Although the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can capture gameplay internally, the quality usually isn’t great. Consoles are already operating on thin margins when it comes to rendering games, so adding video encoding on top of that isn’t ideal. With a capture card, though, you can offload the work to an external device, taking the heat off your consoles and, in the process, upping your video quality. In this guide to the best capture cards, we’re going to run down our top seven picks for Twitch, YouTube, and more.
When it comes to recording gameplay and livestreaming, a capture card is necessary. For recording, capture cards allow you to capture the highest resolution and frame rate possible, as well as tweak various settings. For streaming, capture cards are an all-in-one solution for getting what you’re seeing on screen out to the masses. Below, we’ve labeled each card with its best-use case, but it’s important to note that all of the capture cards will work across systems (minus the Elgato 4K60 Pro and AverMedia Live Gamer Duo, which both require a PCI slot). We’ve also included a few 4K picks so you can be ready for the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
We also have the system requirements for each card. If you’re not familiar with PC components, worry not; all of our picks will work with modern consoles and a desktop or laptop from the last few years.
The best capture cards
- Elgato Game Capture HD60 S: The best capture card for PS4
- Razer Ripsaw HD: The best capture card for Xbox One X
- AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus: The best capture card for Nintendo Switch
- AverMedia Live Gamer Mini: The best cheap capture card
- Elgato 4K60 Pro: The best capture card for PC
- Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+: The best high-end external capture card
- AverMedia Live Gamer Duo: The best capture card for streaming with a camera
The best capture card for PS4
Pros: Instant streaming, flashback recording, console, PC, and Mac support
Cons: Lacks H.264 encoder, limited editing software capabilities
When you look at Elgato’s products released over the last several years, it’s easy to see why the company currently rules the game capture market. From its internal capture cards to its external devices and software, Elgato’s Game Capture lineup can handle just about anything.
Elgato’s HD60 S is a great option for consoles, especially the PlayStation 4. You don’t need a capture card with 4K capability given the PlayStation 4 can’t play 4K games and its more powerful sibling, the PlayStation 4 Pro, doesn’t play most games in native 4K.
The HD60 S supports 1080p captures at 60 frames per second. It also provides convenient features like “Instant Streaming,” which gets your captured content up on Twitch or YouTube quickly. Its “Flashback Recording” allows you to retroactively save footage from your favorite game. It’s also compatible with Mac via proprietary software.
The device connects to your PC via a USB-C connection (5Gbps). You’ll need Windows 10 (64-bit) or MacOS Sierra and a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 quad-core processor (or better). Macs require discrete AMD and Nvidia GPUs while Windows 10 PCs support integrated graphics too.
Unlike the older discontinued models, this version doesn’t have a built-in H.264 encoder. That means your PC will do more work. Additionally, the included editing software is largely limited to trimming and piecing together footage.
The best capture card for Xbox One X
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
The beefed-up Xbox One X supports true native 4K gaming, making Razer’s Ripsaw HD the optimum choice. However, it only records and streams in 1080p at 60 fps. But don’t worry: It supplies a 4K passthrough port so you’re still playing in 4K despite the low-resolution capture.
Razer’s Ripsaw HD isn’t specifically built for the Xbox One X, however. It’s also compatible with last-gen consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. That said, if you want to stream or capture older games, you can do so with this device.
The Razer Ripsaw HD connects to your PC via a USB-C to USB-A cable (5Gbps). It also includes separate headphone and microphone jacks on the front so you can easily record quality commentary while you play.
The Ripsaw HD is not perfect, however. Despite costing about the same as Elgato’s offerings, it doesn’t come with packed software, requiring you to utilize third-party solutions like OBS or XSplit. It currently doesn’t support Mac either, requiring a Windows-based PC. It does, however, fall under the Synapse 3 umbrella.
For desktop, you need at least a sixth-generation Intel Core i3-6100 chip and Nvidia’s GTX 660 GPU or higher. On laptops, you need at least a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4810MQ and Nvidia’s GTX 870M or higher.
The best capture card for Nintendo Switch
Pros: Small and portable, 4K passthrough, the software is versatile and easy to use, records footage to MicroSD, console and PC support
Cons: Mac users need 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. If you want to record gameplay on the go but don’t want to bring a PC, the AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus is a perfect choice.
With the Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus you can record gameplay without a tethered PC using its built-in H.264 encoder. It captures in 1080p at 60 fps, which is the ceiling for the Nintendo Switch’s limited capabilities. It saves your video to a MicroSD card, which you can access through the device’s Micro-USB connection to a PC (storage mode) or by transferring the MicroSD card to a PC.
If you want to livestream gameplay, you’ll need to connect the capture card to your PC and use Avermedia’s software (RECentral). It’s easy to use and comes with features comparable to OBS and XSplit. Live editing allows you to chop down recordings before saving them as a file.
In addition to the MicroSD and Micro-USB ports, the unit provides two HDMI ports along the back, one of which serves as a 4K passthrough (no HDR). Separate microphone and headphone jacks are on the front along with volume control and mode (PC, PC-free, storage) buttons. The system requirements are a bit strange. With a desktop, you need a Core i5-3330 or better and a GTX 650, while on a laptop, you need a Core i7-4810MQ and GTX 870M or better.
The one major downside of the Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus is that its proprietary software only works with Windows. The company offers an “express” version in beta for Macs, but you’ll likely need third-party software like OBS and XSplit.
The best cheap capture card
Pros: Built-in hardware H.264 encoder, live passthrough, 1080p streaming at 60 fps
Cons: Lacking Mac software
The AverMedia Live Gamer Mini is all you really need for streaming, and at $100, it’s cheap, too. It supports 1080p recording and streaming at 60 fps, and the card comes with zero-lag passthrough, allowing you to monitor your gameplay in real-time. In some ways, the Live Gamer Mini even beats out capture cards that are twice its price.
That’s mainly thanks to its H.264 hardware encoder. Like the increasingly rare Elgato HD 60, the Live Gamer Mini takes the encoding workload off your CPU when streaming or recording. Because the card handles encoding, you can even capture backup recordings of your stream with StreamEngine. StreamEngine is a lightweight application included with the Live Gamer Mini, allowing you to capture your gameplay before it heads to your broadcasting software of choice.
Like the Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus above, this capture card comes with AverMedia’s RECentral software. With scene transitions, chroma key support, and an audio mixer, RECentral has everything you need to stream to YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and more. If you prefer a different broadcasting software, the Live Gamer Mini supports XSplit, OBS, and OBS Studio, too.
Outside of software, the Live Gamer Mini is straightforward. The card is extremely small, clocking in at less than an inch thick, and comes with only three ports: HDMI input, HDMI output, and USB 2.0 output. For system requirements, you’ll need an Intel i5-3330 and GTX 650 or better on desktop and an i7-4810MQ and GTX 870M or better on a laptop. The card requires 4GB of RAM on laptops and desktops, though AverMedia recommends 8GB.
As was the case above, though, Mac users only have access to the express version of RECentral. This version still comes with chroma key support and the audio mixer, though it lacks live editing and the performance optimizations featured in the full Windows version.
The best capture card for PC
Pros: HDR support, 4K recording at 60 fps, multi-app support
Cons: Expensive, PCIe only, high system requirements
The Elgato 4K60 Pro is a capture card to end all capture cards, and it comes with a price tag to match. As the only internal card on our list, the 4K60 Pro benefits from much larger bandwidth thanks to its PCIe x4 interface, outracing USB 3.0 in every circumstance, and making USB 2.0 look like a relic.
Of course, the standout feature for the 4K60 Pro is that it can record at 2160p at 60 fps. It also supports 1080p60, as well as HDR10.
This is a PC gamer’s capture card, though. Although slotting a PCIe card into your computer is no tough task, simply opening the side panel may be too much. If you fit in that camp but still want the best in quality, our next pick is perfect for you.
The 4K60 Pro is not only a PC gamer’s capture card because it’s internal, but also because it demands some pretty hefty system requirements. You’ll need an Nvidia 10-series GPU, at least, as well as a 6th Gen Core i7 or Ryzen 7. It only supports Windows, too.
Thankfully, the 4K60 Pro is worth the hassle. It includes the same excellent features seen on the HD60 S, including Flashback Recording, as well as passthrough at up to 1080p240 or 1440p144.
The best high-end external capture card
Pros: Hardware H.264/H.265 encoding, built-in SD card reader, HDR support, 4K recording at 60 fps
Cons: Very expensive, no high-resolution passthrough
The Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+ is, basically, a 4K60 Pro in a box. Nearly twice the price on the PCIe variant, the 4k60 S+ clocks in at a staggering $400. It does, however, have some perks over the base 4K60 Pro.
Namely, the S+ comes with a H.264/H.265 hardware encoder built in. You don’t need a supercomputer to use it, as all of the processing takes place on the card itself, but you’ll still need a decent rig. Like the 4K60 Pro, you’ll need a Windows 10 machine with 8GB of RAM and a 10-series or better Nvidia GPU. The CPU requirements are less strict, requiring either a Ryzen 7 or 6th Gen Core i5 or better.
With the encoder on board, you don’t even need a PC to use the 4K60 S+. With the built-in SD card reader, you can easily capture gameplay free of a PC, all at 4K60. Plus, the 4K60 S+ supports HDR in case you want to show off your Xbox One X or PS4 Pro.
There are some cons to going external, though. The 4K60 S+ doesn’t support high-resolution/frame-rate passthrough like the PCIe version, and “Instant Gameview,” a feature we’ll touch on in a moment, is delayed by 250 milliseconds. Still, the 4K60 S+ is an absolute house when it comes to capturing your gameplay at the highest resolutions and frame rates.
The best capture card for streaming with a camera
Pros: Two HDMI inputs, HDR support, 4K60 passthrough
Cons: No 4K recording, expensive
All of the capture cards above only come with a single input and a single output, so you can only ever stream or record a single source at once. The AverMedia Live Gamer Duo, on the other hand, allows you to record two sources at the same time. Even better, you can record or stream a full 1080p signal at 60 fps from both sources.
So, if you aren’t content with your webcam, you can hook up a DSLR to the second input to add some polish to your stream. You’ll want to hook up your camera to the second input, though. The first input on the card supports HDR, so you can capture HDR gameplay on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.
The card is pricey at around $250, and it’s a PCIe card, so you’ll need a free spot in your computer. Compared to cards in the same price bracket — namely the Elgato 4K60 Pro — the Live Gamer Duo doesn’t support 4K recording or streaming. It does, however, support 4K passthrough at 60 fps, so you can still enjoy the full graphical fidelity of whatever game you’re playing. If you favor frame rate over resolution, you can also passthrough a 1080p stream at up to 240Hz or a 1440p at up to 144Hz.
Unlike the AverMedia cards above, the Live Gamer Duo doesn’t have a hardware H.264 encoder, so you’ll need a decent PC to use it. In addition to a free PCIe slot, the Live Gamer Duo requires a sixth-generation i5 or first-generation Ryzen 5 and a GTX 1050 or R7 560 or better. You’ll also need 8GB of RAM.
For software, the Live Gamer Duo includes AverMedia’s RECentral software, though it also supports just about every other broadcasting software available. The card comes with RGB lighting on the side, too, allowing you to light up your card with whatever color you want.
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 gameplay footage.
Capture cards can work a few different ways depending on the model, but they all act as passthrough devices between your game console or PC and your display. Instead of linking your HDMI or VGA cable from your console to your television, you instead link the console to the capture card. A second cable links the capture card to your television. Lastly, a USB cable or PCI connection connects the capture card to your PC so it can transmit data as you record footage.
Some capture cards include a built-in H.264 encoder, which handles most of the processing power required to record video game footage. Those that do not may require a more powerful PC to handle the processing bulk, 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 based on specific features tailored to that system, you can use the same card for all three. If a specific model suits your fancy but isn’t marked as the “best” for your console, use it anyway!
Final Note: Elgato Game Capture HD60 vs. Elgato Game Capture HD60 S
The Elgato Game Capture HD60 S 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 PC’s resources. The HD60 S, however, does not have an H.264 encoder, requiring your PC to do more 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 3.1 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 in production is the HD60 S, though, so you’ll pay far more than MSRP for the older HD60.
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