What is a capture card for streaming?

If you’re watching a lot of streamers online, then you’ll probably notice that a lot of them manage to stream their console gaming devices, like a Playstation, onto their computer. But if you go ahead and try to do this yourself by connecting your console to your laptop, then you won’t actually get any video on your screen.

This is because a laptop is actually only designed to be able to output a signal – if you connect it to a TV or an external monitor, then you can easily stream whatever is on your laptop screen onto that monitor, right?

Well, the external device has input video capabilities which allow it to do this. But, your laptop doesn’t have this, so you can’t show another devices screen on your laptop (like connecting your phone to your laptop, for example).

One way that you can do this is with a capture card. This can give your laptop or PC the ability to receive video data, and it’s relatively easy to set up too. So, let’s find out a little bit more about capture cards.

What is a capture card for streaming?

Essentially, a capture card is just a device that you can use to stream from your Playstation, Xbox or Nintendo Switch onto your PC. This isn’t usually possible without the use of a capture card, as a PC or laptop doesn’t typically allow video input.

And actually, more people may be using a capture card to stream gamers than you’d think. A lot of people wonder how they can project whatever they’re playing on their consoles onto their laptop, so they can stream online.

Think Twitch – how do console gamers manage to get their gaming activity to stream online, even though it isn’t typically possible with a regular HDMI cable and no additional device? Well, the answer is a capture card.

How does a capture card work?

If you’re looking for a new capture card, then you’ll want to know how they function first. What does a capture card do? Well, although they sound like they might be complex, they’re actually surprisingly simple.

A capture card works by essentially just adding those input data receiver capabilities to your laptop. So, your laptop or computer will then be able to receive data from external devices, like your phone or a camera. If you’re trying to connect two computers together, then it follows a pattern like this;

GPU from PC #1 > Capture Card to receive data > Display on PC #2

Capture card are increasing in popularity in recent years, with so many new streamers out there that need to be able to do this. Obviously, if you’re streaming directly from your PC or laptop, then you’ll have no need for a capture card.

But if you want to stream onto a computer from a console or even a camera, a capture card is the way to do this.

Which capture card should I buy?

When you’re looking for a capture card, you want to ensure that you have a lag free experience. Usually I stick with two brands who are well known within the industry.

Elgato

SaleBestseller No. 1
Elgato HD60 S Capture Card, 1080p 60 Capture, Zero-Lag Passthrough, Ultra-Low Latency, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, USB 3.0
Elgato HD60 S Capture Card, 1080p 60 Capture, Zero-Lag Passthrough, Ultra-Low Latency, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, USB 3.0
Stunning 1080p quality with 60 fps State-of-the-art USB 3.0 Type C connection; State-of-the-art USB 3.0 Type C connection

If you’re going to purchase a capture card, then I’d advise that you stay with the higher quality ones made by brands like Elgato.

Why? Well, because with cheaper capture cards you’re going to have a significant delay in the amount of time between your device and the PC/laptop you’re streaming on to.

With an Elgato capture card, you can stream in almost real time. Plus, you can stream in high resolutions like 1080p with the HD Pro, or even 4K if you want to upgrade to a better card.

capture-card
The Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro is an example of a high end capture card that many Twitch streamers use to get their gameplay footage from console to their computer.

So whilst it might be tempting to spend as little as possible on a capture card, it’s one area where you can’t buy cheap and save money, as often the cheaper capture cards aren’t made to the same standard.

AVerMedia

Bestseller No. 1
AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus Game Capture Card, 4K Pass Through, Low Latency, Recording and Streaming for Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox (GC513)
AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus Game Capture Card, 4K Pass Through, Low Latency, Recording and Streaming for Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox (GC513)
Ultra HD 4K Pass-through: Enjoy 4k gameplays while recording in 1080p60.; Headset commentary: add your voice to your gameplay.

Another brand that’s definitely worth checking out if you want a well made video capture card is AVerMedia. Both Elgato and AVerMedia tend to dominate the market when it comes to capture cards, especially if you’re looking for a good one for gaming.

avermedia-capture-card

If you’re looking for the best capture card for your gaming PC, then I’d advise that you check them out. If you need a capture card of a high quality, then it’s hard to beat this brand.

Bear in mind that they’re designed to be used with consoles like the Xbox One, or with Windows. They’re not great when use with alternative operating systems like Mac OS – in this case, you might be better looking around a bit more for a specific internal capture card.

Is it worth getting a capture card?

capture-card-simple

If you’re a console gamer looking to stream on Twitch, then it’s definitely worth getting a capture card, which can give you the ability to stream from cosnole to computer.

But if you’re a PC gamer, then it’s not worth getting a capture card, as there are other ways that you can stream directly from your PC or laptop. You can use a software like Xsplit to do this, and it will allow you to stream directly from your device.

It’s also not worth getting a capture card if you have a certain variation of Alienware laptop (M15-M19), which have a HDMI input port. These laptops are perfect for gamers (and they make good laptops for web developers too), and they’re designed with steaming in mind.

Can a video capture card get audio too?

video-capture

Another common question about capture cards is whether they can record audio. If you’re going to be streaming your action through to another device, then you’ll want the sound to go through with it.

The good news is that most capture cards will have everything you need to be able to record and stream both your video and audio content. When you plug your capture card in, you may need to check your microphone settings. Allowing your capture card to access your microphone is necessary if you want to record audio.

If you’re having problems with the audio in your capture card, then something that can help is updating your drivers. A common issue faced with the Avermedia Live Gamer Extreme capture card is a lack of audio, and the most common solution is a quick driver update.

Conclusion

All in all, a capture card is the best way for you to capture the action on your console and stream it through to your computer. They’re an essential piece of kit for any aspiring streamer, and they’re much higher in stream quality now than they have been in recent years.

Capture cards are still a great way for you to get your streaming career started. So, if you want the ability to stream to your PC/laptop from your Xbox or PS5, then you’ll need to pick up a good capture card – just make sure you have the storage space on your computer to do so first.

About Jon

Hey, I'm Jon. I'm an engineer by trade, so it makes sense that I'm obsessed with anything technology related! On the weekends, you can find me playing around with my computers or fixing something around the house. Feel free to leave a comment if you want to get in touch.

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