Although the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can capture gameplay internally, the quality usually isn’t great. Consoles, in particular, are already operating on thin margins when it comes to rendering games, so adding video encoding on top of that isn’t ideal. With a capture card, though, you can offload the work to an external device, taking the heat off your consoles and, in the process, upping your video quality. In this guide to the best capture cards, we’re going to run down our top six picks.
Before getting to that, though, let’s talk a little bit about how capture cards work.
How do capture cards work?
The term “capture card” is somewhat nebulous, as it technically refers to a peripheral slotted into a PC that allows you to capture gameplay footage.
Capture cards can work a few different ways depending on the model, but they all act as passthrough devices between your game console or PC and your display. Instead of linking your HDMI or VGA cable from your console to your television, you instead link the console to the capture card. A second cable links the capture card to your television. Lastly, a USB cable connects the capture card to your PC so it can transmit data as you record footage.
Some capture cards include a built-in H.264 encoder, which handles most of the processing power required to record video game footage. Those that do not may require a more powerful PC to handle the processing bulk, so be aware of your device’s features before making a purchase.
Also keep in mind that although we list separate capture cards for each console below based on specific features tailored to that system, you can use the same card for all three. If a specific model suits your fancy but isn’t marked as the “best” for your console, use it anyway!
Best capture card for PS4
Elgato Game Capture HD60 S
Pros: Instant streaming, flashback recording, console, PC, and Mac support.
Cons: Lacks H.264 encoder, limited editing software capabilities.
When you look at Elgato’s products released over the last several years, it’s easy to see why the company currently rules the game capture market. From its internal capture cards to its external devices and software, Elgato’s Game Capture lineup can handle just about anything.
Elgato’s HD60 S is a great option for consoles, especially the PlayStation 4. You don’t need a capture card with 4K capability given the PlayStation 4 can’t play 4K games and its more powerful sibling, the PlayStation 4 Pro, doesn’t play most games in native 4K.
The HD60 S supports 1080p captures at 60 frames per second. It also provides convenient features like “Instant Streaming,” which gets your captured content up on Twitch or YouTube quickly. Its “Flashback Recording” allows you to retroactively save footage from your favorite game. It’s also compatible with Mac via proprietary software.
The device connects to your PC via a USB-C connection (5Gbps). You’ll need Windows 10 (64-bit) or MacOS Sierra and a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 quad-core processor (or better). Macs require discrete AMD and Nvidia GPUs while Windows 10 PCs support integrated graphics too.
Unlike the older discontinued models, this version doesn’t have a built-in H.264 encoder. That means your PC will do more work. Additionally, the included editing software is largely limited to trimming and piecing together footage.
Best capture card for Xbox One X
Razer Ripsaw HD
Pros: 4K passthrough, audio mixing and microphone input, compatible with most capture software, PC, Mac, and current-gen and last-gen console support.
Cons: No proprietary software.
The beefed-up Xbox One X supports true native 4K gaming, making Razer’s Ripsaw HD the optimum choice. However, it only records and streams in 1080p at 60 frames per second. But don’t worry: It supplies a 4K passthrough port so you’re still playing in 4K despite the low-resolution capture.
Razer’s Ripsaw HD isn’t specifically built for the Xbox One X, however. It’s also compatible with last-gen consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. That said, if you want to stream or capture older games, you can do so with this device.
The Razer Ripsaw HD connects to your PC via a USB-C to USB-A cable (5Gbps). It also includes separate headphone and microphone jacks on the front so you can easily record quality commentary while you play.
The Ripsaw HD is not perfect, however. Despite costing about the same as Elgato’s offerings, it doesn’t come with packed software, requiring you to utilize third-party solutions like OBS or XSplit. It currently doesn’t support Mac either, requiring a Windows-based PC. It does, however, fall under the Synapse 3 umbrella.
For desktop, you need at least a sixth-generation Intel Core i3-6100 chip and Nvidia’s GTX 660 GPU or higher. On laptops, you need at least a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4810MQ and Nvidia’s GTX 870M or higher.
Best capture card for Nintendo Switch
AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus
Pros: Small and portable, 4K passthrough, the software is versatile and easy to use, records footage to MicroSD, console and PC support.
Cons: Mac users need third-party software.
The Nintendo Switch’s portability makes it a great choice for traveling gamers, and with the right carrying case, you can even take the system’s dock with you. If you want to record gameplay on the go but don’t want to bring a PC, the AverMedia Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus is a perfect choice.
With the Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus you can record gameplay without a tethered PC using its built-in H.264 encoder. It captures in 1080p at 60 frames per second, which is the ceiling for the Nintendo Switch’s limited capabilities. It saves your video to a MicroSD card, which you can access through the device’s Micro-USB connection to a PC (storage mode) or by transferring the MicroSD card to a PC.
If you want to livestream gameplay, you’ll need to connect the capture card to your PC and use Avermedia’s software (RECentral). It’s easy to use and comes with features comparable to OBS and XSplit. Live editing allows you to chop down recordings before saving them as a file.
In addition to the MicroSD and Micro-USB ports, the unit provides two HDMI ports along the back, one of which serves as a 4K passthrough (no HDR). Separate microphone and headphone jacks are on the front along with volume control and mode (PC, PC-free, storage) buttons. Check the system requirements for Windows and macOS-based PCs to see what you need on the computing end.
The one major downside of the Live Gamer Portable 2 Plus is that its proprietary software only works with Windows. The company offers an “express” version in beta for Macs, but you’ll likely need third-party software like OBS and XSplit.
Best cheap capture card
Roxio Game Capture HD Pro
Pros: Affordable, versatile software, PC, current-gen, and last-gen support.
Cons: Incompatible with Mac, uses USB 2.0, doesn’t include cables.
You don’t need to break the bank to buy a capture card, and with the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro, you barely even need to make a dent.
Typically selling for under $100, the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro features an auto-capturing component to record the last hour of your gameplay. The included proprietary software features transitions, picture-in-picture boxes, soundtracks, and text to make your content look professional. It streams directly to YouTube or Twitch.
The Roxio Game Capture HD Pro includes a built-in H.264 encoder so your PC does significantly less work. It includes HDMI and Component connectors, allowing you to capture essentially any device up to 1080p at 30 frames per second. The only drawback here is that you can’t connect a PlayStation 3 to its HDMI input due to HDCP reasons. It also doesn’t include HDMI or Component cables.
Unfortunately, the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro is not compatible with Mac, so you must choose one of our other options. It also uses USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.1, which could cause latency issues during streaming. Some users report issues with reliability, but you get what you pay for!
The system requirements are minimal at best. Your PC needs at least an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU at 1.8GHz or an AMD Athlon x2 64 chip at 2.0GHz. You’ll also need DirectX 9.0c-compatible graphics and sound and 2GB of system memory. This device ships with a USB cable.
Best capture card for PC
Elgato 4K60 Pro
Pros: HDR support, 4K recording at 60 frames per second, multi-app support
Cons: Expensive, PCIe only, high system requirements
The Elgato 4K60 Pro is a capture card to end all capture cards, and it comes with a price tag to match. As the only internal card on our list, the 4K60 Pro benefits from much larger bandwidth thanks to its PCIe x4 interface, outracing USB 3.0 in every circumstance and making USB 2.0 look like a relic.
Of course, the standout feature for the 4K60 Pro is that it can, well, record at 2160p at 60 frames per second. It also supports 1080p60, as well as HDR10.
This is a PC gamer’s capture card, though. Although slotting a PCIe card into your computer is no tough task, simply opening the side panel may be too much. If you fit in that camp but still want the best in quality, our next pick is perfect for you.
The 4K60 Pro is not only a PC gamer’s capture card because it’s internal, but also because it demands some pretty hefty system requirements. You’ll need an Nvidia 10-series GPU, at least, as well as a 6th Gen Core i7 or Ryzen 7.
Thankfully, the 4K60 Pro is worth the hassle. It includes the same excellent features seen on the HD60 S, including “Flashback Recording,” as well as passthrough at up to 1080p240 or 1440p144.
Best high-end external capture card
Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+
Pros: Hardware H.264/H.265 encoding, built-in SD card reader, HDR support, 4K recording at 60 frames per second
Cons: Very expensive, no high-resolution passthrough
The Elgato Game Capture 4K60 S+ is, basically, a 4K60 Pro in a box. Nearly twice the price on the PCIe variant, the 4k60 S+ clocks in at a staggering $400. It does, however, have some perks over the base 4K60 Pro.
Namely, the S+ comes with a H.264/H.265 hardware encoder built in. You don’t need a supercomputer to use it, as all of the processing takes place on the card itself.
With the encoder on board, you don’t even need a PC to use the 4K60 S+. With the built-in SD card reader, you can easily capture gameplay free of a PC, all at 4K60. Plus, the 4K60 S+ supports HDR in case you want to show off your Xbox One X or PS4 Pro.
There are some cons to going external, though. The 4K60 S+ doesn’t support high-resolution/frame-rate passthrough like the PCIe version, and “Instant Gameview,” a feature we’ll touch on in a moment, is delayed by 250 milliseconds. Still, the 4K60 S+ is an absolute house when it comes to capturing your gameplay at the highest resolutions and frame rates.
Final Note: Elgato Game Capture HD60 vs. Elgato Game Capture HD60 S
Elgato currently has only one external capture device for sale: Game Capture HD60 S. It serves as the replacement for the Game Capture HD60, and while it’s superior in several ways, it also features a few differences that could make its predecessor a better fit for you.
The Elgato Game Capture HD60 uses H.264 for encoding that doesn’t make use of your PC’s resources. The HD60 S, however, does not have an H.264 encoder, requiring your PC to do more work. The “Master Copy” feature on the older device also gives you higher quality recording in comparison to the “Stream Copy” recording on the HD60 S.
However, the Elgato Game Capture HD60 S comes equipped with “Instant Gameview,” so you can see your content and even your webcam footage in real time as you play. It also supports USB 3.1 for a lower-latency gaming experience.
Both capture devices support all the current systems, as does the original Game Capture HD device. The only one still in production is the HD60 S, though, so you’ll pay far more than MSRP for the older HD60.