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With so much streaming competition, it’s always wise to post top-quality content if you want your stream to stand out. One of the ways to improve the quality of a stream is with a capture card. While some streamers have a single PC or console and don’t use capture cards, more advanced streamers often have multiple PCs or connect their console to a PC to add transitions, overlays, and other customizations.
What does a capture card do?
Capture cards allow users to capture video and audio from the source and save it as data. The saved data is then optimized by software before being uploaded. Most streamers have one PC to play with and a second PC linked to capture game information. Once connected to the source, the streamer can use software, such as Open Broadcast Software (OBS), on the second PC to add animations and other customizations before broadcasting.
While it is possible to use a capture card on a separate PC, most transmitters use multiple PCs for their transmission. The main reason to use a capture card on a second PC instead of doing everything on one PC is to get the best performance. If a player plays and streams on the same device simultaneously, it can slow performance or lower frame rates because both tasks can compete for the same resources.
Capture card types
There are two main types of capture cards: internal and external. Internal capture cards, such as the Elgato HD60 Pro or the Avermedia Live Gamer Duo, fit into a PCIe slot on the motherboard. This type of capture card has low latency because it is connected directly to the motherboard, but they only work with desktop computers.
Transmitters with consoles or laptops are best with external capture cards, such as the Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S + or Asus TUF CU4K30. External capture cards may have slightly higher latency than their internal counterparts, but they are compatible with more devices and can be easily swapped.
What to look for when buying a capture card
Like most peripherals, capture cards come in a wide range of prices and specifications. What is best for you depends on your requirements and budget. Still, there are a few factors to consider when purchasing a capture card.
Resolution is one of the main factors to consider. Some capture cards, like the EVGA XR1, only capture at 1080p. Other cards, like Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S +, go up to 4K. Lower resolutions tend to have higher frame rates. On the other hand, higher resolutions tend to have slower frame rates.
Some capture cards, such as AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus, have a built-in SD card slot so that users can capture directly to it rather than to a PC. Other capture cards, such as AverMedia Live Gamer Duo, have two HDMI slots and can simultaneously capture two sources.
Software compatibility is another factor when choosing a capture card. Most capture cards have proprietary software and also integrate with programs like Xsplit or OBS. Capture cards like Razer’s Ripsaw HD do not have any proprietary software and rely on third-party applications.
How to use a capture card in a console
Current Playstation and Xbox models have built-in streaming capabilities to allow direct streaming, while the Nintendo Switch can only stream with a capture card via the docking station. Despite the ability to stream directly, it pays to use a capture card connected to a PC to produce the highest quality content possible.
How to connect a capture card to a console
- Connect one end of an HDMI cable to the HDMI output of the console and the other end to the IN port of the capture card.
- Connect another HDMI cable to the OUT port of the capture card and the other end to the monitor or TV.
- The next step is to connect the capture card to a laptop or PC with a USB cable.
- Open the capture card software on the PC to configure the capture card and configure the settings.
Some consoles require some adjustments before streaming. The Nintendo Switch can only work with a capture card when it is connected to a docking station. When connecting to a PlayStation 4 or 5, users must disable HDCP encryption in System Settings, or the signal will be blocked.
How to use a capture card on a PC
How to connect an external capture card to a PC
- Connect one end of an HDMI cable to the HDMI port of the GPU and the other end to the IN port of the capture card.
- Take the second HDMI cable and connect it to the HDMI OUT port on the capture card before connecting the other end to the TV or monitor.
- Connect the capture card to the PC using a USB cable.
- Run the software.
How to connect an internal capture card to a PC.
Connecting an internal capture card can be more difficult, as there are several types of motherboards and a range of different capture cards. It is worth checking beforehand to see if the desired capture card is compatible with the motherboard and if there are free slots.
- Turn off the PC and make sure it is unplugged.
- Remove the side panel.
- Install the capture card in a free PCIe slot, making sure it is seated correctly.
- Tighten the screws or clips in the slot to make sure the capture card is securely in place.
- Close the PC and turn it on.
- The capture card should be detected at startup, but may require driver software.
- Install the driver software and additional streaming software.
Each capture card is different and there may be slight variations when connecting to your device.
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