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The Best Capture Cards of 2021 for Gaming and Streaming
Streaming on services like Twitch is a popular way for gamers to share their hobby, but you need the right capture card to make the most of your streams. Don’t worry: We have the perfect recommendations for your setup.
What to Look for in a Capture Card in 2021
A capture card has two jobs it must accomplish to be effective. Essentially, it has to capture an incoming audio-visual signal and then either store it or send it along to somewhere else. In some situations, you’ll want the capture card to both record footage and send the signal to an application or AV output at the same time.
When using a capture card, the source of the audio-visual signal is going to be a game console. While consoles starting with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have built-in broadcasting and gameplay recording features, they’re often limited and sometimes even block gameplay from viewers. A capture card not only bypasses the console limitations but also allows you to customize your stream using your PC and broadcasting software (such as OBS or SLOBS).
If you are recording or capturing footage exclusively from a PC, a capture card may not be the best solution. That’s because modern PCs can capture or stream game footage without special hardware. A capture card doesn’t reduce any workload from the PC itself, so it’s only really useful if you want to stream games from gaming consoles.
One important aspect when purchasing a capture card is making sure your chosen console or device can be used with the capture card. Almost all capture cards require HDMI inputs, so if you’re using a retro console, you’ll need an adapter.
Finally, make sure to select a card that supports at least the resolution and refresh rate you want to stream at. Going for higher resolutions and refresh rates is a fine choice, but the hardware you’ll need is generally more expensive. However, if you go for the bare minimum hardware you need to stream, you may need to upgrade sooner. It’s up to you to balance your current needs with future-proofing.
With that out of the way, let’s look at our top recommendations.
Best Overall Capture Card: AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K
- ✓ Flexible card for any type of streaming or capture
- ✓ Offers capture of 5.1 and 7.1 surround
- ✓ Supports ultrawide aspect ratios
- ✓ Cheaper than external cards with similar specifications
- ✗ You need a desktop computer with a free slot
Choosing a capture card that’s “best overall” usually means that the product needs to work adequately (or better) in most scenarios. That is exactly what the Live Gamer 4K from AVerMedia brings to the table. It’s not the best at any one thing, but we can’t imagine anyone being let down by it, regardless of what they need.
As an internal PCIe card, the Live Gamer 4K has more than enough technical power to handle most standard streaming and capturing settings. At 4K, the card can handle 60 frames per second (FPS) and HDR video. Using the included RECentral software, the card can capture 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.
PC gamers and console gamers willing to sacrifice 4K resolution can also record at up to 144 or 240 frames per second for 1440p and 1080p resolutions, respectively. On top of all this, the Live Gamer 4K supports ultrawide aspect ratios, which is not very common. Even the price of the card is very reasonable, given how much you get for it.
The Live Gamer 4K seems to have everything anyone could want, but no product is perfect. This is an internal capture card, so those that own laptops or can’t install the Live Gamer 4K are out of luck. If you need an external capture card specifically, don’t worry, we have an external card recommendation for you.
AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K
This internal capture card has it all: 4K capabilities, ultrawide capture support, and 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound capture, all for a decent price.
Best Budget Capture Card: Elgato HD60 S
- ✓ Zero-lag 1080p passthrough
- ✓ Good bitrate
- ✓ Excellent features for the price
- ✗ No hardware encoder and requires a beefy PC
- ✗ Not ideal for 4K sources, but will work with PS5 and Xbox X|S
- ✗ Good for streaming or gameplay capture, but not both at once
Budget is a relative term here, as you can certainly find plenty of capture cards for less money than the Elgato HD60 S. However, they’re rarely reputable, and when you start getting below $100, the console or PC you’re already playing on almost certainly offers a superior built-in capture or streaming experience than what you’d buy.
The HD60 S is where we believe capture cards start to justify their existence, and so its asking price is currently as low as anyone should go.
This card only offers up to 1080p 60Hz video passthrough, so it’s better suited to console gaming on the PS4 and Xbox One generations. Of course, you can still use it with a PS5 or an Xbox Series console, as long as you don’t mind the lack of 4K resolution.
The 1080p limitation isn’t too much of an issue for actual streaming, anyway. The vast majority of your streaming audience will be watching at 1080p or lower. Viewers aren’t losing out, and ultimately a good audience experience is more important than your own experience while streaming.
Apart from resolution limits, the main downside to the HD60 S is the lack of hardware encoding. So the capture card does require some computer resources to work well, and the HD60 S doesn’t record and stream well at the same time. But for a budget capture card, you have to expect some technical sacrifices.
Elgato HD60 S
While still a little pricey, the Elgato HD60 S manages to cut costs while still being a functional and reputable capture card.
Best Internal Capture Card: Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2
- ✓ 4K60 capture at a great bitrate for the money
- ✓ Zero-lag 4k passthrough
- ✓ Supports high refresh rates at sub-4K resolutions.
- ✓ Can capture HDR footage
- ✗ Requires a desktop with a free PCIe slot
The Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2 almost received the best overall spot instead of the AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K. After all, they virtually have the same on-paper specifications. However, Elgato’s products don’t offer surround sound capture and can only record in stereo, unlike the Live Gamer 4K. Although it didn’t quite make the cut, there’s a lot to love about the 4K60 Pro MK.2 for a comparable price.
As the name suggests, this card can capture 4K footage at a 60Hz refresh rate. It’s also good for capturing HDR10 video, so you don’t need to switch it off while playing.
If you’re happy with resolutions below 4K, then refresh rates up to 240Hz are possible. While Elgato has stated that the 4K60 Pro supports ultrawide resolutions, user feedback indicates that this is easier said than done, so buyer beware if you have an ultrawide monitor!
But if neither ultrawide support nor surround-sound capture matters to you, the Pro MK.2 is a solid alternative to the AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K.
Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2
The Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2 is very similar to our best overall recommendation but lacks the ability to capture surround sound. It’s still a solid capture card, and worth it if you prefer Elgato to AVerMedia.
Best External Capture Card: Elgato 4K60 S+
- ✓ Zero-lag 4k passthrough
- ✓ 4K 60 FPS HDR capture
- ✓ Standalone recording to SD card, no PC required
- ✓ Hardware HEVC/H265 encoder
- ✓ Supports high-refresh passthrough at lower resolutions
- ✗ It’s not cheap
- ✗ No Mac Support
- ✗ Only direct USB connections to a host port are reliable
The Elgato 4K60 S+ is a surprising little capture card that justifies the relatively high asking price. It can capture 4K 60Hz HDR footage and supports 1080p 240Hz and 1440p 144Hz resolutions. You’ll also get a lag-free passthrough port, which means you can insert it between your device and output display and forget it’s even there. What’s even more impressive is that it works through a USB 3.0 port and still offers a 200 Mbps capture bitrate.
How can a USB external capture card offer a similar level of performance to a 4K60 PCIe card? The answer probably lies in the standalone nature of the device. The 4K60 S+ has a fast hardware encoder supporting both H.264 and HEVC video compression standards.
If you’re looking to just capture footage, you don’t even need to plug this capture card into a PC. Insert an SD card for saving footage, and the Elgato can do the job all by itself. That’s pretty rare even among external capture cards.
There’s no Mac support, and you have to be careful to connect the device to a USB 3.0 port (not USB 2.1), which suggests that it’s running at the edge of maximum USB bandwidth. However, for most users, the 4K60 S+ is the best all-around external capture device, and thanks to its USB 3.0 support, it’s a flexible capture card.
Elgato 4K60 S+
With a zero-lag pass-through and the ability to get up to a 240Hz refresh rate at 1080p, the 4K60 S+ is an impressive capture card that doesn’t need to be installed in your PC.
Best 4K Capture Card: AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt
- ✓ Uses Thunderbolt 3, unmatched bandwidth for external cards
- ✓ Allows for uncompressed footage capture
- ✓ Allows for up to 240fps capture in FHD
- ✗ No USB C support
- ✗ Does not work with M1 Mac at the moment
- ✗ Cannot capture HDR on Mac
The big advantage of internal PCIe capture cards is the access to oodles of computer resources. This means they can capture and stream footage at astronomical bitrates and offer the best visual quality and performance. External cards that rely on USB, such as the Elgato 4K60 S+, are always going to be limited in comparison.
Moving from USB to Thunderbolt 3 solves the resource issue for external capture cards in a definitive way. That’s how the Live Gamer Bolt can capture 4K 60Hz HDR footage as well as faster frame rates at lower resolutions. This external card is functionally as capable as an internal card but doesn’t require installation. So, any Windows system with a Thunderbolt 3 port will work.
Macs are supported as well, which means a Mac Mini or MacBook Pro could be the ideal pairing with the Live Gamer Bolt. There is, however, one major caveat with Mac computers. At the time of writing, AVerMedia doesn’t support the M1 Mac ecosystem at present. Posts from AVerMedia’s
technical support staff indicate that an M1 driver is in development, but there’s no indication of when it will be released. It’s also worth noting that only Windows allows for HDR capture at the moment, even if you’re using an Intel Mac.
Thunderbolt 3 is becoming more common on laptops and can be added to many motherboards using a compatible add-in card. That makes the Live Gamer Bolt a more flexible solution than comparable internal 4k capture cards. Its current Mac limitations are regrettable, but it’s a great way to turn your Thunderbolt-equipped laptop into a professional streaming powerhouse.
AVerMedia Live Gamer Bolt
If you need to capture 4K footage, you’ll want to get the Live Gamer Bolt. It even works with Intel Macs! Just make sure you have a Thunderbolt 3 port.
Best Capture Card for Streaming: AVerMedia Live Gamer Duo
- ✓ Dual HDMI input allowing high-end camera usage
- ✓ 4K60 and 1080p 240 passthrough
- ✗ Limited to 1080p capture
Streaming is about more than just finding a way to get incoming footage onto a service like Twitch. A streaming setup consists of many moving parts that come together to craft an attractive and professional stream.
As such, the Live Gamer Duo is one of the best products we’ve seen for a livestream setup. While it isn’t at the technical cutting edge, it has several useful features that make life much easier for low- to mid-budget streamers.
The best feature the Live Gamer Duo has is its dual HDMI inputs. This allows you to plug a camera into the second port and then mix the gaming and camera inputs using your favorite broadcasting software. No USB webcam setup will compare to a direct HDMI camera feed, so this card really helps your whole streaming setup punch above its weight.
Another killer feature is the asymmetrical passthrough and capture. Even though this card is limited to capturing uncompressed 1080p 60Hz footage, you can pass through almost any resolution you like. You can still enjoy 4K60, 1440p144, and 1080p240 imagery on your local display, while keeping the livestream at the 1080p resolution most viewers will be watching on.
If you’re someone looking to set up a dedicated streaming solution with high-quality camera footage, this is the card we’d recommend for most of you.
AVerMedia Live Gamer Duo
If you need a capture card that’s optimized specifically for streaming, the Live Gamer Duo will be the perfect pick. With dual HDMI ports, you can have your gameplay and camera looking great.