HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0 connectivity that facilitates blazing-fast data transfer. You won’t even have to worry about going through the hassle of manually mixing up in-game sounds and your own voice with digital audio mixing software as this capture card has a hardwired microphone and headphone jacks that allow your audio to work across two different PCs – all at zero latency and no delays.
That being said, the Razer Ripsaw HD doesn’t come with its own proprietary streaming software to allow you to stream at the advertised 1080p. You’ll either have to avail of a streaming package from XSplit or the free, open-source OBS. You also won’t have access to older consoles unless you get specific adapters as this capture card unit is intended for modern setups. That being said, the Razer Ripsaw HD offers a simple streaming solution that you can set up in a matter of minutes, providing an incredible value for money for those who need basic but vital streaming functions.
For ease of use and reliability, no brand is more trusted than Elgato. This veteran in the streaming arena has been instrumental in getting some of the biggest streamers up and running when they started as nobodies. Among their wide offering of capture cards comes the Elgato Game Capture Card HD60 S. This external gameplay capture solution prides itself due to its plug and play functionality, on top of being one of the more affordable solutions around.
Not larger than a wallet, the Elgato Game Capture Card HD60 S is a space-saving streaming solution that can accommodate both PC and console applications with ease. It has as simple HDMI input/output configuration that supports a streaming resolution of 1080p at 60 fps of lag-free, ultra-low latency passthrough. For data transmission, it uses a USB 3.0 Type-C connection for an ultra-fast recording and streaming performance. You even get native software support to provide a comprehensive package where you can set up your overlay, webcam, screen layouts, and more.
The Elgato Game Capture Card HD60 S also works intuitively, searching from multiple resolution options until it finds a signal, although you can do this manually as well. If you forgot to hit record, Flashback Recording allows you to backtrack streamed footage and capture gameplay retroactively, while the Live Commentary feature allows you to add your voice into the stream seamlessly. As for video editing, however, the Elgato Game Capture Card HD60 S has a barebones version that can only do a decent amount of trimming – ensure you have another video editing suite if you plan on doing montage-type videos for content.
Toys for the big boys – that’s what the Elgato 4K60 Pro Mk.2 is all about. Being an internal capture card, you’ll need a dedicated PC to install it in. The main selling point of this model is its ability to capture 4K gameplay footage at a buttery smooth 60 fps – a far cry from the 1080p Full HD capabilities of budget options, but you can reach 240 Hz on 1080p if you so wish. You also get HDR10 support to maximize the level of in-game detail on the stream. Of course, this means that you’ll be needing an equally capable gaming machine to fully take advantage of it.
With that aside, the Elgato 4K60 Pro Mk.2 capture card allows you to stream at the aforementioned resolution with absolutely no hiccups thanks to the ultra-low latency HDMI passthrough that you can hook onto a 4K monitor to allow you and your viewers to enjoy the same ultra-rich detail and buttery smoothness simultaneously with a bitrate of over 140 Mbps. Recording gameplay footage at this quality will entail you to have lots of hard drive space for continuous saves, but you really don’t need to cash in on a ton of storage space as the included software automatically encodes the footage to save on space.
Speaking of software, the Instant Gameview program allows you to take control of your streaming settings and real-time monitoring without any performance hitches in-game or the actual stream broadcast at all. The Elgato 4K60 Pro Mk.2 boasts plug and play functionality and can install in any PC with a PCIe x4 slot available, while its compatibility with OBS, Streamlabs, and XSplit makes streaming, well, streamlined! You really can’t complain about the price when you know what the Elgato 4K60 Pro Mk.2 capture card brings to the table.
If you want a slightly cheaper capture card that has 4K capabilities, the AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K is one of the most competitive options in the market right now. It adapts the internal capture card design so you will need a dedicated PC that has an extra PCIe x4 slot.
As the main point of interest, the AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K offers 4K 60 fps passthrough and recording thanks to the zero-lag HDMI 2.0 input/output setup. Moreover, it supports high-framerate recording – up to 240 fps on 1080p and 144 fps on 1440p – providing you and your viewers with the same level of enjoyment with no hiccups at all. While you might think 4K is already a challenging resolution to capture gameplay at, this capture card extends functionality to support ultrawide display capture – to the uninitiated, a 4K ultrawide display has more pixels than a standard 4K variant, making it more challenging to record should you opt for strict 4K capture cards.
The AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K uses the RECentral software to take care of other streaming elements like overlays or audio recording and seamlessly integrates with popular streaming software like XSplit, OBS, and Streamlabs. You also get the option to record high-fidelity 5.1/7.1 surround sound, giving you access to high-quality audio when it’s time to edit your footage for Youtube or Facebook. Oh, it also comes with some RGB bling if you want to augment your PC’s aesthetics with a lighting boost.
For those who need 4K features in an external capture card format, the AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt is a great card to get. Well, great might be an understatement considering what it can bring to the table. It offers an amazing passthrough capability of resolutions up to 4K 60 fps on top of HDR, 14409 at 144 fps, and 1080p at a whopping 240 fps. This allows you to record and stream with your viewers enjoying the same crisp and smooth gaming experience as you.
It also boasts some of the lowest latency figures in the playing field, ensuring that your live, action-packed gameplay is recorded and streamed pretty close to real-time. It makes use of an HDMI in/out to facilitate a lag-free passthrough operation. As for data transmission, the AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt makes use of the ultra-fast Thunderbolt 3 medium, which might require you to double-check your streaming PC’s connectivity if it supports the standard.
The AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt comes bundled with the proprietary RECentral software for your streaming essentials (as well as streaming on it) and the CyberLink PowerDirector 15 program provides you with the necessary editing functions should you plan to upload your content on sites like Youtube and Facebook. And while it doesn’t have any actual performance benefits, this external capture card has RGB lighting to match your own setup’s aesthetics.
You can never go wrong with any of Elgato’s offerings, but if you need a convenient console-streaming solution, the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+ is hard to resist. Providing high-resolution recording and streaming, this external capture card doesn’t even need a dedicated PC for it to function properly. It features a standalone design that is geared for streaming professionals who constantly tour and need a handy solution to record their LAN event gameplay.
While it doesn’t offer high-framerate functions (being capped at 60 fps), the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+ allows a passthrough for 1080p, 1440p, and 2160p signals with an ultra-low latency performance to avoid any gameplay and broadcast hiccup whatsoever. It also supports HDR10 capture, in case your games benefit from such features. Apart from that, you also get HEVC hardware encoding should you want to compress footage to save on storage space.
What makes the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+ so appealing to console gamers is it doesn’t even need any PC connection, as you can directly record on an SD Card while powering it from a USB adapter or power bank.
For those who are content with streaming 1080p content, the Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro is more than enough – and can be had at a price that won’t bite. This internal capture card is best suited for PC gamers as it will require a PCIe x1 slot to install, which you can integrate into your own build. This capture card accommodates up to 1080p 60 fps signal passthrough via the lag-free HDMI in/out configuration to keep gameplay and recording quality consistent.
As usual, it works with a plethora of streaming software without issues, allowing you to use anything between OBS to XSplit without hiccups. You also gain access to Master Copy, which allows you to stream online while recording everything at the maximum supported resolution while saving every element of the stream (overlays, webcams, etc) as separate tracks to improve the post-process experience. The onboard H.264 encoder helps offload work from your CPU while saving you precious storage space at a 60 Mbps bitrate simultaneously.
When portability becomes a necessity, external capture cards are often the go-to solution for streamers and content creators. The ultra-handy AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini is the brand’s answer to Elgato’s portable offerings. It offers the standard 1080p 60 fps passthrough, which is nothing to scoff at due to its lag-free data transmission thanks to the high-speed HDMI 2.0 in/out setup. To record gameplay footage, the card has a micro-USB connection that works together with the H.264 encoder to save on processing power and storage space.
You also get to access the RECentral software to facilitate your streaming needs, without getting in the way of 3rd-party streaming programs like OBS and Streamlabs. With the super-compact AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini, you just pop it in your pocket and you’re good to go, whenever, wherever.
Do you need 4K capabilities but can’t afford the Elgato and AVerMedia options? Fret not, as the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K provides an affordable solution for those who need high-resolution streaming and recording functions for minimal performance tradeoffs. For starters, it supports 4K passthrough at only 30 fps, which may affect the smoothness of your gameplay footage, although if you downscale to 1080p, you still get a buttery-smooth 60 fps support.
Since it is an internal capture card, you will need a dedicated PC to hook it up to. The Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K isn’t exclusively geared for gaming as well, sporting compatibility with analog signals and NTSC/PAL connections, making it a versatile capture card if you do more than just gaming. You also get the DaVinci Resolve software bundled with the card to edit your recorded footage via its wide range of features that are on par with the likes of Sony Vegas and Premiere Pro.
Do You Really Need One?
Long story short, yes.
Consoles like the Xbox One and PS4 offer streaming features but are highly limited by the low-resolution feed and meager storage capacity of such devices.
And while PCs have the ability to stream without the help of dedicated cards, the process will often chomp on processing power and bandwidth, creating performance issues that will degrade both gaming and recording experiences. Even handheld consoles lack the functionality to stream and game without the help of a dedicated capture card.
Capture Card Benefits
When you use a capture card, the aforementioned issues can now be addressed, e.g., allowing you to record on dedicated storage devices like hard drives and SD cards (which you can edit later), offload processing power to improve gameplay performance, and add a streaming function on barebones gaming solutions like handheld consoles.
Moreover, capture cards mostly come bundled with proprietary software to take care of streaming necessities like overlays, voice connections, and webcam support, among others. It also streamlines the entire process by providing a lag-free passthrough operation to your display device so as to prevent any gaming performance hits.
External or Internal?
The main debate on what to choose between an external or internal capture card is convenience. Going the external route will require you to have basic PC knowledge in order to install and get it to work. This option is optimal for PC gamers or those who want to use a dedicated streaming computer to customize their streaming setup.
On the other hand, most external capture cards are plug and play, entailing only a minimal amount of setting up and are usually paired with external storage options such as SD cards for convenient gameplay footage recording without the need for a streaming PC. External units are also geared for portability, which can benefit professional gamers who want to record their LAN event runs with ease.
At the end of the day, choose whatever is best for your setup or gaming platform. Most of these capture cards are already equipped with the necessary features to get your streaming career up and running in no time, so pick one that works best to your advantage.