What is a Capture Card for Streaming and How to Use One - Featured

What is a capture card for streaming? How does a capture card work? If you’re interested in recording or live streaming content, there are two things you need to know: how to choose the right video capture card and how to use a capture card. We’re going to show you everything you need to know to make sure whichever video capture card you choose is the right capture card for you. Then, we’ll show you how to set up USB and PCI-e capture cards. By the end, you’ll have a basic understanding of how capture cards work and how to choose the right capture card for your system’s needs.

Capture Capture Card Utility

What are capture cards used for?

Capture cards are used for recording and streaming on-screen content – most commonly by video game streamers. Nowadays, some game consoles, such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, have built-in streaming capability. So, do you need a capture card to stream? The short answer to that question is no.

Due to limitations in computer power and data-speed, current generation consoles aren’t able to render and encode video in real-time at a high-quality. That’s where game capture cards come in.

CAPTURE CARD DEFINITION

What is a capture card?

A capture card is a device that’s used in conjunction with a computer to capture on-screen content and encode it for playback in either a livestream or a high-quality video file. Capture cards can be used with video game consoles new and old, as well as computers and cameras. Today, capture cards are most frequently used by video game streamers.

Types of Capture Card Connections:

  • USB
  • PCIe
  • USB-C
  • Thunderbolt 3

Game capture cards take the raw feed of gameplay and put it into a language that a video player, like YouTube or Twitch, can understand. Capture cards don’t encode the data itself, but they facilitate the transmission from one end (a computer) to another (a video player).

So, how do capture cards work and what are their utility? This next video answers those questions in great detail.

What is a Capture Card for Streaming? Capture Cards Explained

Purpose of a Capture Card

Requirements to use a capture card

What does a capture card do? How do we know if a capture card is going to be compatible with our system’s needs. The best capture cards, but not all, are compatible with the following devices:

  • Current gen video game consoles: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Computers: PC, some Macs (check hardware requirements on capture card site)
  • Cameras: Most cameras with an HDMI output

The most important thing to look for in a device you’d like to use a capture card with is an HDMI output. The purpose of a capture card is to take a video feed from one device and transmit it through an HDMI cable to another device so that it can be encoded for playback or streaming.

Here are the things you’re going to need in order to use a capture card successfully.

  1. A primary device with an HDMI output and an HDMI cable
  2. A capture card that is compatible with the interface (USB, PCI-e) of the primary device and another HDMI cable
  3. A TV or monitor
  4. A computer for encoding
  5. Capture card software

This next video does a great job of exploring the questions you should ask when choosing which capture card to buy.

What is a Capture Card for Streaming?

Perhaps the most important question is whether you should buy a capture card with a USB interface or a capture card with a PCI-e interface. As the video above states, USB external capture cards are more versatile because they allow you to take them on the go. However, PCI-e capture cards don't have the bandwidth limitations that USB external capture cards do.

My advice would be that if you’re planning on using a capture card exclusively with a desktop PC, then PCI-e is the best option. But if you plan on using a capture card with a laptop or you plan on taking it on the go, then USB is definitely a better value.

Capture Card Set-Up

How to use a capture card

The first thing you should do after unboxing your video capture device is make sure that you have all the necessary cables for an install.

For a USB video capture device, you’ll need two HDMI cables and a USB cable. This next video explains how to install an Elgato HD60 for use with a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

What is a Capture Card Used For? How to Install a USB Capture Card

Installing a USB external capture card:
  1. Plug the first HDMI cable into the HDMI IN port of the capture card
  2. Plug the other end of the first HDMI cable into the HDMI OUT port of the primary device (PlayStation, Xbox, etc.)
  3. Plug the second HDMI cable into the HDMI OUT on the capture card
  4. Plug the other end of the second HDMI cable into the HDMI IN port of the primary display (TV or monitor)
  5. Connect the USB interface cable into your computer

What is a PC capture card? Since all capture cards require a “personal computer,” all capture cards are PC capture cards — but when people say “PC capture cards,” they’re usually referring to a PCI-e capture card.

For a PCI-e internal capture card, you’ll need two HDMI cables and a compatible motherboard. This next video explains how to install an AverMedia PCI-e capture card. Note that mostly all PCI-e internal capture cards should follow this installation guide.

How to Install a PCI-e Video Capture Device for Streaming

Installing a PCI-e internal capture card:
  1. Insert the capture card into an empty PCI-e slot on the computer’s motherboard
  2. Plug the first HDMI cable into the HDMI IN port of the capture card
  3. Plug the other end of the first HDMI cable into the HDMI OUT port of the primary device (PlayStation, Xbox, etc.)
  4. Plug the second HDMI cable into the HDMI OUT of the capture card
  5. Plug the other end of the second HDMI cable into the HDMI IN port of the primary display (TV or monitor)
  6. Go to the system settings of your primary device and disable HDCP

Once you have your capture card installed, you’re going to need to download the right software and drivers to get it to work properly. Most capture card manufacturers have their own software, but many users opt to use third party services instead.

Perhaps the most-used third party game capture software is OBS Studio. This next video explains how to set up and use OBS Studio.

Whats a Capture Card Software? How to Use OBS Studio

Setting up OBS Studio:
  1. Download and install OBS Studio
  2. Click the “+” marker in OBS Studios underneath the “sources” tab to add a new source
  3. Select your capture card and name it
  4. Open the “properties” window and select your capture card
  5. Hit “start recording” in the bottom right corner to begin recording

It may take a little bit of trial and error before you get things working perfectly. If you run into an issue, go to the OBS Studio website and click on the “help” tab for more information.

We’ve answered the question “what is a capture card for streaming?” So, let’s ask a more important question: why use a capture card? There are a lot of capture card uses — from cam link connection to game streaming. By understanding how to use a capture card, we’re one step closer to delivering great content.

UP NEXT

Best capture cards on the market

Now that we’ve reviewed what capture cards are and how to use them, let’s look at some of the best capture cards to buy in 2020 – whether you’re looking to upgrade or buy one for the very first time. By the end, you’ll know what the best USB and PCI-e capture cards on the market are and what makes them so great.

Up Next: Best capture cards →
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