Whether it’s for live streaming or just immortalizing your gameplay: capture cards are nice-to-have upgrades for many gaming set-ups. But what defines a truly great capture card? And how do you find the perfect fit for you? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. These are our recommendations on the best capture cards out there, as well as the reasoning behind it.
Even way before YouTube and Twitch were “a thing”, capture cards existed. PC users often looked for ways to digitize old analog content, or to view broadcast TV on their desktop systems. That’s where the first consumer capture cards came in. Over in the professional market, manufacturers made computer hardware that could take in hi-res imagery from video cameras. From these products, the capture card as we know it was born.
As time went on, and digitally sharing content gained popularity, the bulky capture card of old has mostly made way for products that target gamers and content creators. Some brands, like powerhouse Elgato, even built their entire success story riding that wave.
Today, we will be looking primarily for these gaming and streaming oriented peripherals. As we list some of our recommendations on the best capture cards out there, we tend to keep the gamer’s needs in mind.
Our top picks aren’t by any means definitive, but they prove great for gaming. We look for internal and external capture cards that offer great ease-of-use when gaming or streaming, solid video quality, and realistic pricing. Bonus points are in place for minimized latencies and less compressed data.
Paying more usually nets you greater image quality, but there are definitely some great budget picks as well. All of them offer reliable capturing of your gameplay, no matter the platform you’re on.
Alternatively, some of these capture cards work great in non-gameplay scenarios too. If you’re looking for hardware to utilize your camera as a webcam, there might be a particular recommendation for you. We will list some of these different use cases, as we go.
Basically all of our recommendations work natively with popular broadcasting software, like OBS Studio, XSplit, and Streamlabs OBS. Most of them also come with some kind of proprietary software for recording directly, as well as updating any firmware.
Without further ado, let’s get to listing some of the best capture cards out there.
Elgato, being the broadcasting oriented brand it is, is coming in hot with their Elgato 4K60 Pro. This internal powerhouse captures and passes through HDMI signals at 4K resolution on 60 frames per second, with support for HDR10 content. Through Elgato’s 4KCU software it’s possible to dispay your capture nearly latency-free as well.
Bitrate-wise, the Elgato 4K60 Pro maxes out at 140 Mbps. That’s not a record-high, but Elgato’s overall recording quality is as reliable as can be. Even faster-paced games still look crisp when captured natively, or broadcasted through popular streaming software.
The pricing is nearing the higher end of the spectrum, but it could easily be worth it. If you intend to capture or stream gameplay from next-gen consoles or beefy gaming PCs (it also support 1440p/144Hz and 1080p/240Hz), the Elgato 4K60 Pro can be a companion for years to come.
If you’re all about capturing, and not so much pass-through, the Elgato Cam Link 4K might be more up to your speed. This nifty USB 3.0 stick features one HDMI connector, that picks up 4K video at 30 frames per second, or 1080p at 60 frames per second.
These settings mirror what prosumer cameras spit out, making the Cam Link great for turning your DSLR or action camera into a webcam in a pinch. Basically any modern prosumer camera will feature HDMI output that will work natively with the Cam Link.
If you’re ever wondering why (and how) streamers use professional cameras as webcams, consider checking out our guide on How To Use Your Camera as a Streaming Webcam.
As the Cam Link lacks any HDMI output, it’s not suited for picking up gameplay from consoles or PCs. There is still the possibility to display whatever the Cam Link picks up. The latency on that is minimized by Elgato, but the few milliseconds of lag might still throw you off.
AVerMedia’s Live Gamer DUO tries to combine the two above mentioned cards into one device. This PCIe component features one HDMI 2.0 port with 4K/60 passthrough, and one HDMI 1.4 port that only takes in 1080p/60 video.
The bottom line is, you have one channel dedicated for a console or gaming PC, and one operating as a camera feed. Both can be captured at 1080p at 60 frames per second, with the primary one capable of recording HDR content.
It only passes through 4K/60 content, while capturing at half the resolution. The lack of true 4K recordings can throw some more demanding content creators off, but the Live Gamer Duo still makes for a neat all-in-one solution. With essentially two capture cards in one, you can easily simplify your set-up. If less cable clutter is high on your lists of demands, this might be the way to go about it.
Elgato’s iconic HD60 was long considered the capture card, when Let’s Plays and live streams were just getting started. That time has long passed, but Elgato doubled down on the device. The Elgato HD60 S+ is mostly the same, simple block of video hardware, now with greatly improved specs.
This newer model will capture at 4K/30 in SDR, but offers HDR10 support when running at 1080p/60. In addition, the HD60 S+ features passthrough of up to 4K/60. It might not record at that frame rate, but your own output won’t be bottlenecked either. You could reliable use this piece of kit with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X as well.
By switching over to USB-C, this version of the HD60 features hardly any harsh compression or latency. Gone are the days of heavy delays that plagued the capture cards of old. Internal cards or more expensive external ones will easily outperform the HD60 S+, but this black blob reigns supreme in mobility and ease-of-use.
If you prefer external cards, but are also looking for big performance, AVerMedia’s Live Gamer Bolt might be up your alley. This stand-alone Thunderbolt 3 device passes through and captures HDMI input at 4K/60, with support for HDR content. As is often the case, this translates to 1440p/144, and 1080p/240.
The downside, aside from the steep price, comes mostly with its connection. It’s not just USB-C, it’s specifically Thunderbolt 3. Higher quality imagery just requires a connector with higher bandwidths. Modern laptops and motherboards might feature a Thunderbolt 3 port, but many gamers don’t have one to spare.
AVerMedia is making moves when it comes to their design, though. The Bolt isn’t by any means small, but the device certainly has its own charming looks. An addressable RGB underglow adds a neat little touch, even though it can’t be synchronized with popular RGB software suites.
The Intensity Pro 4K is Blackmagic’s more professionally oriented internal capture card. This PCIe component captures and passes through HDMI input, at 4K/30 and 1080p/60, with HDR10 support. In addition, the Intensity Pro 4K comes with a breakout cable that can pick up all kinds of composite video signals.
It’s definitely possible to capture some great gameplay with the Intensity Pro 4K, but the device is mostly meant for camera input. As such, Blackmagic supports all kinds of different codecs and video standards. These will range from 4:4:4 video sampling and Apple ProRes encoding, to television standard refresh rates. The capture card is also natively recognized by software like Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X, and Blackmagic’s own DaVinci Resolve.
As a neat bonus, this device can capture and pass through gameplay from retro consoles. With support for S-Video and older composite cabling, the Intensity Pro 4K might be the ultimate capture card for those who want to get some vintage gaming going as well.
That’s it for our recommendations on some of the best capture cards out there. Be it internal or external, these devices will have you streaming and broadcasting in reliable fashion. We certainly hope a solid contender has caught your eye.
If you’re still unsure on what would be the best capture card for you, feel free to reach out to us. We would be happy to help you find the right fit for you. Alternatively, if you already found a great card that didn’t make our list, let us know too. Your suggestions can only make our recommendations better.
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