If you’re an aspiring streamer looking to create gaming console content, or you just want to share your amazing gameplay when you play games, then you need a capture card. There are capture cards meant for PC gaming, while there are capture cards meant for consoles. Apart from helping you stream footage, you can use some capture cards to build your overall stream overlay. You can link your stream capture software, audio mixer software (if you have any), high-end webcam or DSLR, and a stream deck to a capture card to stream or capture HDR footage without compromising video quality.
The best gaming capture cards in the market today have impressive features. The high end cards allow for recording gameplay at 4K/60Hz and HD recording. Now, to take advantage of a capture card’s power, your streaming computer needs to be just as powerful. The newest Nvidia and AMD graphics cards can get you all the power you need to capture epic gaming moments at the highest resolution and frame rate possible.
What’s a Capture Card?
But first, what is a capture card? A capture card is a piece of hardware used together with a third party software to capture on-screen content and encode it for playback through livestream or high-quality recording.
Capture cards are compatible with PC and consoles as long as they have an HDMI cable. You can also find portable capture cards that you can bring along when you travel. PC gamers and console gamers both enjoy the use of a capture card for streaming or for capturing gameplay.
How Do You Use a Capture Card?
How do you capture gameplay footage using a capture card? Well, you need to know what systems are compatible with a capture card first.
Most capture cards are compatible with the following devices:
- Current generation consoles: Nintendo Switch (or Switch OLED), Playstation 5, Xbox One
- Personal Computers
- Macbooks (check for capture cards’ hardware requirements first)
- DSLR Cameras, or any digital camera, with HDMI output
To use a capture card, you need the following:
- HDMI output with HDMI cable
- TV or monitor
- Personal computer (gaming hardware recommended) for storing or recording footage
- Capture software (i.e. Streamlabs OBS, Bandicam, etc.)
Top 3 Best Capture Cards For Streaming
Now that we know what a capture card is and how you can use it to record gameplay, it’s time to reveal the top 3 capture cards for streaming and recording gameplay footage.
Best External Capture Card: Elgato HD60 X
A brand that needs no introduction. Elgato is one of the leading manufacturers for all recording and streaming hardware. From microphones to stream decks to capture cards, it comes as no surprise that Elgato is on this list.
The best capture card in the market right now is the Elgato HD60 X. What’s really impressive about this capture card is the 4K passthrough and makes use of G-Sync or FreeSync technologies. The latter was made possible with the latest updates on the Elgato HD60 X.
This capture card will cost you about $200, and comes with three key capture resolutions:
- 4k at 30FPS
- 1440p at 60FPS
- 1080p at 60FPS
Resolution and frame rate capabilities in a capture card such as Elgato HD60 X is just remarkable and makes it the best value capture card for streaming or recording. To help you save bandwidth, the encoding is set at 4:2:0 by default. You can set it to 4:2:2 via non-default codecs and will work at 1080p/60FPS or 1440p/30FPS recording, but don’t expect that feature out of the box.
You get 4:4:4 passthrough functionality, or in this case, you get uncompressed recording. This kind of capture device allows you to record high quality videos without losing a lot of that information.
All in all, this is an external capture card that’s worth investing on if you’re a serious video game content creator or streamer. I use the Elgato Game Capture HD60 S myself and my console captures have never been as crisp and clear. If you’re due for an upgrade, get the HD60 S or the HD 60 X when budget permits.
Best Budget Capture Card (External) – EVGA XR1 Lite
Those looking for a capture card but on a tight budget should go for the EVGA XR1 Lite. Do not underestimate this beast just because it’s affordable.
The EVGA XR1 Lite provides you with 4K/60FPS pass-through, which makes it perfect for the next-gen consoles (PS5 or Xbox One). You can record gameplay at 1080p/60FPS without lag or compression as well. This capture device is also simple to use. All you need is HDMI ports and cables to connect to PC or console and a USB Type C cable. You can also connect it to a DSLR camera for the best quality webcam footage.
The EVGA XR1 Lite is housed in a sleek yet durable plastic chassis. You also get lighting indicators that lets you know if the card is idle, active, updating, or not working. It’s also certified to use with OBS software, and makes it one of the best plug-and-play capture cards in the market right now. If you have a gaming PC with decent specs, then the EVGA XR1 might be a solid pick amongst the other cards.
Best High-End Capture Card – Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+
Second to the HD60, the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+ makes it to the top three best capture cards for streaming for a number of reasons. This is also a personal review of sorts given that this is the capture card that I am currently using right now.
While most capture cards need to be linked to a gaming PC or console to record in-game footage, you only need an SD card for the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+ so you can record footage and store it on the card itself. Plug the capture card in, press Record, and you’re all set! All you really need to do from there is to keep on purchasing another SD card when the previous one is filled.
This is one of the few capture cards in the market right now with their own separate storage to capture game footage. It’s also versatile because you’re recording gameplay footage at 4K/60FPS and in HDR at the same time. Truly one of the best capture cards in the market, and if you can’t get the HD60 X, the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+ is a decent second choice.
Honorable Mentions For Best Capture Cards For Streaming
The next list will contain what we think are honorable mentions for the best capture cards in the market right now. Most of them are external capture cards, but there are a couple on here that are internal capture cards.
The list below is not arranged in a particular order, so feel free to check out which one is the best capture card for you.
Genki Shadowcast (Wireless)
If you want to run a streaming software that doesn’t have you installing an external or internal capture card, you might want to consider an wireless capture card. And the best capture card in that category is the Genki Shadowcast.
The Genki Shadowcast plugs in directly to your streaming video source via an HDMI cable without requiring an extra HDMI cable. You can simply plug it into a free HDMI slot on your consoles (Playstation 5 or Xbox series) or PC to receive the video feed.
Once the Genki Shadowcast is tied to a source device, you connect to it using a single USB-C cable on your laptop or PC that you’ll use as the capturing device. For those with minimal desk space or those who want to run a compact setup for recording gameplay, or streaming gameplay, then you’ll want to consider the Genki Shadowcast.
For about $50, this makes the Genki Shadowcast the most affordable capture card for streaming without compromising video quality.
Asus TUF CU4K30 (External USB-C)
The Asus TUF CU4K30 is the best capture card for those who don’t have an available PCIe slot or USB-A port but have a USB-C port instead. In simpler terms, if you’re using a third party software for streaming on a thin gaming laptop, chances are you won’t have those two mentioned slots/ports.
But the Asus TUF CU4K30 comes to the rescue for that one PC gamer who just games on a thin laptop. The Asus TUF CU4K30 supports a 4K/30FPS recording, or you can drop it to 2K resolution at 60FPS, or even better at 1080p/120FPS streaming/capture. The card can also pass video signals from your game system or gaming hardware through your TV or monitor at 4K/60Hz with HDR or 2K at 144Hz or 1080p at 240Hz. The Asus TUF CU4K30 comes in a sleek aluminum chassis with RGB lighting that serves as status indicators.
AVerMedia Live Gamer Duo (Internal)
Avermedia’s Live Gamer Duo is probably one of the best internal capture cards out here. As the name implies, you can juggle two video capture tasks simultaneously. Avermedia Live Gamer Duo is equipped with two HDMI inputs (ports) which will let you handle both consoles (Playstation, Nintendo Switch, or Xbox Series) or gaming PC capture and hooking up an HDMI video feed using a DSLR or digital camera.
Not only is your desktop PC recording and streaming at 1080p/60FPS, but you’re also showing on-screen appearance at the same video quality.
This internal card captures 1080p/60FPS video game content using its own software, while handling two different video input sources. You’re streaming and recording (lag free pass through) at 4k at 60Hz with Full HD, 1080p at 240Hz, or 1440p at 144Hz video quality. This is the best capture card if you’re serious about creating video game content.
AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K (Internal)
AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K is the cheapest internal capture card in the market right now that allows for capturing gameplay at 4K/60FPS footage in HD resolution. Unfortunately, you can’t broadcast at that quality, even with third party software. If that’s not a big letdown for you, the AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K has more to offer.
AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K lets you record footage at 1080p at 240FPS, which is huge! If you’re the type of PC gamer who likes RGB lighting, then you might enjoy the RGB lighting from the AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K, as it can add more flair to inside your PC.
Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro (Internal)
4K videos take up a lot of bandwidth when you upload them, and uploading them to your YouTube channel might reduce the quality a bit but not as what you’d anticipate. Your viewers will still have to sit through a few more seconds of buffering longer than what they’re accustomed to.
If you want to dump your external capture card for an internal one, look no further. The Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro should be on your radar. This is also probably the only budget capture card from Elgato, so that’s another bonus for bagging the Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro.
This internal capture card captures game footage at 60FPS and Full HD. It’ll take up half the PCIe slots that its 4K counterpart consumes and costs you $100 less too. Apart from broadcasting in full HD, you can also record and store footage to your hard drive at 1080p at 60FPS in H.264 codec at a max of 60Mbps bitrate. This internal card also provides you complete support for streaming on your YouTube channel and Twitch.
With the help of Game Capture HD, OBS Studio, or XSplit, broadcasting at 1080p is flawless even for something as budget-friendly as this capture card.
Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro Mk. 2 (Internal)
Probably one of the priciest capture cards on this list, the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro Mk. 2 is a PCIe internal capture card that allows you to capture 4K resolution footage at a max of 140Mbps bitrate without sweating. This kind of video capture power shouldn’t even be made possible, but here we are with the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro Mk. 2.
The Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro Mk. 2 comes with Multi App Access, which lets you network multiple streaming and recording apps to access your capture card simultaneously. You’re able to stream, broadcast, and record gameplay footage at 4K HDR at standard dynamic range.
AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt (External)
If you’re a PC gamer looking for the best capture card for streaming, but can’t afford the Elgato brand, the AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt is your next best option. Out of all the capture cards we’ve seen and tested, the AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt delivers the lowest latency of added latency. This makes it the perfect partner for recording games that require fast reflexes.
The AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt delivers 4K/60FPS HD Recording or 1080p/240FPS resolution. The only downside here is that you need a Thunderbolt 3 Port, which you can only find in certain motherboards or gaming laptops.
Frequently Asked Questions About Capture Cards
Why Do You Need a Capture Card If You Can Record Using Third Party Software?
OBS and other third-party broadcasting software are great and all, but they have certain limitations. These limitations include the capture quality from your gaming PC or console.
For example, let’s say you have an Xbox series console and you want to run an HDMI camera instead of your typical USB web camera. The easiest way for you to get both of these to work on your PC is to hook them up to a capture card.
OBS and other third-party software are reliant on your system’s resources. Your CPU and GPU will affect capture quality greatly, so you can imagine the strain it will put on low-end hardware. Modern CPUs have gotten quite better at handling multitasking for recording and streaming, but a capture card reduces a lot of that load on your system.
If you have a console and a gaming PC, a capture card allows you to record gameplay footage or broadcast gameplay from your console using the stream outlay that you use for PC game footage.
Will Capture Cards Reduce Video Quality and Flashback Recording Quality?
A good dedicated capture card allows you to increase the quality of your stream or video game recording. As mentioned above, the card reduces CPU and GPU strain from recording and streaming.
Simply put, you can run on a midrange gaming PC while capturing high resolution and framerate footages from consoles or PC using a capture card.
This is made possible with something called Chroma Subsampling. This reduces bandwidth requirements, which affect the quality of the final output. Bear in mind that when you upload your content to sites such as YouTube, then the quality might drop even further. But you reduce the quality drop greatly when you use a capture card.
Do I Need To Use A Built In Audio Mixer To Record Audio?
You don’t need a separate or built in audio mixer to capture in-game audio. Your capture card will be recording or broadcasting audio as crisp as it records or broadcasts videos.
With the help of OBS, or any streaming software for that matter, you can use the software’s built in audio mixer to help you generate the best audio quality for recording and broadcasting.
Of course, you can’t edit your audio when you’re broadcasting but you can always enhance audio for your recordings during post-production.
Will Price Matter?
Elgato and AVermedia brands are two of the most expensive brands for capture cards in the market right now, but it doesn’t mean they’re making it less accessible to the public. They have budget-friendly options for gamers who’re getting into streaming or recording but don’t want to invest a lot of money just yet.
Granted, you can’t expect the same kind of features for their budget-friendly counterparts that you’ll find on the ones that are on this list. As for the other brands, you’ll probably be able to find capture cards that have the same specs as the ones on this list but at a lesser price tag.
To put it simply, you’re getting what you’re paying for.
What’s Our Verdict?
Regardless of your streaming setup, here’s our own verdict for the best capture card (both internal and external):
External Capture Card: Elgato HD60 X
There’s no question here that the best external capture card is the HD60 X. It’s got everything you need to record and broadcast gameplay footage, regardless of the capture device. Imagine recording video game content from a game console that matches the video quality of a high-end gaming PC.
Streaming software is negligible at this point because you can make use of Elgato’s own app to help you improve video input quality and audio quality. But if you can’t afford the Elgato HD60 X, the HD 60 S+ is the second best option for you if you want external capture card.
Internal Capture Card: Avermedia Live Gamer Duo
We’re torn between the Avermedia Live Gamer Duo and Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro Mk. 2 for this category, simply because you can’t go wrong with choosing either.
Internal capture cards are meant for people who don’t want to deal with hardware that occupies desk space beside their desktop computer. Unfortunately, current generation game console such as an Xbox series or Playstation 5 can’t install an internal capture card so they’ll have to make do with a wireless card or an external capture card.