Video game graphics have advanced by light years since the “good old days” of Atari, and it’s typically in the comfort of one’s own home rather than at an arcade that the highest quality of game play now takes place.
Add to that the introduction of the Internet and the growth of full fledged “gaming communities” that thrive on posting their most spectacular gaming moments on social media sites or entertainingly tutoring other gamers through 20 to 30 minute Twitch streams.
Gaming is now an industry and a lifestyle all its own, and streaming is the pinnacle of gaming – and the only best way to share your gaming with others aside from sitting down to actually play a game with them.
All that said, one of the most important pieces of technology you’re going to need to engage in high quality game streaming, quickly and easily accomplished, is a capture card.
What Are “Capture Cards?”
A capture card “captures” high definition short clips or longer videos from your game play, be it on PC or on a game console, and configures the data for transfer to the Internet or to other devices (PC, smartphone, tablet, TV) for easy sharing.
There are numerous great capture cards on the market today, at various quality levels and price points. Click here to check out how to choose one that best fits your needs and budget!
Be sure your capture card meets the requirements of your game console and/or PC. And for optimal streaming, you’ll also need some high-powered streaming software (on top of the capture card), a high definition Webcam, and an external microphone with sound isolation and other audio-enhancing features.
Although you can find a plethora of brands and specific models of capture cards to choose from, there are 4 basic types:
- PC capture cards, made for dual systems, where you have a primary and secondary PC. One PC handles the streaming, while the other one is freed up to focus on keeping your actual gaming up to optimal levels.
- Mac capture cards. While not as common, those who use a Mac for gaming/streaming may need a special capture card.
- Console-focused capture cards, often made with PlayStation or Xbox specifically in mind.
- Capture cards designed to ease data transfer between 3DS and Wii devices.
What to Look for in a Capture Card
For most gaming streamers who want to do more than the bare minimum, investing in a capture card is a must. It’s the only way to get top quality streams without overloading your machine and without going through a lot of extra hassle.
But how do you go about choosing the capture card that best fits your needs? Here are 8 key questions to ask yourself as a buyer:
- Does the card have Ultra HD or 4K specs so it can record full length HD video streams?
- Does it include “buffer recording” so you can record short clips “after the fact” when something unexpected (and awesome) happens during your game play?
- Does it offer easy to adjust settings so you can tweak frames per second, bitrate, storage, and more?
- Can it run both compressed and uncompressed data? Compression helps you handle more load, but uncompressed streams can get you better quality when it matters most.
- Will your game console be compatible with the prospective capture card?
- Does your PC and other hardware have the storage capacity, memory, speed, and other specs to let your desired capture card work at its optimal level? You could upgrade your PC or you could settle for a somewhat less powerful capture card.
- Is the capture card and the full streaming set up going to be easy enough for me to use? How well designed is the interface and how easy to understand is the user’s manual?
- How much can I afford to invest in a capture card? How big is my game streaming budget in total and what percentage of it can I devote to getting a quality capture card?
How Do I Set Up My Capture Card?
There’s a lot of variety in how a game streaming system is set up, and practically no two streamers will do everything exactly alike. Nonetheless, we give a basic generic overview of how to set up your capture card and system.
Our example will be for setting up your capture card with a gaming console.
First, make sure you have a PC with an i7 processor or better. Also make sure you’re getting good upload speed: 10 mb/s for 1080 pixels OR 5 mb/s for 720 pixels. And you’ll also need a USB cable and two HDMI cables.
Then simply hook everything up. Connect the capture card terminal via HDMI cable to your gaming console. Use the other HDMI to connect the capture card’s out port to your TV. Then use the USB cable to hook up your capture card to your PC or Mac.
To make the scene complete, you may also want to invest in a gaming headset with mix amps and a separate Web cam and separate microphone.
Streaming on Twitch
You can make game posts to Facebook and Twitter and stream on Youtube, but the “king” of all game streaming sites is clearly Twitch. Twitch allows you to live stream your games, embed streams on your own blog site or website, and quickly share the results on other social media sites.
Twitch also features chat rooms where viewers can interact and give you feedback. And if you gain a big enough following and use high level enough streaming equipment, you can even start making a little money on Twitch.
To get started on Twitch, you’ll need to use the free OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) or subscribe to Xsplit, a special Twitch-focused broadcasting software. You can click the link to get the details on how to get started!
A quality capture card is the heart and soul of your game streaming efforts, so take the time to choose one with care and to build a fully compatible, high-powered streaming center around it!