The best capture card for PC isn’t a back-to-school essential… Or is it? Think about it. You’re going to be stuck in front of your PC now that you have reading and homework to do: seems like as good a time as any to step up your Twitch and/or YouTube game. Since PCs and most consoles have some kind of built-in recording feature, the capture card has become a more niche tool to give serious streamers and creators more control of their setup. If you have a custom hud for your streams that requires OBS or XSplit, you’ll need one to stream or record console games through your PC to set up your production. And some streamers even use two PCs to stream, one to play games and a second to record or broadcast.
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If you’re in the market for a capture card, you should know that not all cards are created equal. Some are better for recording footage, others excel at streaming. You should also note the maximum resolution each card supports. Getting a 4K card is generally a pretty expensive proposition, and not really necessary for most people since most players aren’t watching on 4K TVs or monitors. (Though there’s actually a great deal right now on the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro, our favorite 4K capture card.) Lastly, most capture cards come with some kind of recording software: even though many streamers have a setup in place before worrying about a capture card, it pays to know whether that app is worth using or not.
Our picks for the best capture are generally good all-around picks. You should be good to go, no matter where you plan to publish your content. If you’re in the process of setting up your streaming studio, consider checking out our buying guides for other streaming essentials, like the best webcams and the best microphones for streaming.
1. Elgato Game Capture HD60 S
The best capture card for newcomers
Resolution: 1080p | Frame rate: 60fps | Interface: USB 3.0
This is the perfect card for anyone wanting to get their gameplay online with as little hassle as possible. Elgato are experts in their field, and the HD60 S proves it; reasonably priced and simple to use, it’s probably the best place to start if you’re new to streaming. Crisp 1080p recordings at 60fps are a feather in its cap, while USB 3.0 connectivity is a happy bonus. Built-in software to get you up and running seal the deal. In fact, the only downside would be the card’s fairly limited editing suite—it’s not much good for anything beyond trimming video. However, it does have ‘Flashback Recording’ to help you retroactively capture even if you forgot to hit ‘record’.
2. AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus
A brilliant, user friendly pick
Resolution: 1080p | Frame rate: 60fps | Interface: USB 3.0
Straightforward and reassuringly unsubtle, the Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus packs smooth 60fps and 1080p recording, 4K pass-through so you can still play in ultra HD (even if it’s not captured in 4K), USB 3.0, Mac compatibility, and dirty great flashing lights to tell you if you’re capturing or have left HDCP on. Besides an attractive form-factor with black casing, red trim, and neon-blue strip lighting, it packs intuitive software for live editing and the ability to record straight onto a Micro SD card if you’d prefer to keep your HDD clear of space-absorbing video. This is a capture card with flexibility, particularly if you record on the go. It works straight out of the box too—always a plus.
3. Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro
A great card for pros, although it won't do 4K
Resolution: 1080p | Frame rate: 60fps | Interface: PCIe x1, HDMI
If you want to take your recordings to the next level, Elgato’s internal HD60 Pro card is a good shout. Indeed, their website claims that this card features “an advanced, onboard H.264 encoder that enables you to record unlimited footage in superb 1080p [60fps] quality, at a bitrate up to 60Mbps.” Not too shabby. Although it only streams in 720p, it still manages a solid 60fps. Petite, classy form-factor are in the HD60 Pro’s favor as well. At around $150/£150, it’s a sound option that gives great results for less.
4. Razer Ripsaw HD
The illustrious 1080p-4K middleground option
Resolution: 1080p capture; 4K passthrough | Frame rate: 60fps | Interface: USB 3.0
Admittedly, the one downside to the Razer Ripsaw HD is that it's not the Elgato HD60 Pro. It doesn't have its own proprietary software, so you're forced to use OBS or subscribe to XSplit. On the other hand, many people prefer those wares to Elgato's own, and most of us use those third party applications on our own volition. And because it doesn't have its own software, the Ripsaw HD also supports built-in, easy to use audio mixing with the help of its hardwired, "hassle free" mic and headphone jacks. For the price, it also has the best picture quality.
Although it's still limited to 1080p streaming and capture, the Ripsaw HD lets you experience your favorite games—while streaming or capturing—at 4K 60fps. This ought to appeal to PC gamers who want to share their gameplay online, but don't want to miss out on the top-notch visual fidelity ushered in by their expensive and powerful graphics cards.
5. Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro
The best 4K capture card for serious aficionados
Resolution: 4K | Frame rate: 60fps | Interface: PCIe x4
For pro-users who will settle at nothing but the best, Elgato’s 4K60 Pro is your jam. It builds on the HD60 Pro’s ultra-low latency with 4K 60fps capture, 1080p 60fps streaming, and all the benefits of Elgato software. Even though it needs a high-end PC to get off the ground, this is an excellent piece of kit for those who are set on capturing gameplay at the highest resolution and frame rate possible.
We’d recommend an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20-series and at least an 8th gen Intel Core i7 CPU (or better) to avoid any latency. Although it’s wise to make sure you’ve got enough space on your HDD for all those videos as well, the 4K60 Pro has an encoder to reduce file size and save you much-needed memory real-estate. Oh, and one more thing: the best way to play while using this card is with a lag-free HDMI passthrough that shoots the feed to a 4K screen or second monitor.
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