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Capture Cards: What Are They and How Are They Used?

Streaming accessories

Maybe you already know you want a capture card, but you need to understand more about them before picking out a specific model. Or perhaps your kid keeps asking for one, but you’re unsure what a capture card even does in the first place.

Either way, the information below can help you decide whether you’re just considering investing in one or if you to make an educated purchase when you’re ready to buy a capture card.

What is a capture card?

A capture card is a device used for capturing video (and audio) and converting it into digital signals that allow it to be shared across internet platforms. You can use a capture card to record and stream any number of things, such as video from a DSLR camera, but it’s most commonly used to stream activity from gaming consoles and PC gaming computers.

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. Plus, you won’t overheat your device while doing so.

How do capture cards work?

If you’re using a gaming console with a TV, you’ll connect the console to the capture card which is connected to both your TV (where you’ll see your game play) and a PC (where your streaming upload will occur). The capture card will record audiovisual material from the console without interrupting your game play, and it will send that information to the PC where it can be uploaded it to your streaming platform.

If you want to add live commentary via a gaming headset with a microphone, you can record this at the same time. With the aid of software on the PC end, the card translates all this information into encoded signals that can be sent over the internet and watched on other devices.

If you’re playing on a PC instead of a gaming console, you have two choices. You either need a powerful computer capable of handling both game play and streaming, or you’ll want two computers, one for playing the game and one for uploading the recorded content.

What are the types of capture card?

There are two main types of capture cards: internal and external. Internal capture cards attach to the motherboard inside a gaming desktop computer. This format is referred to as a Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCI-E) expansion card.

External capture cards connect to your devices on the outside. They can use a few different cable hook-ups, but many connect to the gaming device via an HDMI cable and output information to the streaming computer via a USB cable. These are best for experienced streamers that have upgraded from basic capture cards.

Do you always need a capture card?

Some newer gaming consoles now have livestreaming options built in, so it is worth double checking the capabilities you already have at hand before buying another gaming accessory. You can also play and stream PC games from a single computer without a capture card. However, both options have limitations in terms of computing power and data speed, which can affect quality. Therefore, keeping things separate will increase the quality of both the gaming experience and the stream output.

Capture cards make it possible to record content and then edit it later before posting to a streaming platform. They are also useful for more than just video games. For example, they make it easy to livestream other content from your desktop screen or from devices like cameras. Keep in mind that for some cameras, you may need capture cards that work with SD reader ports.

What should you look for in a capture card?

When picking a capture card for a PC, you’ll first have to decide between an external or internal model. Internal can be faster, but the installation of an internal card might be a bit more intimidating if you aren’t very tech savvy. If that’s the case or you just want more flexibility to upgrade in the future, it’s a good idea to start with an external card.

Next, you’ll want to pay attention to resolution capabilities and software compatibility. When considering resolution, be sure to take into account the bandwidth limitations of your router. Even if your card is capable of streaming in 4K, many internet connections are not capable of uploading at that resolution.

When it comes to software, gaming laptops and desktops need to be able to compress and convert the signals coming from the capture card before streaming them. Some cards have their own software and some work with third party software programs. If you have a software preference, you’ll want to be sure that the card you buy is compatible with that software.

Once you’ve completed the set-up of your card and software, you can have fun using it to capture gaming sessions, presentations, instructional videos and more. As you get more familiar with your equipment, you can enhance your hobby with accessories like a condenser microphone for adding voiceover commentary. You also might find success on streaming platforms where you could amass a throng of followers and achieve internet fame. The sky is the limit, and it all starts with the best capture card for your needs.