For many people, gaming isn’t just about playing games yourself anymore; it’s also about sharing your experience. Modern consoles do have their built-in methods of letting you stream or record your gameplay, but they won’t cut it if you want to get more serious about your videos. If you wish to stream full gameplay sessions or cut YouTube videos of your favorite moments, you’ll need a capture card to get the best results.
When it comes to picking which capture card is right for you, it’s about more than just finding the one with the best video quality. While that’s important, you’ll also want to consider ease of use. Especially if you plan on streaming or capturing video regularly, there’s nothing that will sour the experience more quickly than having to struggle to set up your card before every session.
There are a lot of capture cards on the market these days, but only a few stand out above the crowd. We’ve picked the best of the best, representing a wide range of price and performance.
Best Portable Capture Card
AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus
As an all-around capture card, it’s hard to find anything that competes with the AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus, especially for newer streamers. Unlike most cards, you don’t even need a PC to use it, since it has the option to record straight to a Micro SD card. Whether you’re recording to PC or Micro SD, it’s straightforward to use. To start recording, you push a giant button on the card itself, so you never have to mess with any software. It even has handy red and blue LED indicators to tell you when everything is connected, and when you’re recording, so you don’t have to worry about whether it’s set up correctly. It also feels more substantial than most cards, making it an ideal portable option if you want to record on the go.
It records at 1080p, 60 frames per second, and features 4K passthrough so you can play at full 4K even while recording at a lower resolution. If there’s any drawback to it, it’s that you can’t stream or record in 4K, though that’s not possible with any card of this price.
Best 4K Capture Card
Elgato 4K60 Pro
Elgato has been the top name in capture cards for years, and there’s a good reason for it. The company has been putting out high-quality devices more prolonged than anyone else in the business, and they continue to impress. The Elgato 4K60 Pro boasts some of the highest video quality of any capture card, but it’ll cost you. This is not a card for beginners; more for those who want to make a living off streaming or video production and can afford the expense of setting themselves up with the best gear.
The Elgato 4K Pro is an internal card, meaning that you can’t simply unplug it and take it with you. You’ll need a designated space where you can do all your recording — and a high-end PC — to use this card.
Best Internal Capture Card
Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro
Like the Elgato 4K Pro, the Elgato HD60 Pro is an internal card, which means it’s not portable, but you also never have to fuss with getting it connected before recording. This is essentially the starter version of the 4K Pro. It works the same way, but can only capture up to 1080p at 60 frames per second. Its built-in encoder works a bit faster than Elgato’s external card below, meaning it introduces less lag into your video, but it’s still better to use a second monitor to play your game rather than trying to watch the feed from the card as it records or streams. The other advantage this card has over the external HD60 below is that it comes equipped with an H.265 video encoder, which gives it a bit better video quality at the same resolution. It’s the kind of thing you won’t notice if you don’t have it, but it’s something to consider if you want to take your streaming seriously. Finally, the internal card is a bit cheaper, which seals the deal if you know you’ll never want to stream anywhere but from a dedicated streaming PC.
Best External Capture Card
This card has pretty much the same functionality as the HD60 Pro but in an external card. With the Elgato HD60S, you sacrifice a little bit of video quality for the ability to take your card with you. If you ever want to record away from your desktop computer, go with the HD60S above the HD60 Pro. Though it’s a bit pricier, it may be a better choice when you’re first starting and aren’t ready to commit to installing a card in your desktop for the long run. It’s also the only choice if you plan to stream or record from a laptop since the HD60 Pro won’t work there. For a long time, this line of cards was the absolute gold standard for beginners. The only reason we gave the top spot to the AverMedia capture card over the HD60S was its ease of use and the fact that it lets you record to a Micro SD card.
If you can find it on sale, it’s sometimes available for around the same price as our budget option below, making it a no-brainer.
Best Budget Capture Card
Hauppauge HD PVR Rocket
Consider the Hauppauge HD PVR Rocket your last resort. While you can usually get it cheaper than any other card on this list, don’t forget there might be a reason for that. When it comes to features, this is a pretty outstanding card. Like the AverMedia Live, it allows you to record without a PC (using a USB drive instead of a Micro SD card) and it’s incredibly easy to use, with just a few cords to connect and a comically large red button to start recording. It also features a direct microphone input so you can record commentary directly over the video. The Hauppauge records in MP4 format, meaning you won’t have to do any processing to your video when it’s done. Just take it straight from the card and upload to YouTube.
There are some drawbacks, though. While it records in 1080p, it only gets 30 frames per second, and its relatively weak encoder can decrease the video quality. It’s also gotten its fair share of poor reviews, with users complaining about the device malfunctioning or recording low-quality video. Still, if you’re an absolute beginner and want to see if this whole game capture thing is for you, it might be worth starting with the cheapest, most straightforward option.