What is a Capture Card? (And Why You Should Buy One)

Are you wondering what a capture card does? Unsure of whether or not you need one? In this guide, we cover what a capture card is, why you might want to buy one, and what some of the best options are in the current market.

What is a Capture Card?
If you have dabbled with computers and the internet, you’ve undoubtedly, even in passing, heard of capture cards. These devices have primarily been discussed in the context of games and content creation. With the advent of remote working and online training, capture cards will inevitably also be part of one conversation or another in your job.

The bottom line is that capture cards are incredibly versatile devices that can provide surprising benefits for more than just gamers.

I. What is a Capture Card?

A capture card does what it says on the tin. It captures audio and video from a device and reproduces them into a format that can be manipulated and shared. In the past, capture cards were primarily used by gamers to record gameplay. However, nowadays they can be used to capture a video feed from other devices, including a camera or another computer.

The secret sauce found in capture cards is that they accept an HDMI input. As long as the device you want to record can produce an HDMI output, your capture card can be used to…capture it. The applications such a device has are numerous.

II. What can I do with a Capture Card?

By being able to capture an HDMI signal, your capture card allows you to:

  • Record gameplay from a gaming console or gaming PC
  • Stream video games live on platforms like Twitch and YouTube
  • Use a regular camera, such as a DSLR, as a webcam
  • Livestream an event, such as a meeting, conference, or training session

The above list isn’t exhaustive by any stretch. Essentially, if you want to do recording or livestreaming, and you can output it via HDMI, then a capture card can be a massive boon.

III. How Can a Capture Card Benefit Me?

Whether you need a capture card boils down to your context. If all you want to do is show your face during Zoom calls, then a capture card plus a camera is overkill. Although they can be bought at pretty reasonable prices, capture cards are a better investment when used for projects requiring good quality video.

1. Do I Need a Capture Card as a Gamer?

In the last few years, gaming has gone beyond being a solitary experience. With the advent of social media and chat apps like Discord, gamers share their extraordinary adventures and mad skills more than ever.

Gaming rigs and consoles have their means of allowing you to capture your gameplay and share it. However, capture cards can take your content to the next level. They can output higher quality videos that you can later edit with some fun effects, memes, and sounds before sending them off into the internet void.

A capture card is also useful when you’re livestreaming on Twitch or YouTube. Because the device handles most of the encoding, your computer’s resources get freed up, allowing you to squeeze more performance out of your game.

2. Do I Need a Capture Card in my Job?

This will significantly depend on what you do for a living and how recording fits into your context. As mentioned earlier, there’s a growing need for remote training. A capture card can help you record training sessions which you can then edit into bite-sized content that your colleagues can later access in their own time.

A capture card can also help your team leads deliver remote briefings at a higher quality. By using a high-quality camera and capturing its HDMI output with your card, you livestream yourself or your leadership members in a more professional-looking manner.

3. Do I Need a Capture Card for my Daily Life?

Just like in the context of a job, a capture card can be fitted into your life as long as you have something you wish to record. An immediate application is using a capture card to record moments of creativity from you or your family. By combining it with an HDMI dongle on an iPad, you can also record your children’s progress on educational apps and play it back to them for a boost in confidence.

Whatever the reason you may have to buy a capture card, there are a few types to consider.

IV. What Types of Capture Cards Exist?

Buying a capture card widely depends on what you wish to do with it and what video quality you’re aiming to get. Here is a list of some of the different capture card types as well as some of the best capture cards for each category.

1. External Capture Cards

External capture cards are connected to your computer via USB. Their main advantage is that they can be used with multiple computers, including laptops. Some external capture cards are also able to record without the presence of a computer. All you need is a memory card and a power source.

These capture cards are typically in the mid-to-high price range depending on the quality of video they output. Here are some of the best external capture cards.

Avermedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus

One of the best portable capture cards for beginners and hobbyists, the Avermedia LGP2+ does it all. You can capture with or without a computer at full 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second. Its price is also tough to beat.

Elgato 4K60+

Going to the other side of the spectrum, Elgato’s 4K60+ may be at a steeper price, but it comes with the performance to match it. Able to record full 4K resolutions at 60 fps with HDR, whether tethered or untethered to a computer, this bad boy is the champion of portable capture cards.

2. Internal Capture Cards

Internal capture cards are slotted directly into your motherboard via a PCI-e connection. While not as versatile as their external counterparts, they can boast some excellent features as well as surpass them in performance.

The main advantage of an internal capture card is low latency. External capture cards come mainly in USB 3.0 flavors, so latency is almost non-existent. Internal cards, though, have near-zero latency, making them ideal for heavy-duty recording jobs. Some also sport multiple ports that allow for more than one device to be captured. Here are some of the best internal capture cards on the market.

Avermedia Live Gamer DUO

This capture card was a game-changer when it hit the market earlier this year. Its dual HDMI inputs allow for capturing two separate devices without any latency or loss of quality. For instance, you can grab your console’s gameplay and a mirrorless camera at the same time. It won’t record more than 1080p at 60 fps, but it will provide you with 4K pass-through so you can still enjoy top-notch gaming.

Elgato 4K60 PRO

While it doesn’t boast the extra HDMI slot, this workhorse of a capture card is the ultimate buy when you want the highest possible quality recordings. Capable of capturing 4K at 60 fps, this card is made for professional video-makers of all stripes. It also comes with Elgato’s highly praised capture software.

3. Dongles

These mini capture cards are for those who want a straightforward thing done. Boasting a single HDMI input, one could potentially describe these devices as HDMI to USB converters. Their primary purpose is to enable you to quickly connect a device with video output—such as a camera—to a computer. Their range of output quality isn’t going to win any awards, but they can be a great solution if you’re looking to capture something quickly.

There are many dongles out there, some of which are dirt cheap but of questionable quality. There’s only really one solid dongle capture card out there to recommend:

Elgato CamLink

Elgato’s CamLink is the best dongle you can pick up for your capture needs. Primarily used to record camera outputs, this device can handle pretty much any grade out there. In a pinch, you can use it to capture gameplay and other outputs, too. Its price may look steep for what it is, but if you have a DSLR or other camera lying around, it’s an excellent option for upping your streaming and recording game

With the rise in popularity of online video game content, capture cards have become an important tool for gamer content creators. However, capture cards can be used for other purposes as well. In this post, we’ve highlighted what a capture card is and we have discussed the reasons why you might need one.

Yannis Vatis

Yannis is a veteran gamer with over 30 years of experience playing a wide spectrum of video games. When not writing about games, he's playing them, and if he's not playing them then he's definitely thinking about them.

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