Become a Live Streamer with a Capture Card and a Few Accessories
Are you a live streamer or vlogger, or looking to become one? If so, you may be limiting your audience by streaming straight from your laptop or game console.
These days, the bar for live streamers has risen to the point that fans expect those they follow to have high quality video and audio. Even if you have no plans of making streaming your livelihood, one of the crucial steps to improving your live stream is by using a dedicated capture card to connect your game console and/or webcam.
What is a capture card?
A capture card is a device that converts the video and audio signal from an external source – such as a game console or webcam – to something your computer can read.
USB Capture cards range in price and feature sets from the no-frills Genki Shadowcast ($50) to the Elgato 4K60 S+, which retails for nearly $400.
Mid-tier models hover around $150 - $200, such as the AVerMedia Live Gamer ULTRA and the Elgato 1080p60.
There are also internal capture cards which require a PC with an open PCI Express port. These will deliver more bang for your buck in terms of frame rate and resolution, with the drawback being that they’re far less portable and convenient.
Why do you need a capture card?
To be sure, capture cards are niche products, but their niche is growing rapidly among their two primary audiences: game streamers and vloggers.
The composition of the former group is obvious: the majority of the top streamers on Twitch are those who play video games while interacting with their viewers. The latter are mostly those who need to record high quality video – such as tech reviewers, musicians, and artists. These creators might not get the viewership of game streamers, but they can use live streaming to raise awareness of their work and even make sales.
The watch time for video streams on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook Gaming grew 21% in 2021, fueled by both the continual rise of esports and the scarcity of other entertainment and socializing opportunities due to pandemic restrictions.
In the Western world, the dominant streaming platform is Amazon-owned Twitch, which captured 71% of viewing hours last year. However, Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming beat Twitch handily in Asian countries, where the focus is largely on mobile gaming.
You may wonder why you need a capture card when the PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S are all capable of streaming directly from the console. This is certainly the most convenient solution, and it may be fine if all you want to do is stream gameplay for your friends and don’t care much about quality or options. However, these tools give you little control over your stream and tend to output at lower resolutions and/or frame rates since the consoles are trying to process gameplay and streaming at the same time. If you’re even a little interested in attracting an online following, you’re going to want a capture card.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to stream gameplay from your Nintendo Switch, a capture card is the only way. Fortunately, the Switch doesn’t output at 4K, so you’re free to choose a budget-friendly 1080p option.
Capture cards and cameras
There are quite a few questions to ask yourself before you click ‘buy’ on a capture card. For instance…
- What level of video quality do you require? 1080p or 4k? 30fps, 60fps, or more?
- Is your computer powerful enough (and your internet fast enough) to stream games and webcam video at the same time?
- Are you only going to live stream, or will you be editing and uploading videos?
If you’re going to stream a game and your webcam outputs to your PC via USB (like most of NexiGo’s webcams), you can get a capture card with just a single HDMI input.
If you’re using a DSLR camera with HDMI output, you’ll probably want a capture card with dual HDMI inputs so you can connect your console and camera at the same time.
If you already have a modern DSLR or mirrorless digital camera, you may be able to use it as a webcam. However, if you want to get the most out of it and stream gameplay at the same time, you’ll need a capture card with dual HDMI inputs.
Most Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras, for instance, are capable of capturing 4K video, but using Sony’s software and connecting them with a USB cable caps their output at 576p. While functional, this is hardly up to modern standards. To use them as webcams to their fullest potential, you’ll have to connect them to a capture card via HDMI.
Capture cards and monitors
If you look at the specs for a capture card, you might see something like 2K pass through or 4K pass through. This means that, while the card may not capture 4K video from the source connected to it, it has an HDMI output that lets video pass through untouched. That way, you can connect the card to your monitor or TV and enjoy games in their full quality while capturing at a quality that’s more suitable for streaming.
For high-quality streaming on the go, you can even connect a game console or laptop to both a NexiGo portable monitor and a capture card. Three of those models have high refresh rates (144Hz and 300 Hz), so you can enjoy smoother gameplay while streaming at a more reasonable 1080p. The other has a 4K screen, which is the maximum resolution that most games support.
Using a capture card with the NexiGo Iris webcam
The NexiGo Iris is an upcoming flagship webcam that won an innovation award at CES. Set to launch in mid-2022, it has the largest sensor of any webcam on the market (not just a little bit either – it’s 55% larger than the next largest!), which translates to crisp video and superior low light performance.
But to make the most of the NexiGo Iris, including its uncompressed 4K output, you’re going to need a capture card that supports that resolution. Without a capture card, it can still output up to 4K, but the video quality will be compressed to match USB’s lower bandwidth.
With a suitable capture card, the NexiGo Iris will let you stream or record high-quality 4K video at 60fps. It can even look as good or better than many more expensive DSLR or mirrorless cameras, thanks to its Sony STARVIS 2 sensor, which is designed for clear video even in low-light conditions.
However, to take advantage of the Iris’s uncompressed 4K video output, you’ll need a capture card that doesn’t do hardware processing – one like the internal AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K.
If you’re recording video to edit later, you’ll want a PC with a powerful enough video card to edit 4K. And if you’re streaming it, your priority should be having fast enough internet speeds to broadcast at such a high resolution without major lag. That often means plugging in via ethernet cable rather than using WiFi.
Using a capture card with the Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch is the best-selling game console on the market, but in the live streaming world it’s underrepresented. Much of this neglect is due to the higher barrier of entry for Switch players. The Switch doesn’t support streaming or voice chat directly from the console, so doing both requires some workarounds.
In other words, if you want to stream your Switch gameplay, a capture card is mandatory — and an external webcam and microphone are nearly as essential. Luckily, NexiGo has created a Switch streaming guide video that should help. Check it out for a tutorial on how to ready your Switch for streaming:
Our test capture card is an Elgato HD60, which is on the affordable side (and a bit outdated) but plenty capable for the Switch’s lower demands. We also used a NexiGo N950p, a very capable 4K webcam that comes at a lower price point than the Iris and connects to your PC via USB.
We even show you how to connect a projector to your capture card’s passthrough, so you can use it like a massive TV to play multiplayer games with your friends.
Capture your greatest moments
As we’ve seen, capture cards are mainly used by game streamers, but they’re capable of so much more. We hope this guide has helped you appreciate the versatility of capture cards and decide whether you want to pick one up to support your stream or vlog.
And if you choose to start live streaming or vlogging, or you want to improve your current output, NexiGo is here to support you with plenty of accessories for webcams, gaming, and even lighting. Now get out there and find your audience!