The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 both feature integrated game-capturing software that allows you to record or stream your best gaming moments with the world, but the programs feature limitations. On Xbox One, you can only capture a few minutes of footage, and PlayStation 4 can block certain spoiler-heavy scenes from being shared at all.
The solution to this problem is an external capture device more commonly called a “capture card.” The best capture cards offer flexible and high-fidelity recording and streaming options, helping to take your content to the next level and make you look like a professional.
How do capture cards work?
The term “capture card” is somewhat nebulous, as it technically refers to a peripheral slotted into a PC that allows you to capture your gameplay footage. However, for our purposes, we will also be talking about external gameplay capture devices when we use the term.
Capture cards can work a few different ways depending on the model you use, but they all act as pass-through devices between your game console, your computer, and your display. Instead of plugging your HDMI or VGA cable from your console into your television, you instead plug it into the capture card and a second HDMI cable is then plugged from the capture card into the television. Lastly, a USB cord is plugged into the capture card and your computer so it can transmit data as you record footage.
Some capture cards are equipped with an H.264 encoder, which handles much of the processing power required to record video game footage. Those that do not may require a more powerful PC to handle the bulk of the processing, so be aware of your device’s features before making a purchase.
Also keep in mind that although we listed separate capture cards for each console below based on specific features tailored to that system, you can use the same card for all three. If one of the ones we listed suits your fancy but isn’t marked as the “best” for your console of choice, you can use it, anyway!
Best capture card for PS4
Elgato Game Capture HD60 S
Pros: Instant Streaming, Flashback Recording, Console, PC, and Mac support
Cons: Lacks H.264 encoder, editing software capabilities are limited
Elgato has ruled the game capture market for the last several years, and when you take a look at the brand’s products, it’s easy to see why. From its internal capture cards to its external devices and software, Elgato Game Capture is equipped to handle almost anything.
Featuring 1080p and 60 fps with USB 3.0 support, the HD60 S from Elgato is a great option for consoles, especially the PS4. Since the PlayStation 4 can’t play 4K games and its more powerful sibling the PlayStation 4 Pro does not play most games in native 4K, a capture card with that kind of capability isn’t necessary.
It also brings convenient features like “Instant Streaming,” which gets your captured content up on Twitch or YouTube quickly, and its “Flashback Recording” allows you to retroactively save footage from your favorite game. It’s also compatible with Mac via the proprietary software.
The major downside to the HD60 S over the discontinued older models is that it doesn’t have a built-in H.264 encoder. This means your computer will be doing more of the work. Additionally, the editing software it comes with is largely limited to trimming and piecing together footage.
Best capture card for Xbox One X
Razer Ripsaw HD
Pros: 4K passthrough, audio mixing and microphone input, compatible with most capture software, PC, Mac, and current-gen and last-gen console support
Cons: No proprietary software
True native 4K gaming is possible on the beefed-up Xbox One X, and that makes the Razer Ripsaw HD the optimum choice on the console. The Ripsaw HD still records and streams your content at 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, but it features 4K passthrough so you won’t be sacrificing your gaming fidelity whenever you record content. It’s also compatible with last-gen consoles such as the PS3 and Xbox, so if you’re interested in streaming or capturing older games, you’ll be able to do so with the Ripsaw.
The Razer Ripsaw HD supports USB 3.0 and it features audio mixing and a microphone input so you can easily record quality commentary while you play.
The Ripsaw HD is not a perfect capture device, however. Despite costing about the same as Elgato’s offerings, it doesn’t come with its own software, requiring you to utilize something like OBS or XSplit. There also isn’t currently Mac support, so you’ll have to look elsewhere if you don’t have a PC of some sort.
Best capture card for Nintendo Switch
AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus
Pros: Small and portable, 4K passthrough, Software is versatile and easy to use, Records footage to MicroSD, Console and PC support
Cons: Mac users will need to use third-party software
The Nintendo Switch’s portability makes it a great choice for traveling gamers, and with the right carrying case, you can even take the system’s dock with you and play it on a friend’s television. If you want to record your footage on the go but don’t want to bring a computer along, as well, the AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus is a perfect choice.
The Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus allows you to record your gaming footage without using a PC, and it can record at 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, which is the ceiling for the Nintendo Switch’s more limited hardware.
If you are using a 4K device, it also has 4K passthrough. The Portable 2 Plus features a built-in H.264 encoder and saves recordings to a MicroSD card, and it’s compatible with both PC and Mac if you do want to use a computer while you record.
RECentral, Avermedia’s capture and streaming software, is easy to use and comes with features comparable to OBS and XSplit. Live editing allows for you to chop down recordings before saving them as a file.
The one major downside of the Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus, however, is that its proprietary software only works with PC. For Mac users, you’ll have to find another third-party solution, such as OBS.
Best cheap capture card
Roxio Game Capture HD Pro
Pros: Affordable, Software is versatile, PC, current-gen, and last-gen support
Cons: Incompatible with Mac, Uses USB 2.0, Doesn’t include any cables
You don’t need to break the bank to buy a capture card, and with the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro, you barely even need to make a dent. Typically selling for under $100, the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro features an auto-capturing feature to record the last hour of your gameplay, and its own software to stream directly to YouTube or Twitch. The software features transitions, picture-in-picture boxes, soundtracks, and text to make your content look professional.
The Roxio Game Capture HD Pro can also be used to capture your PC gameplay. With its H.264 encoder built-in, this means your PC will be doing significantly less work, allowing the game you’re playing to run more smoothly.
Unfortunately, the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro is not compatible with Mac, so you’ll have to choose one of our other options if you’ll be using one to record. It also uses USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0, which could cause latency issues during streaming, and some users have reported issues with reliability. You get what you pay for!
Elgato Game Capture HD60 vs. Elgato Game Capture HD60 S – What’s the difference?
Elgato currently has only one external capture device for sale: Game Capture HD60 S. It serves as the replacement for the Game Capture HD60, and while it’s superior in several ways, it also features a few differences that could make its predecessor a better fit for you.
The Elgato Game Capture HD60 uses H.264 for encoding that doesn’t make use of your computer’s resources. The HD60 S, however, does not have an H.264 encoder, meaning that your computer will have to do more of the work. The “Master Copy” feature on the older device also gives you higher quality recording in comparison to the “Stream Copy” recording on the HD60 S.
However, the Elgato Game Capture HD60 S comes equipped with “Instant Gameview,” so you can see your content and even your webcam footage in real-time as you play. It also supports USB 3.0 for a lower-latency gaming experience.
Both capture devices support all the current systems, as does the original Game Capture HD device. The only one still being produced is the HD60 S, though, so you’ll have to pay far more than MSRP to get your hands on one the HD60.