In order to have much of a chance at standing out these days on Twitch or YouTube Gaming, you need to ensure that the footage you're streaming is absolutely flawless.
While there's no recipe for success for breaking into the big leagues, we're sorry, deciding what platform you wish to broadcast with - as well as the resolution and frame rate - can make a big difference in how your content is perceived online.
For example, if you were thinking of filming yourself during high-intensity FPS games, then you would ideally want your footage to be captured in the highest frame rates possible without sacrificing image quality - something such as 1440p120 - but if visual fidelity is needed, and a more laid back atmosphere is your speed, then a 4K capture card is an absolute must.
There's also the consideration of what kind of hardware you're using - be it a gaming PC or an Xbox Series X or PS5. In the latter's case, a portable capture card - that doesn't require a PC of any kind would be preferable - but if you're wanting 4K60 on PC - and don't have a high-end system to capture natively - then something internal is likely to do the trick.
Capture cards are a big part of the equation when putting together a rig for streaming/producing professional quality content for the internet in 2021, but they are not the whole story. You'll need gear, and why settle for anything less than the best microphone for streaming so that you're crystal clear at all times. It's just as important to look the part, and that's where the best ring light and best webcam come in for the full package.
The best capture cards for 2021
The Toblerone-shaped AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus is quite frankly ludicrously lovely to capture with. Easy doesn't cover it as you flick between PC and micro SD settings and there's no missing the giant flashing lights to make sure that you're capturing or have left HDCP on (again). The quality is exceptional with crisp 60fps arriving straight onto your PC or Micro SD card.
The latter is essential instead of a USB stick for speedy transfer as this is the only no PC required capturing device on the list that has the capability to work with 60fps. It's definitely worth the extra investment if you don't always want your PC running when capturing and if you are streaming, the included RECentral is intuitive for overlaying text and tweaking your picture in picture set up. An overall exceptional piece of kit with a small form factor but an impressive swathe of handy features.
Rec Central, AVerMedia's proprietary player is intuitive and exceptionally easy to use and you can even record PS4 party chat without having to add an extra cable like the Elgato. Overall a brilliant offering for both streaming and capturing.
Best for... Easy capture and streaming at 1080p 60fps with no budget constraints. Plus you can keep playing in 4K while you stream.
Elgato is one of the biggest, best-known names in capture, and for good reason: their devices are relatively cheap, easy to use, and function incredibly well. Here's our breakdown of all the Elgato game capture deals, covering all devices in the range. The Game Capture HD60S is easy to set up, simply plugging in between your PS4/Xbox One and the TV. It also does all of the work for you, with the software cycling through resolution options until it finds a signal (although you can also set it up and tweak options manually should you have any problems getting a signal on your TV). Another great bonus is that you don't need the software running to use it: as long as it can draw power it'll send a signal to your screen so theres no need to unplug it when you don't want to capture.
The capture software that comes with it is clear and easy to use, with a few basic, useful options to fiddle with the audio and streaming set ups. Theres an audio in on the unit itself if you want to add audio directly to your stream, and a range of streaming screen sets up for in-set cameras and so on. The only area in which it disappoints is its rudimentary editing package that's only really good for trimming.
Best for... High quality capture in a small package, and it's so easy to use.
Chances are, you're not going to find a true 4K capture card for as low of a price as the Razer Ripsaw HD, a capture card that does 4K passthrough while streaming games in 1080p. Whether you have a PS4 Pro, an Xbox One X, or you plan on buying the inevitable 4K Nintendo Switch refresh upon its release, the Razer Ripsaw HD just might scratch that high-res streaming itch. Not only that, but this capture card eliminates the hurdle of software-based audio mixing. You can mix audio, "hassle free," using the hardwired mic and headphone jacks.
Unfortunately, the Razer Ripsaw HD biggest feat comes with an equally major caveat. It doesn't have its own software. To stream in 1080p as advertised, you'll have to either shell out for an XSplit premium membership or rely on the less intuitive – but free and open source – Open Broadcasting Software. On top of that, unlike the original Razer Ripsaw, this one doesn't support older consoles without a small collection of adapters.
Best for: Anyone who values resolution and ease of use.
Perfect for recording a quick burst of capture when you spot something cool, AverMedia’s slim, lightweight, and portable capture box slots into consoles like a dream. With no need for a PC, the LGP is powered by the PS4, Xbox One or even PS3. It’s quick to set up and beyond easy to use. Simply plug it in between your console and TV, turn off HDCP, and press the giant red button in the centre. It’ll pulse a soothing red if your capture is working, or alternately flash blue and red to helpfully let you know if HDCP hasn’t been switched off. All your footage is recorded to a standard SD card in MP4.
Prefer to record to your laptop instead? No problem. The Live Gamer Portable (LGP) works with that too. Spitting out your videos in 30fps but at 1080p resolution, it might not look as razor-sharp on the screen as 60fps but you really can’t beat the LGP’s portability. Weighing just 117g and the size of an iPhone, if you’re looking for something to take with you on the go then the LGP should be your first port of call. Even able to record and stream gameplay at the same time, along with adding commentary on the top with no problem at all, it makes livestreaming a sinch.
Best for... Streaming and no-fuss instant capture
Similar to models made by Elgato and Avermedia before it, the EVGA XR1 is an ultra-portable capture card that records footage in up to 1080p60 with a myriad of passthrough options supporting up to 4K60 or 1440p 120 FPS.
Really, it's the latter addition combined with the aesthetics that could edge it out for some people. You will still need to plug it into a PC of some kind, but it's ready for PCs as well as cameras and Xbox Series X and PS5.
With the audio mixer, coupled with the inputs for headsets/external microphones through relevant ports on the front - meaning you can balance your audio as you go direct from the capture card as you would with an audio interface - leaving a lot of guesswork out of the equation!
Best for… Commentators and competitive gamers
Ready for a 4K capture device?
If you’re serious about capturing gameplay at the highest resolution and frame rates possible then this is the card you need. As the only internal capture card on our list, it does mean that you’ll need pretty some high-end hardware (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 10 series and an Intel Core i7 CPU or better) to use it but the results are well worth it. We did find that we had to update our graphics card drivers to get the card working correctly but once configured this card will allow you to capture 4K footage at 60fps at up to 140Mbps.
Normally that would mean you’d also need a lot of HDD space but the simple-to-use software also encodes the capture while it’s recording it to save you space. The only slight niggle with it (and it really is slight) is that, although the software is pretty good at keeping up with you, the optimum way to play while using this card is to make use of the lag free HDMI pass-through and send the feed to a second monitor or 4K screen. But if you’re considering this card you probably have all of that already.
Best for… Professional level 4K game capture
There's a lot of appeal to this - admittedly expensive - 4K capture card from Elgato straight out of the gate. For a start, not only is it portable, but it promises zero-latency HDR-enabled 4K60 in a portable form factor; some seriously impressive specs for its size.
It's the plug-and-play nature of this device that harbors the majority of its appeal. This is a unit that's very much aimed at PS5/Xbox Series X users with its direct capture solution - with the unit bearing the brunt of the processing/encoding as opposed to what would traditionally be your PC's CPU.
Again, due to just how small this thing is, it's designed just to be tossed into a bag and ready to be hooked up at a moment's notice when you need high-fidelity footage. Not only is there 4K passthrough (so the picture you're seeing isn't distorted or condensed) but it's recording a true-to-life account of what's happening on-screen; very expensive, but worth it if you're a serious streamer or on the move a lot.
Best for… Streamers and competitive gamers on the go
With the arrival of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X 4Kconsole gaming is very much here but most of the capture cards can’t go above 1080p. The AV.io offers up to 4k capture at 30fps which, while fine for PS4 Pro, may cause you problems on the Xbox One X if your games are running at a higher frame rate. However if you’re looking for an external 4K capture solution for Sony’s new machine this is a dream. It’s also tiny so will easily fit into your bag or even your pocket if you’re on the move. There’s no software to install and it’s easy to set up on whatever video application you have on your machine like Skype, WireCast or OBS (which we’d recommend).
It’s even (almost) lag free, even at 4K, meaning you can play and capture on your machine using just the supplied cables. The only downside then is the price it is not cheap at over $500 / £400 so you just have to decide if all those extra pixels are worth it.
Best for… Capturing 4K footage while on the go
If you are curious about the more technical aspects of this hobby, take a look at our hardware glossary to demystify some of the more complex jargon.