Nowadays, capture cards come in all shapes and sizes and, best of all are, they no longer require you to pry open your PC and hope to God you’ve got an extra card slot next to your GPU to install. External capture cards are a lot more portable, so much easier to use, and in some cases, cheaper than their internal counterparts since they connect to your PC via USB 3.0 or USB Type C.We recommend most people focus on a 1080p target resolution and at least 30fps with any potential capture card purchase. 60fps is great if your PC can handle the extra load, but play it safe if you’re starting out. There are good 4K capture cards out there, but they’re also expensive, and those files’ storage needs are harsh. Plus, the bandwidth requirements often mean 4K is not worth the hassle for most streamers.
The picks below were tested using OBS and Xsplit, two popular broadcasting apps among streams, since that’s the best to the most of your footage. A capture card is just part of our broader streaming ecosystem; you should make sure you’re investing in the best webcam and best microphone to complete your setup.
Best capture card for PC gaming
lgato’s latest capture card, the HD60 X, aims to make streaming and recording a little more amenable to gamers with a modern, half-decent gaming monitor. With the option of 4K passthrough, there’s a little more this device can offer gamers with high pixel count screens. Though it’s also pretty handy if you use G-Sync of FreeSync technologies, which also receive timely support on the new HD60 X.
As with any capture card the speeds and feeds can be a lot to chew through. So let’s break it down to basics for this $200/£190 option. With the HD60 X you’re essentially looking at three key capture resolutions: 4K at 30fps, 1440p at 60fps, and 1080p at 60fps. Then for your passthrough resolution it’s possible to run up 4K at 60fps or 1440p at 120fps, and there’s support for Variable Refresh Rate technologies (VRR), such as G-Sync and FreeSync, and HDR (only on Windows).
To save bandwidth on the HD60 X, it offers 4:2:0 by default. Corsair tells me 4:2:2 is available via non-default codecs and will work at 1080p at 60fps or 1440p at 30fps, but don’t expect that out of the box.
It does look decent with chroma subsampling, too. And the thing to remember here is that, if you intend to use your content, say, online—which most will—then video compression is going to eat up a lot of the quality anyways.
The passthrough functionality of the HD60 X is, however, fully capable of running at 4:4:4, or in other words, uncompressed. So while your recording may lose some of that information, you don’t have to suffer through a low picture quality while you’re recording.
Though only a few of these 4K cards are standalone units, most being PCIe add-in when you get down to near the price of the HD60 X. Some of the flexibility is removed when you ditch the external connection from your capture card: Not only will you have to make space inside your PC, but you’re removing the ability to run your stream or recording off a laptop close-by. You also lose the option to easily travel around with your capture card, though let’s be honest I can’t imagine that’s of massive importance for many.
Ultimately, a PCIe add-in capture card tends to get you more bang for your buck at 4K, and comes with heaps of benefits in other ways to make up for its lack of portability. So the flexibility of how you wish to set up your streaming setup is something to weigh up before hitting purchase on an external unit like this HD60 X.
As a user of the original Elgato Game Capture HD and then the HD60 S, I’ll admit the HD60X doesn’t feel like a revelatory new product. I’m yet to find any external capture card that makes capturing gameplay as much of a doddle as I’d like to think it to be. That said, there are some things I probably couldn’t go without now that I have used the HD60 X. Adroit 1080p at 60fps recording, yes, though more so the low latency passthrough, VRR, and HDR support. All of which makes it so I don’t have to sacrifice my own gaming experience to record it for others.
Read our full Elgato HD60 X review.
AVerMedia might not be a household name yet when it comes to capture cards and streaming devices, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t turning heads. Its capture cards in particular always seem to come with an interesting innovation—and the AVerMedia Live Gamer Duo doesn’t buck the trend.
Previously we’ve seen the Thunderbolt-only Live Gamer Bolt, and the 4K HDR streaming lineup, in the Live Gamer Ultra and Live Gamer 4K. However, one of the newer entries to the market is the Live Gamer Duo, an internal card that fits into a PCIe slot on your motherboard and can handle two HDMI inputs at once—a very useful tool for streamers and content creators.
The software setup was also fairly effortless. After downloading the drivers as well as the AVerMedia RECentral 4 software, all my PC needed was a restart and everything was working as expected. I’ve wrestled with capture cards not always picking up sources before but was very happy to lower my guard.
Even since the initial install I’ve only experienced problems when having two different programs trying to use the card at once. When the RECentral 4 software is running, while something like Xsplit or OBS are also getting signals from the card, the audio will feedback on itself in your recording or stream. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I’ve got PC audio turned on or any other settings. So you’re limited to only using one software at any time, which is actually very fair.
I probably wouldn’t even have come across the issue if I wasn’t using the RECentral 4 software as a screen to play games on rather than using passthrough. This is actually a testament to the latency because it was good enough that I didn’t really notice.
RECentral 4 software can have problems when left open but not in use for long periods of time. The audio and visual information become distorted but are immediately fine again when restarting the program. It’s never happened while the software has been in active use or during streaming so has never felt like a problem that inhibited performance.
That’s what impresses me about the Live Gamer Duo the most. It does everything it advertises with relatively low effort. The full HD recording and high-enough-frame rate streaming just works and is immediately recognisable by third party software.
Video processing, such as downscaling or frame rate conversion, is all done on the card itself, and I believe it. My PC is unbothered while the card is operating, though it still takes the usual hit from my streaming software. Meanwhile, the 4K passthrough has remained unhindered entirely by the process, though it would be nice to have passthrough options for both inputs rather than solely HDMI1.
Of course, it’s not without sacrifice. If you want to be able to record in 4K or higher than 60 fps this quite simply isn’t the device. What you get with AVerMedia’s Live Gamer Duo is a single one-time set-up unit that’s largely plug and play. It has especially made streaming easier by having a setup that simply works, and one which I can mostly leave in place. For anyone looking to include multiple sources for minimal hassle, AVerMedia’s Live Gamer Duo is a really smart choice that lives up to all its promises.
Read our full Avermedia Live Gamer Duo review.
The Avermedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus packs smooth 60fps 1080p recording and 4K pass-through so you can still play in Ultra HD (even if it’s not captured in 4K), USB 3.0, Mac compatibility, and dirty great flashing lights to tell you if you’re capturing or have left HDCP on.
Besides an attractive form-factor, it also offers intuitive software for live editing and the ability to record straight onto a Micro SD card if you’d prefer to keep your HDD clear of space-absorbing video. This capture card is flexible, but particularly tempting if you need to record on the go. It works straight out of the box, too—always a plus.
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Pro-users, who want nothing but the best, need look no further than Elgato’s 4K60 Pro. It may need a high-end PC to get off the ground, but this is an excellent piece of kit for those intent on capturing gameplay at the highest resolution and frame rate possible.
It’s worth making sure you’ve got enough storage space for all those videos, too, because they can get huge very quickly. And if you want to go big, Sabrent’s 4TB RocketQ or even the ultra-expensive Sabrent 8TB SSD will be your dream tickets to storage nirvana. The 4K60 Pro’s encoder can reduce file size and save you much-needed memory real-estate, but they can still be chunky in real terms.
If you want to take your recordings from amateur to the next level up, Elgato’s internal HD60 Pro card is a good shout. Indeed, Elgato’s website claims this card features “an advanced, onboard H.264 encoder that enables you to record unlimited footage in superb 1080p [60fps] quality, at a bitrate up to 60Mbps.” Not too shabby.
It can also stream at 1080p when using Game Capture HD, OBS Studio, and Xsplit. Petite, classy form-factor is in the HD60 Pro’s favor as well, although it does mean you’ll have to install it on a desktop PC, so using a laptop to control your capture card is out. Still, if you’re looking for a neat solution, this is pretty sweet.
EVGA is best known for its graphics cards, so it was a surprise when it announced the XR1, its first external capture device for streamers. The flashy OBS certified capture device has a built-in audio mixer that’ll show your levels using these neat-looking RGB LEDs on the unit itself.
The XR1 records and streams at 1080p/60fps and supports advanced Pass-Through of 1440p/120fps and 4K/60fps signals. This means the XR1 will take those native signals and spit them out at 1080p/60fps for your stream without needing to change any of your display settings while you game. The capture does a good job, although we did notice the colors were a little washed out; nothing a little tweaking in OBS couldn’t handle, though.
Best capture card FAQ
Why do I need a capture card if I just use OBS?
OBS and other third-party capture and streaming software are great, but there are limitations, let’s say you want to stream gameplay from a game console or use an HDMI camera instead of a webcam; the easiest way to get them to work your PC without an external or internal capture card.
With software like OBS, you are entirely reliant on your system resources, such as your CPU or GPU, when it comes to capturing video inputs. That can be a drain if you’re capturing at a high bit rate and trying to play a game simultaneously. Modern CPUs have gotten good at the necessary multi-tasking, but a dedicated capture card can help lighten the load.
Also if you dual-wield a PC and console, such as the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, an external capture card can help you pull footage from those devices.
Do capture cards reduce quality?
On the contrary, a good capture card could increase the quality of your stream, potentially lighten the load on your main PC, and improve the performance of your games while streaming.
If you’re asking on purely technical terms, however, then yes, they can. Capture cards often use something called Chroma Subsampling to reduce bandwidth requirements, and that will reduce the quality of the final picture. Though it’s worth bearing in mind that once you upload your footage to a service, such as YouTube, they will severely drop the quality anyways. So there’s not a tremendous loss overall as a result.