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What Does a Capture Card Do?

Written by, Mihajlo Trajcheski

Updated June, 3, 2022

Capture cards are nifty devices that are an essential part of every streamer’s toolset and anyone else who wants to show off their greatest gaming moments.

But, what does a capture card do exactly, how does it work, and how can you pick the best one for you? 

Read on.

What Is a Capture Card and How Does It Work?

Capture cards are devices that allow you to record gameplay footage.

They capture (thus, the name) in-game action and allow you to later edit the footage into a VOD or broadcast your gameplay live on platforms like Twitch and YouTube.

Did you know? Minecraft is the most streamed game on YouTube and Brits spend over 1.7 hours a week watching video game streaming on YouTube!

How do capture cards work?

A capture card does two things: it delivers a video stream to a PC and supports passthrough so the video signal can be viewed on a monitor. The video sent to the PC is encoded (and in a format that the PC can process) and can be then saved to a file or uploaded live to the Internet.

What Does a Capture Card Do?

At its most basic, this device helps gamers record their games from their console or PC, and share it online. 

Here’s exactly what they bring to the table.

What does a capture card do for Xbox?

Streaming from your Xbox directly is possible, but not ideal, and you can’t stream to any other platform directly other than Twitch. If you’re streaming on a PC, a capture card will ensure high-quality video and low latency in video transmission

What does a capture card do for streaming on PC?

Having the best setup accessories is a necessity for every gamer who’s into streaming. A stream card is also a good idea if you’re playing on one PC and streaming on another. Like with a console, a capture card for streaming on a PC sends and encodes the signal from the GPU on the gaming PC to the streaming PC. In this case, the streaming card allows for flexibility in device management. 

What does a capture card do for a PlayStation4?

You can stream your games from your PS4 directly to Twitch or YouTube, but a video capture device will give you the ability to edit raw, high-quality footage to make videos and post them on streaming platforms or edit out the entire gaming session and share it with your friends and/or followers online. A capture card can also help take the load off of the console and ensure a smooth gaming experience.

What does a capture card do for Nintendo Switch?

Unlike Xbox and PlayStation4, Switch is not equipped for streaming directly to platforms and only allows users to record 30-second clips in low quality. With a video capture card, you can record your entire gameplay, edit the footage, and upload it on any streaming platform from your PC.

How to Set up a Capture Card?

Most capture cards come with an HDMI cable in the box. If yours didn’t, you’ll have to buy a separate HDMI cable (or two if you want to connect it to a monitor or a TV) to connect your gaming console (or gaming PC) to the streaming PC.

How to set up a capture card on a PC

To connect your gaming PC to the game capture card and your streaming PC:

  1. Connect your gaming PC to the capture card with an HDMI cable – one end of the HMI cable to the HDMI output on the console and the other to the IN port on the capture card. 
  2. Connect the capture card to your streaming PC with a USB cable.
  3. Configure the capture card software on the streaming PC. 

How to set up a capture card on a Nintendo Switch

  1. Connect the Switch to the dock with an HDMI cable (The Nintendo Switch doesn’t have a video output). 
  2. Connect the other end of the HDMI cable to the IN port of the capture card
  3. Connect the OUT port of the capture card to your TV or monitor.
  4. Connect the capture card to the streaming PC with a USB cable.

How to set up a capture card on Xbox

  1. Connect your Xbox to the capture card with an HDMI cable.
  2. Connect the capture card to your TV or monitor.
  3. Connect the capture card to your streaming PC via a USB cable. 

Note: Make sure that your console is set to use Stereo uncompressed audio. You can find this setting in the Xbox console setting list.

How to set up a capture card on PlayStation4

Before connecting the console to the capture card, you’ll need to turn off the HDCP encryption:

  1. Connect the PS4 to your TV or monitor via HDMI cable.
  2. Go to Settings, open System, and turn off ‘Enable HDCP.’
  3. Download and install the capture card software.

To set up the capture card:

  1. Connect your console to the capture card with an HDMI cable.
  2. Connect the capture card with your monitor with an HDMI cable.
  3. Connect the capture card with the streaming PC with a USB cable.

Worth noting: If you have an internal capture card, you’ll have to follow the manufacturer’s manual to install it on the streaming PC. Once you do, connect the gaming PC or console and the streaming PC with an HDMI cable. One of the ends of the HDMI cables should be in the IN port of the capture card.

How to Choose a Capture Card?

Here’s what you need to consider when looking for a capture device:

  • Cost

High-end capture cards are pricier but worth it if you’re a regular streamer. If streaming isn’t your main focus, then a budget capture card might be a better option– it would still ensure high-quality videos and low-latency transmission.

  • Video Quality

For most casual streamers, streaming in 1080p  or ‘Full HD’ is ideal. However, if you want to game and record in 4K or ‘Ultra HD’, you’ll need an HD game capture device that supports 4K video resolution passthrough.

  • Console 

When choosing a capture card, it’s important to make sure that it has the right input for the device you want to record with. Also, you need to ensure that your computer can edit and render 1080p or 4K videos.

  • Software

Capture card manufacturers use their own software for their devices that allows gamers to stream, live record, and/or edit footage. The software not only affects the quality of your videos but also offers different functionalities, such as streaming overlays, adding a webcam over gameplay, and including commentary. 

Bottom Line

A capture card is an excellent choice for streamers who want to record their gameplay from their consoles or gaming PC to a second computer. They come in many different shapes and sizes, with a variety of features. When choosing a capture card, it’s important to consider what the software offers, the image quality that it supports, and whether it’s compatible with your console.

Frequently Asked Questions And Their Answers

Does a capture card affect FPS?

A capture card is unlikely to affect your PC or console performance since it transfers the recording task to a second device. This helps take the load off of your console or gaming PC and shouldn’t slow down your first system.

Do you need a capture card to stream?

You don’t necessarily need a capture card if you’re gaming and streaming from the same PC. Xbox and PlayStation4 have built-in features that allow gamers to stream directly to Twitch and some other streaming platforms, but Nintendo Switch users don’t have that option and would need a capture card if they want to stream their games.

Is it worth getting a capture card?

A capture card is a good investment for serious streamers that stream their game on a second computer. If you just started streaming, you might want to buy a capture card to make sure the streaming task doesn’t affect your console’s performance.

What does a capture card do?

A capture card sends video streams from your console or gaming PC to a second computer. It encodes the video in a way that the PC can read it, edit it, and upload it on streaming platforms. 

As someone who grew up gaming and always had a love for random facts, being able to write about gaming and technology for a living has been an absolute treat. Whenever I’m not researching my next topic for Don’t Disappoint Me, I am deflecting the attacks of Bosses in Sekiro, investigating a murder in Disco Elysium, helping Zagreus escape the underworld in Hades, or flanking enemies in Call of Duty with my squad. Having studied English language and literature has helped me merge these two worlds of random facts and gaming into a fulfilling career.