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Let’s say you’re playing your favorite video game on a console, and you just did something incredible. You’ll probably never be able to pull of this amazing feat again, and none of your friends will ever believe that you did it in it the first place. If you only you had some way to record your gaming sessions so you can show off the awesomeness that takes place while you play.
Well, what if I told you that you can? With the Elgato Game Capture HD, you can record gameplay from every video game console from the old school stuff all the way to the Xbox One. Best of all, we went out and purchased a unit to test, and now we are giving one away to a lucky reader. Whether you want to record your gameplay to make edits later on, or you want to stream it live on Twitch, this device has you covered.
Introducing the Elgato Game Capture HD
Streaming and recording video games has become a huge market. So huge, in fact, that both Sony and Microsoft have decided to add streaming on a system level in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That takes some of the usefulness away from the Elgato in the newest consoles, but if you are looking to capture large amounts of high-quality video, it’s still a useful device.
As far as competition goes, it’s a pretty busy market out there for game capture devices. The three main competitors are theRoxio Game Capture HD PRO (which we reviewed),AVerMedia – C875 Live Gamer Portable and the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition. Roxio offers the cheapest model with an recommended retail price of $149, while the AVerMedia and Hauppauge HD PVR 2 cost $179 and $199 respectively. The Elgato Game Capture HD falls right in the middle with its $179 price tag, so from a price standpoint, it’s very competitive. Keep in mind these are all recommended prices, and you will often be able to find these devices discounted from sites like Amazon.
Upon opening the box, you will notice that the device comes with two inputs, an A/V and a HDMI. The A/V input is for consoles without HDMI and the PS3, and even though it uses component cables, it will work with composite outputs from retro consoles like the NES, Genesis, SNES, and many others. The HDMI works with all of your modern consoles except the PS3, and is, of course, the easiest way to hook everything up.
The included HDMI cable is rather short, and the USB is of average length, so you will need to have your consoles relatively close to the computer in order to capture. If you need a little more distance, other cables will be required.
Aside from the short cables, the device itself makes a good first impression. It’s small enough to carry around in your pocket, so you can bring it with you to a friend’s house. It’s slick with a glossy black exterior, and it only has four small ports — two in, one out, and a USB — so it’s not cluttered up with excessive ports, maintaining the streamlined look and feel.
The device uses USB 2.0 for data transfer. I never saw any performance issues as far capturing data is concerned, even with the lack of USB 3.0. It is able to capture video at resolutions up to 1080p with a pass through frame rate of 60 FPS to the TV and 30 FPS in the capture video, which is quite solid, and pretty standard. Of course, it also captures lower resolutions, going all the way down to 240p for those retro consoles.
I mentioned previously that the Elgato Game Capture HD is very small and can be easily carried around. Allow me to back that claim up with some numbers: it’s 2.9 inches wide, 4.3 inches long, and 1 inch deep. You’ll find it about the same size as an older iPhone, only thicker. Of course, you will need to bring some cables with you, which cuts down the portability slightly, but it’s not something to complain about. And it really is nice to have the option to bring this with you when playing away from home, especially if you are involved in recording gameplay at events for the media.
An important claim in the specs is the HDMI pass through, which Elgato promises to deliver no lag, so you don’t have to worry about being slightly behind when playing games like shooters, where twitch reflexes are the difference between winning and losing. Does it live up to these claims? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Elgato includes a pretty solid software package that will work for basic video capture and streaming. It’s incredibly easy to use, which is perfect for people new to recording gaming videos. It even comes with some pretty barebones editing features for trimming your clips. Of course, you are going to need some dedicated video editing software like Premier or Final Cut to make professional videos, but for really basic stuff, it will do the job.
It has one-click streaming to Twitch and YouTube, but it doesn’t offer the flexibility to put overlays and fine adjustments that you get with other solutions like OBS and XSplit, so if you want to get serious with your streaming, you are definitely going to want to switch over to one of those programs as long as you have a PC. You also cannot add an image of yourself from a webcam, which is generally a staple of most popular gaming YouTubers and Twitch streamers. It does let you mix in a voice over, and it even has a cool feature that will automatically duck the in-game sound effects when you speak, which can make for a better viewing experience, depending on the type of game.
If you have a Mac, your options are limited, and you will probably find that Elgato’s software is as good as it’s going to get. Xsplit and OBS, two of the most popular offerings are not available on the platform. Hopefully that will change, but since streaming is something that really started with the PC gaming scene, support for Mac is slower to arrive. Thankfully, the Elgato software works, otherwise it would be hard to even recommend this device to Mac users at all.
It’s easy to tweak the settings depending on what kind of system you are capturing from. You simply choose HDMI, component, or composite, and then pick the resolution. The software will automatically do the rest, and within seconds, your TV will display what’s on your computer’s screen, albeit with a delay.
Compared to most other capture cards we’ve seen, Elgato has far superior software. It’s not as good as some of the dedicated streaming solutions on the market, but it will do the job quite well for the new streamer or someone who only wants to record their video to be edited into something more professional after the fact. The fact that it comes free with the device is a huge bonus, and it’s definitely worth a download when you get your Elgato.
Recording On Modern Consoles
Recording on modern consoles is one of the easiest processes you will encounter. It’s simply a matter of connecting the console’s HDMI out to the Elgato’s HDMI in, hooking the Elgato’s HDMI out port to the TV, and connecting the USB port to the computer with which you intend to capture to. From there, the video will show up on your TV as it would normally, and it will also feed into the capture software, whether you are using the bundled option or a third-party solution of your choosing.
One of the best features of the Elgato is that it doesn’t require a dedicated power supply. This means the process of hooking it to your console is substantially easier, as you do not need to find a power outlet. The electricity required to power it comes right from the USB port that is hooked up to your computer. It might not sound like a big deal, but the less time you have to spend behind the TV fishing for outlets and cables is a good thing, and the Elgato delivers in this regard.
When dealing with a PlayStation 3, you may find that you need a component splitter in order to get the images to display on a TV. This seems to be especially true of Samsung displays, which have a handshake issue with the HDMI pass through when the original signal doesn’t originate from HDMI. The devices required to solve the problem is relatively cheap, so it’s not a huge issue, but it is something to keep in mind. Unfortunately, the PS3 cannot be used with the Elgato through HDMI due to security measures used in the console. On my Panasonic television, I had no issues, but as we will get to soon, I did have some serious problems when it came to my game room, where I keep all of my retro consoles hooked up to a Samsung LCD TV.
Overall, there is really nothing negative that I can say about streaming and capturing games with the Elgato on a modern console. It takes a couple of seconds to hook up the device, and then you are ready to capture the magic. Additionally, the quality of recordings is top notch, which is obviously critical in the world of high-definition gaming. If you want to show off how good a game looks, the last thing you want is for your video to come out looking like something from the PS2 generation.
Recording on Retro Consoles
That handshaking issue I mentioned earlier came to the forefront when I went to capture from retro consoles. My Samsung TV refused to display the image when routed through the Elgato Game Capture HD. My first thought was to simply view the game through the capture software display, but the delay induced made it impossible. So I had to order a splitter, which was not expensive, but still kind of a pain, especially considering I currently have 14 consoles hooked up to the TV through a series of switcher boxes. It made for a little bit of extra work, but it was worth it in the end.
Once the splitter was in place, everything worked perfectly. The yellow video cable from the composite output plugs into the red port of component, and the audio plug into their respective ports, and it was good to go. Simply changing the settings in the capture software to composite displayed the image in the software, and clicking the record button stored everything as you would expect. It even has settings that allow you to choose whether you want the 4:3 image stretched to widescreen, or if you prefer to keep the original aspect ratio.
The only consoles you will not be able to capture using the Elgato Game Capture HD are those that connect through coaxial. Obviously, these use a different type of signal, so your Atari 2600s and Intellivisions will not be able to join the party this time. Still, when you consider the list of the consoles it does support, it’s quite impressive, and it’s really fantastic to have one device that can handle all of the capture you want, and it can do it at a relatively reasonable price.
All in all, I love the Elgato Game Capture HD. In spite of the weird issue it had with my Samsung TV, there was a cheap and easy fix for it. It can capture and record almost every game console you could ever imagine, and the fact that it comes with decent software that makes it easy for anyone to record or stream their gameplay sessions is quite impressive. I have no problem recommending the Game Capture HD to anyone looking to share their love of video games with the world. Who knows, you might just be the next PewDiePie waiting to be discovered.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it.
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