A capture card is an essential part of your Twitch streaming arsenal. To help you to get the most bang for your buck, we’ve done the research and put together a complete list of the best capture cards for streaming in 2019.
What is the best capture card or streaming 2020? My top pick for the best capture card for streaming right now has to be the Elgato Game Capture HD60S. It’s probably the most popular capture card on the market and the card of choice for many professional streamers. It boasts an easy USB 3.0 connection, streams in 1080p60 with ultra-low latency, and has a bunch of other nifty features including flashback recording.
That being said, every streamer’s gaming setup is different. The best capture card for you will depend on various factors, like the kind of games you play, the consoles you plan to stream, your internet connection speed, and your budget. To help you to make the right choice, we’ve put together a complete buying guide and picked out 7 great capture cards for you to choose from.
What is a Capture Card? (And Do I Really Need One?)
Put simply, a capture card is a piece of hardware that ‘captures’ a video signal and converts it to digital data on your computer, usually via an HDMI connection.
They’re used by streamers to record gameplay on external devices. For example, if you wanted to stream the footage from a game you were playing on your Xbox or PS4 from your PC, you’d need to hook it up to a capture card first.
In the same way, if you wanted to play a game on one PC and stream from a different PC, you’d need to use a capture card to send the video signal from your gaming PC to your streaming PC. Indeed, a lot of serious streamers like to do this as it reduces the strain on both PCs so that they can stream in better quality and reduce gameplay lag.
If you’re both gaming and streaming from the same PC, a capture card isn’t really necessary – you can just use software like XSplit to record and stream your footage. However, even in this case, you might still want to use one as some capture cards have their own encoders that can theoretically offload some of the work from your CPU and thus improve performance.
In case you’re not very tech-savvy and that all sounds a little like geek-jargon, let me put it another way. You might want to use a capture card if:
- You want to stream live gameplay from a console
- You’re using two PCs; one to stream and one for gaming
- You want to improve streaming & game performance
Ok, now that’s covered, let’s move on.
Capture Card Buying Guide
Different capture cards make more sense for some streamers that others. Below, we’ve listed the different factors you’ll want to think about when shopping around.
Probably the most important factor of a capture card is its resolution. Resolutions range from 480p SD to 4K UHD, with more expensive capture cards having higher resolutions.
However, a higher resolution isn’t always necessarily better. The higher the resolution, the more data you’ll need to upload while streaming, and the greater your upload speed will need to be. Therefore, it makes sense to think about your internet upload speeds before you buy.
Here are the different upload speed requirements (approx.) for different resolutions:
- 480p SD – 3 Mbps
- 720p HD – 5 Mbps
- 100p HD – 8 Mbps
- 4K UHD – 25 Mbps
For most streamers, I’d recommend going for a 720p – 1080p capture card. Unless you’re super concerned about the quality and you’re really aiming for that cinematic experience, 1080p is plenty.
Frame rate is the second most important capture card factor when it comes to overall image quality. The resolution determines the quality and detail of the footage, the frame rate determines how ‘smooth’ the footage will look.
The more frames per second (FPS), the smoother the gameplay footage. Most video game capture cards have either 30FPS or 60FPS.
Streaming vs Recording
Another important thing to consider is whether you’ll be streaming and recording. Some capture cards are designed to capture – and sometimes store – footage for you to edit and upload later, whereas others are designed to enable you to stream footage in real-time.
This is another super important factor to consider. Certain capture cards are built to work with specific consoles, so it’s important to ensure that the capture card you choose to use is compatible with the gaming console you plan on recording.
The last thing you want is to purchase a capture card for the sole purpose of streaming a Wii U game, only to find it only works with Xbox.
Latency is what most gamers know as ‘lag’. Most capture cards have at least some lag associated with their capture preview. The amount of lag it causes will be related to how fast your computer hardware is, the type of game you’re playing, and how good your capture card is.
The best capture cards cause little to no lag, and some even claim to cause ‘zero’ lag. The more expensive the capture card, the better it’s likely to be in this regard. Lots of latency can really ruin a Livestream, so this is definitely one of the most important factors to consider.
Setup: Internal vs External
Some capture cards connect to your computer in different ways. ‘Internal’ capture cards connect directly to your PC’s motherboard through the PCIe slot, whereas external capture cards connect via USB 2.0 or USB 3.0
The advantage of internal cards is that they supposedly offer faster connections and have less of a delay so that your stream commentary and gameplay footage stays more in sync.
However, the disadvantages are that internal cards use more CPU and RAM and are less portable and easy to use than external cards. They also require an open PCIe slot, which not everyone has, and can be difficult to set up if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Many people feel external cards are more suited towards recording than streaming on account of the delay, but those with USB 3.0 connections can still easily stream with no noticeable delay – so it’s really up to you. As long as you get a good product, both internal and external cards should be good enough.
In addition to your capture card, you’ll also need some kind of streaming software to power your stream. Most streamers opt for either XSplit or OBS but many capture cards also come with their own dedicated software.
If this is something you want, make sure you check whether streaming software is included with your capture card. However, it’s probably worth noting that a lot of capture card streaming software is very limited. Even if it comes with its own software, it might not be able to do all the edits and tweaks you’re looking for, so keep this in mind when you’re shopping around.
The price of capture cards can vary greatly depending on the overall quality of the product. Generally, the more you’re willing to pay, the better the capture card you can get.
Most good capture cards cost around the $150-$250 mark. However, the most expensive, high-end, 4K capture cards can cost as much as $500+, and budget options can be as low as $50 or even less.
That being said, I’d advise you to steer clear of budget options as you tend to get what you pay for with capture cards. Anything under $100 runs the risk of causing a lot of latency that will make your stream difficult to watch. It’s best to spend the extra $50 and have something that will do a good job and won’t break after a couple of months, in my opinion.
That being said, I know that different streamers have different budgets, and I wanted to make sure I included a little something for everyone, so I included a few options in all the different price categories in my list below.
Top 7 Capture Cards for Streaming (2019)
Now, without further ado, let’s jump into my list of the 10 best capture cards for streaming in 2019.
1. Elgato Game Capture HD60S
The Elgato HD60S is my overall favorite capture card for streaming in 2019 – and my top recommendation for anyone who wants a hassle-free experience. It’s a USB 3.0 capture card and has its own built-in software, which means it’s super easy to set up.
It boasts a 1080p recording resolution at 60fps, which is pretty much the standard – very few streamers need anything higher than that. It’s also very reasonably priced and has an easy-to-use interface, which makes it a great entry-level capture card for those new to streaming.
Elgato advertises the fact that the HD60S utilizes ‘ultra-low latency technology’, which should mean very little lag. And indeed, it delivers on this promise.
After using this capture card for months, I’ve never once experienced any noticeable latency whatsoever. And it’s not just me either, the HD60S seems to check out with other uses too.
It even gets the Reddit seal of approval as many users report smooth, lag-free streaming – and you know how hard those guys are to please.
One user on Reddit says ‘I’m using an HD60S and I get no input lag’. Of course, there’s no such thing as zero-latency capture cards, but this is about as close as it gets.
it’s a great capture card for both streaming or recording. The Elgato HD60S card’s editing suite is nothing special, but it lets you do the basic cutting and trimming you need for a very simple video edit. Plus, you can always just transfer the footage over to your own video editing software instead.
Another feature I really love is the ‘Flashback Recording’ function. This feature basically allows you to capture footage after you’ve been streaming when you forget to hit record. It’s super helpful if you’re as scatterbrained as me!
2. Razer Ripsaw HD
The Razer Ripsaw HD only just missed out on the top spot for the title of best capture card for streaming in 2019 and is definitely my second favorite product on the market right now.
Razer is a well-known brand in the gaming equipment and peripheral market. They make some of the very best high-performance gaming gear out there, including PCs, headphones, hardware, and even mobile phones. As such, you can bet that there capture cards will be of similarly high quality.
Like the Elgato HD60, the Ripsaw HD focuses on making streaming as simple and hassle-free as possible. Everything you need to complete your streaming setup is built into the card itself, like a mic and a headphone jack for audio mixing.
All you have to do is hook it up to your console/gaming PC, monitor, and streaming PC, and you’re good to go. It also boasts HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0 connectivity, for easy setup and low latency.
The only thing that’s missing is the software. Unfortunately, the Ripsaw HD doesn’t have its own dedicated streaming software, so you’ll need to use something like XSplit or OBS instead. This is probably the only reason the Ripsaw HD missed out on the number one spot.
It does have something that the HD60 doesn’t, however – 4K/60fps passthrough. This means that, while you’re limited to 1080p/60fps recording/streaming, you can still play the game itself in 4K. This is great if you don’t want to miss out on that super-HD, cinematic experience yourself, but you don’t necessarily want to waste your bandwidth streaming in 4K.
Of course, if you do want to stream in 4K, you’ll need to look elsewhere, which brings us nicely onto our third capture card…
3.Elgato 4K60 Pro Capture Card
If you want to stream in 4K, you need a 4K capture card – and there’s no better 4K capture card than the Elgato 4K60 Pro.
It offers similar performance and features to that of the HD60S, including its own dedicated Elgato streaming software. The main difference between the two is that with this capture card, you can stream in ultra-high definition.
This can make your streaming footage look really great, but it’s not the right choice for everyone, which is why it didn’t make the number one spot. The problem with streaming in 4K is that it is very resource-intensive. It takes a lot of computer power and bandwidth to stream in 4K.
Ideally, you’ll need a high-end PC and at least 25Mbps upload speed. By high-end PC, I mean at least an i7 CPU or above and a good gaming graphics card like the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20-Series. You’ll struggle to avoid noticeable latency without these stats.
Another thing to bear in mind is that 4K video files take up a lot of footage. The 4K60 Pro does, fortunately, have an encoder to reduce the file sizes, but you’ll still want to make sure you have a decent amount of memory on your hard drive.
All that being said, if you have a good PC and an internet connection, go for it. Your footage will look ridiculously crisp and it’ll give your stream that extra bit of professionalism that could help you to stand out from the competition.
4. AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus
The AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus is another fantastic USB gaming capture card. It’s my top recommendation for non-tech-savvy beginners that are looking for something easy to use.
Everything is really intuitive and works straight out of the box – just plug it in and go. The huge flashing lights tell you when you’re capturing so that there’s really no way you can mess it up. It also comes bundled with its own software called RECentral, which allows you to overlay text and change your picture-in-picture setup, but it works with XSplit and OBS too.
Another feature worth mentioning is the live commentary feature which allows you to easily capture your party chat and add commentaries to your streams by connecting your headset.
The main unique selling point of this card, though, is that that you don’t even need a PC to use it. It’s one of the only capture cards that allow you to capture footage straight to a Micro SD card in 1080p 60fps.
This is great for any gamers that want to record footage to use later and don’t always want to have their PC running when they’re playing games on a console.
On top of all that, it even boasts a 4K pass-through, which means you can still play your games in 4K while you stream them in 1080p. What more could you ask for?
No doubt about it, this is definitely one of the best capture cards for streaming in 2019.
5. StarTech USB-C Capture Card
Next up, we have the StarTech UVC USB-C Capture Card. This is another 1080p/60fps, USB capture card that works with USB-C ports. If you don’t have a USB-C port, no worries – just hook it up with the bundled USB-A 3.0 cable instead.
This is probably the most versatile capture card on this list as it works with pretty much any operating system and live streaming software. A lot of capture cards only work with Windows and/or Mac, but this capture card is suitable for Linux users too thanks to the UVC device class.
It delivers on all fronts: crisp footage, lag-free gameplay, easy setup, and all the important stuff. However, what makes this capture card stand out for me is actually the material it’s built with.
One thing I hate about most commercial capture cards is that they’re built-in plastic housing, so they break really easy. The StarTech USB-C, on the other hand, is made of metal. As such, it’s super durable – you could probably step on it and it’d still be fine. Overall, it’s a great little capture card that works very well.
6. AVerMedia Live Gamer HD 2
Personally, I’m not a big fan of internal capture cards, but I know a lot of streamers are. That’s why, for variety’s sake, I had to include at least one internal capture card on this list. With that in mind, let’s talk about the AVerMedia Live Gamer HD 2, probably the best internal capture card for streaming on the market.
This card connects to your PC via an open PCIe slot, rather than through the USB. As such, set up is definitely not easy, the card is built into the PC itself. For that reason, it’s probably not the best capture card for beginners but, if you’re a real performance junkie, it could be a great option.
The Liver Gamer HD2 allows you to capture uncompressed video output, which basically means picture quality will be superb. The trade-off is that uncompressed footage is also very large, so you be prepared for your available hard drive space to take a beating.
It’s low latency and low bandwidth demand, and, like the other AVerMedia capture card on this list, the Live Gamer HD 2 comes with RECentral 3 software for basic editing. As an added bonus, AVerMedia also offers a 2-year warranty period.
7. AverMedia LGP Lite Capture Card
Finally, we have the AverMedia LGP Lite Capture Card. The reason I saved this capture card until last is because it’s the best budget capture card available in 2019.
Usually, I’m reluctant to recommend ‘cheaper’ capture cards as they’re the kind of hardware you don’t want to skimp out on. You really get what you pay for with capture cards and, while there are some super-cheap options out there, they tend to have so much latency and stream such poor quality footage that they’re almost unusable
Fortunately, this isn’t the case with the AverMedia LGP Lite. It’s probably the only ‘budget’ capture card I’m prepared to recommend as it still does a great job for under $100. You get the same high performance and low latency as you do with all AVerMedia capture cards but for less.
It’s limited to 1080p at 30fps, but if the frame rate isn’t a big concern, it’s a great option. Also, it does offer a max pass-through resolution of 1080p60, so you can thankfully still see your own game footage in 60 fps.
It’s really easy to use, portable, and compatible with most major consoles including the Nintendo Switch. If you’re on a tight budget, definitely check it out.
How to Set Up a Capture Card
Once you’ve purchased your capture card, you’ll need to connect it. Here’s how to set up an external capture card:
- First, install your chosen capture software (like XSplit or Obs) on your PC/laptop.
- Connect your console to your capture card by hooking up an HDMI from your console or gaming PC to the ‘in’ terminal
- Connect an HDMI cable from the ‘out’ terminal of your capture card to your TV
- Plug the capture card into the USB port of your streaming laptop/PC
- Use your software to start streaming!
Important note: These are general set up instructions but this process won’t be the same for every capture card. Refer to your manufacturer’s instructions or user guide for specific set up instructions for your product.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. As you can see, you’ll probably need two HDMI cables to complete the setup.
Can I Stream From my Console Without a Capture Card?
You may be able to stream gameplay footage from your console without a capture card, depending on what console you’re using.
Both the PS4 and Xbox One have their own built-in Twitch streaming systems, but other consoles don’t. If you’re using something like a Switch or an older console, you’ll need to use a capture card.
If you’re using a PS4, here are the basic steps you need to follow to stream without a capture card:
- Start playing your game
- Click ‘Share’ and ‘Broadcast gameplay’
- Choose your live stream provider (Twitch.Tv or Ustream)
- Link up your live stream account to your PS4 by following the on-screen instructions
- Give your stream a title and choose the streaming options
- Hit ‘start broadcasting’ and begin!
Of course, many streamers choose to use a capture card even on PS4s and Xbox, as there are other benefits to using capture cards over streaming directly from a console.
Ok, that concludes this guide to the best capture card for streaming in 2019. If you’re still not sure which product to buy, I’d definitely recommend the Elgato Game Capture HD60S. It’s a great capture card that you can’t go wrong with.
If you’re looking for more advice on streaming, videomaking, and content creation, make sure you check out the rest of the articles on Improve Video Studio. And, if you have any questions, let us know in the comments.