If you’re new to streaming online, then you might be wondering – “what is a capture card?”, and whether it’s necessary to buy one.
Both PC and console gamers can benefit from using a capture card, being one of the best tools you can purchase for your setup as your channel starts to grow.
Not only will they help assist in streaming, editing, and recording your gameplay, but they can also offer additional features that were previously limited to those using the consoles native recording software.
If you’re a PC streamer, then a capture card may even be able to help you too..
In this post we will summarize and outline the key information surrounding capture cards, so you can make a quick and informed decision on if need one or not, and the right device for you.
What is a capture card?
A capture card is a PC device that can convert video signals to digital data via an HDMI connection. Capture cards allow the user to record and save gameplay from external devices (e.g. your PS5 or Xbox) so that it can be uploaded to the internet.
How does a capture card work?
Capture cards assist in processing analog video-signal to digital so it can be stored locally, or on an external storage device. The resulting data, often referred to as digital video stream, can then either be sent to a video display or recorded as a computer file.
Do I need a capture card?
Many PC streamers use capture cards in a second computer to help with the heavy CPU-intensive task of encoding video. However, this will not increase the performance of a “single-PC setup” as the “in-game capture” out-performs that of a capture card.
If your main computer is not powerful enough to handle both streaming and encoding at the same time, and you have a spare computer lying around that you could dedicate for video-encoding – then you’re going to want to invest in a capture card.
The PS4 has inbuilt software that allows its users to stream directly to Twitch but this is very limiting in terms of what you can do.
If you’re looking for more flexibility, capture cards can assist with handling a larger amount of gameplay footage during streaming/ editing, as well as extra features such as being able to add your Webcam, Overlays, Alerts and more.
You can also stream directly from the Xbox One to your PC, however, like the PS4, this is not the best solution. If you want to take your streaming more seriously then using a capture card will provide similar advantages.
Some of these include: instant gameplay capturing, easier handling of gameplay footage, and being able to add your Webcam, Overlays, Alerts, and more.
Unlike the PS4 and Xbox One, the Switch does not allow you to stream directly through the console. This means you will have to get a capture card if you don’t fancy hooking it up through your Xbox One.
A good capture card that is compatible with the Switch will give you all the benefits of the other consoles we have mentioned.
There are a few capture card brands specific for Mac streaming, however, they are generally more expensive.
Many reputable cards that work with Windows are also compatible, but you may run into problems with out-dated software so it’s probably best to check the reviews first.
Another option is to Bootcamp to a Windows operating system install, which will probably solve you a million problems with streaming stuff in general.
How to set up a capture card
The standard capture card has four main ports for connecting to other devices. These are the HDMI-in, AV-in, HDMI-out, and the USB-out.
The Av-in composites (red, white, and yellow cables) are for older devices such as your PS3, and will also work with an adapter.
The HDMI-in port on the capture card is where you will plug in it from your console. Take the HDMI out from your PlayStation/Xbox, and instead of plugging it into the TV, plug it into the capture card.
The HDMI-out port will go from the capture card into the back of your TV. Plug one side of the cable into the HDMI port and the other in the back of your TV.
The USB port will go from the capture card into the back of your Computer.
As you can see from the illustration, a capture card is simply a medium that connects your console and the TV. It will then convert and fork the video signals so they are sent to your PC.
You will then be able to open up your OBS software and see the video coming across in real-time.
What makes a good capture card?
A good game capture card is easy to set up, has a smooth seamless pass-through rate, and can produce high-quality footage with crisp audio. For a streamer, the biggest deal-breakers are probably having high-quality footage and no input lag.
The majority of input lag issues come from external capture cards using USB 2.0 ports. Assuming you purchase one of the newer mid-range models with a USB 3.0 port and have a USB 3.0 port to plug into from your PC then this should not affect you.
Internal cards tend to cost more but offer instant passthrough due to having a direct connection to the motherboard. To install an internal card you will need a spare PCI-e spot inside your computer, you will also need to make sure your processor is powerful enough to handle it.
Another thing to take into consideration is what resolution you have on your gaming monitor as it will downgrade to whatever the pass through resolution is on the card. If you’re using a 4K monitor, be sure to buy a 4K Capture Card.
Capture cards are generally one of the best long-term investments a streamer can make due to the relatively slow advancements in display resolution technology. In most cases if you decide to purchase a mid-range 4K card from the start, it should last for many years to come.
Popular capture cards
There’s now a wide selection of manufacturers that specialize in designing top of the line video-game capture cards.
In particular, Elgato, Razer, and AVerMedia are very well known within the gaming community for creating high-quality cards at affordable mid-range prices, and then there are brands such as Blackmagic and Magewell for the pro stuff.
The majority of capture cards that are made by these companies will be perfect for your gaming needs and will also work with the majority of both PC’s and consoles.
Of course, be aware that internal PCIe capture cards are built specifically for inside your desktop computer, so if you happen to stream from a console or a laptop make sure you buy one with an external USB 3.0 connection.
Below we have separated some of the best capture cards available on the market right now so you can decide which is the right one for you.
For PC streamers
For PS5 / Xbox streamers
For Nintendo Switch streamers
For Mac streamers
Can I stream without a capture card?
Yes, if you are using a PC, Xbox, or PS4 you can stream without a Capture card. To stream on your PC you will need to download and configure OBS software. The PS4 and Xbox One both have built-in streaming features.
Is it better to stream with a capture card?
So long as you are streaming and playing a game and on the same computer, a capture card will not improve performance. Capture cards are supposed to be used in a second PC setup to help with the heavy CPU-intensive task of video encoding.
Do capture cards cause lag?
You’re going to have very little input lag providing your capture card has an internal PCIe or external USB 3.0 connection. PCIe will always have a less input lag due to being directly connected to the motherboard.
We hope you found this post useful,
Click here for a list of Streaming Essentials to get you started on Twitch.