Capture Cards – Are They Worth It?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts below are my own with no financial incentives.

First Off, What Are Capture Cards?

Great question!

I first heard about capture cards when I started watching Fortnite streamers. People claimed it was a necessity for anyone looking to record and broadcast video content from their gameplay.

Like the skeptic I am, I had to read more about the capabilities of these devices.

A quick Google search suggested that this hardware can improve the quality of your videos, boasting higher resolution and frame rate than native capture on consoles. Separately, it also opens up your options for editing the clips.

Additionally, I realized that it was pretty much required if I wanted to make longer videos on the Nintendo Switch. With games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu nearing their release date, I committed to picking one up.

Pokemon: Let's Go Pikachu

How I Did My Research on Capture Cards

Many experts say that Elgato is the way to go for your capture card needs. They have several products which cater to different types of gamers. On top of that, they have a reputation for excellent quality hardware + software.

Depending on what you’re looking for (price, size, features, storage, etc.), here are some other companies that have well-reviewed cards:

  • AVerMedia – slightly more expensive; great for 4k streaming
  • Epiphan – mostly very expensive cards; look here if you’re a professional with a studio and a small team
  • Magewell – wide selection of capture cards with something for everyone; high reliability with a higher price tag

Through a series of three easy questions, Elgato’s website makes it easy to select the right item for your need. For me, the primary goal was to record and upload gameplay. I was between the HD60 S and HD60 Pro, as they both seemed like good fits.

The Elgato HD60 S is great for the ease of setup and portability. It’s compatible with both Windows and Mac while making use of plug-and-play technology. 

Hd60 S Capture Card

On the more expensive end is the HD60 Pro. It’s designed specifically for high-end PCs. The H.264 encoding is one of the best for compressing videos, resulting in smaller file sizes. 

Lastly, it has a higher max bitrate (60 vs 40 Mbps) than the HD60 S. Bitrate is the amount of data that’s needed to encode one second of video. This means your viewers with high-res displays will be able to enjoy a higher quality video.

Elgato HD60 Pro Capture Card

My decision came down to two things:

  1. I have a gaming PC that I don’t utilize nearly enough AND
  2. I found a great deal on the HD60 Pro around the time that I was searching

Had I been solely looking to make Switch videos, I would have saved the money and gone with the HD60 S. Lucky for me, I’ve got a bunch of other game consoles that I want to record from!

Side by Side Comparison

Setting up the card was really straightforward. It came with a couple of HDMI cables (bringing my total inventory to about 56) and it fits snugly into the PCIe slot on my motherboard. The card is lightweight and much smaller than my other PC components.

Elgato HD 60 Capture Card Inside Desktop

I grabbed the appropriate software from the website and was good to go!

For those of you capturing gameplay from the PS4, you’ll need to do the following before the system is recognized in ‘preview mode’:

  • Connect an HDMI cable from your PS4 to the HDMI In of the capture card
  • Go to Settings > System > Enable HDCP. You’ll want to uncheck this box
  • I recommend passing an HDMI from the capture card HDMI Out to a second monitor if you have it. This is critical to avoid input lag when you are gaming while capturing video

Initial Thoughts on Capture Cards

The first thing I noticed was the difference in smoothness between the videos I generated via the PS4’s recording system and what came out of the Elgato software. It was as if all my previous videos had been filtered through sand and molasses when compared to the quality of the capture card.

PS4 records gameplay at 720p vs the 1080p you can get with Elgato’s capture card. The difference between roughly 1 and 2 million pixels, respectively, yields much more vivid colors and a smooth frame rate.

Using Elgato’s Game Capture HD program, I can record and edit from one screen. Placing different clips side by side is very straightforward, plus you can set a thumbnail for the video.

Surprisingly, there isn’t much in the way of ‘advanced editing’ in the default software. It’s missing basic things like a time warp, text overlay, and adding a music track. In this regard, the PS4 editing capabilities are superior. If you want even more control over your video editing, I suggest more sophisticated software like Wondershare Filmora.

For the side-by-side video, I used Filmora (which lets everyone know that I’m using the free version). You can drag and drop your videos to easily show multiple clips at a time.

In Black Ops, you can see a significant difference in the quality and image of the gameplay. The additional frames are seen easily in both the editing software and the fluidity of the video.

Wondershare Filmora Editing Software
Top track – Elgato | 2nd track – PS4

Unfortunately, the biggest drawback I’ve seen so far is the inability to capture PS4 game chat without a complicated hack. From the info online, you’ll likely need a bunch of wires and an adapter. It’s a limitation of the PS4 but still something to consider if you are going to primarily create content on that console.

Separately, Elgato sells a chat link which I’ve had limited success with. It works well when it’s functioning, but I went through 3 different cables before finally giving up. They tend to malfunction after about 6-8 months and this is a recurring complaint from the community.

Elgato Chat Link
From the Elgato help site

The Verdict

Elgato’s capture card gives me the opportunity to record content from many devices, including my retro console! Installation is a breeze and the quality of the resulting video is outstanding.

It would be great if Sony could release an update to make the game chat hack obsolete, but I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

While I don’t have any near-term streaming goals, this device may be the catalyst that pushes me into streaming. The software is intuitive without being cumbersome.

Without all the editing features I’m used to, I’ll be doing research on third-party software to edit my footage. Ultimately, Filmora seems solid but I will check out some alternatives to compare. This isn’t a huge issue, but the product isn’t as turnkey as I was hoping.

In conclusion, the card produces beautiful videos without having to learn anything on your own. The price is still pretty steep but I’d recommend this card to anyone who can find it at a discount.

My Rating: 8.0 / 10

Ready to start your journey?

It's dangerous to go alone! Join us!