Capture Cards: What you need to know [Best Capture Cards] — Stream Tech Reviews by BadIntent (2023)

- What is a capture card?
- Why use a capture card?
- Differences between capture cards
- Best capture cards

What is a capture card?

Capture cards are electronic devices that take video and audio input and compress it into a format that can be streamed to a computer or saved to a storage device like an SD card. Modern capture cards often have HDMI input ports, while older devices used composite cables to connect. Source footage can range from video game consoles to DSLR cameras. This footage can be seen in real time in either bundled software or free streaming software like Open Broadcaster Software Studio (OBS).

Capture cards can be classified as internal or external. Internal cards connect directly to a computer’s motherboard and send the footage to the PC that way. External cards either save footage to local storage like an SD card or USB drive, or they can stream footage to a computer through a USB cable.

Why use a capture card?

Capture cards are used for live streaming, video conferencing, and recording gameplay or video footage for later use. This is particularly useful for console gameplay as it’s the easiest way to capture gameplay from them. You can even use capture cards to stream footage from one PC to another.

Two PC setups dedicate one PC to CPU/GPU intensive tasks such as gaming. That PC is then connected to a capture card and the video is sent to a second PC where it will ultimately be used to stream or record. This allows the gaming computer to function without any loss in performance or frame rate drops.

Live streaming gameplay from esports tournaments to platforms like Twitch is possible largely due to capture cards.

When NOT to use a capture card

The main reason to NOT opt for a capture card is when using a single PC setup to stream and record that PC’s footage. With sufficient CPU and GPU performance, screen capturing software like OBS can be used without the need for additional hardware. Save yourself the money!

What are the differences between capture cards?

Here’s my capture card buyers guide. The main differences between capture cards to consider are:

- supported resolutions and frame rates
- internal vs external
- portability
- latency
- required PC specifications
- passthrough support
- supported input ports (older game consoles usually need composite cable ports)

Resolutions and frame rates

Capture cards can record at various different frame rates and resolutions, and the highest end cards can capture 4K 60 FPS in high dynamic range (HDR). Not long ago, 1080p 60 FPS was enough, but the newest consoles the Xbox Series S/X and the Playstation 5 require top of the line capture cards to record their footage in the best quality possible.

Internal vs external and portability

As mentioned at the top, there are both internal and external capture cards. If you’re using a desktop computer, it’s really up to you which is more convenient. For laptop users or for those who want to capture footage at events without a PC at all, external cards are necessary. In regards to portability, not all external cards need a PC to work, and I’ll give several examples of which cards can be used standalone in the last section of this article.


Latency refers to the amount of time that passes between when something happens on the capture source and when you see it in the preview window in your streaming or recording software. All capture cards have some latency to the preview window, but the higher it is, the more out of sync other sources like microphone audio become. Cards with very low latency even allow for gameplay by just looking at the preview window alone.

Specifications requirements

Lastly, capture cards can be very CPU and GPU taxing. Using a PC below the card’s listed minimum specs will end in a bad time. Some cards also only work at their full potential on certain graphics cards. For instance, the Elgato 4K60 Pro works on both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs, but AMD users must switch to CPU encoding, and HDR recording is not possible on AMD cards.

The Elgato 4K60 S+ (left) has the advantage of portability. It can record directly to an SD card without the need for a PC. The AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K (middle) boasts one of the lowest preview window latencies on the market. This allows you to play directly on your PC monitor without even needing a second monitor.

What are the best capture cards?

I’ve divided this section into the best overall capture cards, best budget cards, and portable capture cards. Every card that I recommend I have used myself, and I’ll link my own reviews of them below so you can learn more about each card. Also below are two videos where I compare some of the most popular capture cards on the market.

Best overall capture cards (4K, Xbox Series X/S, PS5)

If you don’t need 4K support, the Elgato HD60S (Amazon) is an external capture card that can record and passthrough up to 1080p 60 FPS. The resolution and frame rate supported is perfect for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

I’ve used this for several years for both YouTube and Twitch content without a hitch, and I highly recommend it. Here is my review on this site. You’ll require a USB 3.0 or higher port to use this.

There is also an internal variant called the Elgato HD60 Pro (Amazon). While it’s also a top notch card, if you’re looking for an internal device, you can spend a bit more money to just get the 4K60 Pro to future proof your setup.

Best budget capture cards

Budget capture cards are most useful for using your DSLR or camcorder as a webcam. These cards lack passthrough functionality, but still get the job done for Zoom meetings. Until recently, the best budget capture card was the Elgato Cam Link and the newer model, Elgato Cam Link 4K (Amazon). The Cam Link 4K can capture 1080p 60 FPS, but its 4K is limited to 30 FPS.

Now, little known brands have come out with ultra cheap, low latency cards that do mostly the same thing as the Cam Link. Most of them lack branding at all and just say “HDMI Video Capture”. The specific card I linked below is limited to output of 1080p 30 FPS, but there are many variants that support higher resolutions and frame rates. The most popular of these mystery cards lately has been from BlueAVS. Here is my own review.

For portable cards, I am specifically referring to external cards that can record footage without the need of a PC. These are usually plugged into an AC adapter and they all have passthrough functionality. Two of the biggest players here are the Elgato 4K60 S+ and the AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus (Amazon).

The 4K60 S+ is one of the most expensive cards on the market because of what it can do on paper: capture of 4K 60 FPS in HDR without the use of a PC. Here’s my review of the device. The AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus is capped at 1080p 60 FPS capture but it can passthrough 4K 60 FPS. It’s important to note that this card does not passthrough HDR. I’ve only used the AVerMedia card at live events a handful of times, so my time with it is admittedly limited.

Unfortunately, my experience with portable capture cards has been unpredictable. With both of these cards, they can sometimes work flawlessly and produce amazing looking recordings while being very convenient. Other times, they have failed to record files at all or the files have gotten corrupted. Error messages are only communicated by different colors or speeds of flashing lights which isn’t really helpful for troubleshooting in the middle of a live event. And without PC monitoring, you can’t tell if the recording is going smoothly until you finally get home and hope those hours of gameplay end up intact.

With those problems I encountered in mind, I do not actually recommend standalone cards at the moment, but it would be unfair not to list them. If one comes out that I can get to work every time without a hitch, I’ll update this article.


AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K (GC573) written review.
Elgato 4K60 S+ written review.
4K capture card video comparison.
Elgato HD60 S written review.

Amazon listings

AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K (GC573):
Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2:
Elgato 4K60 S+:
Elgato HD60 S:
AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus


Capture Cards: What you need to know [Best Capture Cards] — Stream Tech Reviews by BadIntent? ›

How to use a capture card for PS4. Requires PS4, computer, capture card, OBS program, 2 HDMI cables, TV/monitor, and a USB cable. Download all the necessary software required for your capture card, just like you'd do for the Xbox. Connect the PS4's HDMI output to the capture card's HDMI input with your first HDMI cable ...

What do you need to use a capture card? ›

How to use a capture card for PS4. Requires PS4, computer, capture card, OBS program, 2 HDMI cables, TV/monitor, and a USB cable. Download all the necessary software required for your capture card, just like you'd do for the Xbox. Connect the PS4's HDMI output to the capture card's HDMI input with your first HDMI cable ...

What capture card do streamers use? ›

AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt

Super low latency and recording in 4K/60Hz HDR or 1080p/240Hz will make streamers rejoice, though the card does require a Thunderbolt 3 port. The AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt is hands down the best capture card for streaming.

Is it better to stream with a capture card or GPU? ›

The above are the main advantages of using a capture card for your game live streaming. It not only gets rid of extra load from your PC, but also ensures high-quality video streaming and ultra-low latency in video transmission. It can offer you better flexibility in device management and smooth gaming experience.

Is it best to stream with a capture card? ›

Because it's separate from your devices, a capture card can record and prepare content for streaming in a manner that will maintain quality without taxing your computer or gaming console. Therefore, you'll get excellent, lag-free gaming quality while simultaneously recording crisp content for streaming.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Nathanael Baumbach

Last Updated: 07/13/2023

Views: 6094

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Nathanael Baumbach

Birthday: 1998-12-02

Address: Apt. 829 751 Glover View, West Orlando, IN 22436

Phone: +901025288581

Job: Internal IT Coordinator

Hobby: Gunsmithing, Motor sports, Flying, Skiing, Hooping, Lego building, Ice skating

Introduction: My name is Nathanael Baumbach, I am a fantastic, nice, victorious, brave, healthy, cute, glorious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.