The Dangers of Buying a Cheap USB Capture Card for Game Streaming on Twitch and YouTube


Over at The Support Role Discord group – which you should totally join by the way – someone came in and asked for help setting up their capture card for gaming. Without seeing what they were working with, I was able to talk them through the process of getting everything going. At the end, they took a picture of the results. On the shelf was a laptop with OBS on, capturing Fortnite. On the TV was the same OBS feed.

“Wait, why does your TV and laptop have the same video feed?” I asked.

From there, we ultimately deduced that for the purposes of gaming, the capture card they had purchased wasn’t going to work at all for their needs. Bummer.

This is a cautionary tale.

Game capture cards such as the Elgato Game Capture HD60 S can be quite the investment. If you plan on going with a high-end solution that supports 4K, you’re looking at a bill in the hundreds. At the highest end, you could be looking at a solution that’s north of $1,000. Meanwhile, there are devices like the one pictured below that claim to do the same thing for a fraction of the price of a brand name capture card.

At least based on the experience of the person I was helping out over Discord, these types of devices “technically” work as advertised. They send the video and audio signal of the game directly to the computer. What they don’t tell you is that for the purposes of playing games while capturing footage for videos or streaming, there’s a fatal flaw that ruins the experience.


Cheaper dongles of this style only feature an HDMI input. This allows the footage to go directly into the computer. However, they lack an HDMI output. This prevents you from being able to play games in real-time while you capture footage on your PC.


On higher-end cards, having the HDMI output and the USB output allows you to capture footage on your PC while still be able to game in real-time. Without an HDMI out, the only video feed you will have to play with is the one going to your PC, which will be delayed.

If you get a USB 2.0-based capture device, the delay between button press and on-screen action is so bad that it would be virtually impossible to play anything. If you get a USB 3.0-based device, the lag is much lower. That said, lag will be present and impact your ability to play. Using my experience with the Elgato Game Capture HD60 S, I couldn’t play shooters or fighting games by watching the feed in OBS because the minimal lag is still enough to hamper my ability.

These particular types of devices do have a purpose in theory. If you want to hook up a DSLR camera to your stream and want a cheaper alternative to something like an Elgato Camlink, these will technically do the job. Whatever lag these devices introduce to the chain can be easily mitigated and won’t impact your ability to stream. But for the specific purpose of playing and capturing at the same time, these are a no-go.


One potential workaround to this conundrum would be to buy an HDMI splitter. If that works without any sort of latency, this could be a viable alternative to a name brand capture card. 


I actually went out of my way to buy both the popular capture device as seen in Epos Vox‘s video, as well as an HDMI splitter. The results were…horrible.

Most of the time, OBS didn’t pick up a signal at all. The one time it did, it generated this monstrosity. You might have better luck, but know that the quality control on these devices is a coin toss.

As much as I would like to say you should just buy an Elgato capture card and be done with it, I get that their products come at a premium and are financially out of reach for some. Also, you might have some sort of bias against Elgato for whatever reason. Or, you might want to go really high-end and are ready to spend north of $1,000 for the absolute best image quality. Instead, let’s use the rest of this post to cover some factors to consider when purchasing a capture card.

Internal vs. External

Do you want a capture card that’s easy to set up? External cards are pretty much plug-and-play. Internal cards require a bit of knowhow, as you’ll need to open your PC and install it directly into the motherboard. Internal cards tend to be more expensive, but they’re always going to perform faster than a USB solution due to them being plugged directly into the motherboard. By going with an internal solution, you also free up an extra USB slot, which could be used for an extra camera, stream deck, microphone, or other device.

Another point for consideration is whether you’re planning to stream off of a laptop. If so, then the internal solution is out of the question, as internal capture cards for laptops don’t really exist.

HDMI Passthrough

This feature is key for those who want to play video games and capture footage at the same time. How this works is that your console will send the signal to your capture card. From there, the signal is split between the HDMI out and the USB connection. The USB connection will be as fast as it goes, while the HDMI out will have zero lag. If it doesn’t have HDMI passthrough, it’s probably not going to suit your needs.

One thing to note about passthrough. A number of modern cards boast about 4K passthrough. That doesn’t mean you’ll actually record in 4K. What that means is that your HDMI passthrough will be in 4K, but the signal going to your PC will be at a lower resolution. You should understand that difference before buying a 4K passthrough card and then being disappointed that it doesn’t record in 4K.

PC Specs

Generally speaking, capture cards don’t require you to have the most powerful PC to run. However, bad things can happen if your computer does not meet the minimum requirements of the capture card. For me, I couldn’t use the HD60 S on my old machine without the signal being completely corrupted. As it turns out, this was due to my CPU being too old. Ended up having to build an entirely new computer to make it work.

Do not make the same mistake I did. Make sure that the capture card specs align with what you have. It’s much cheaper to buy a capture card that works for your PC than it is to buy a capture card and then buy a new PC just to make the capture card work.

USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0

For external capture cards, make sure you understand the difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. USB 3.0 devices transfer at much faster speeds, which are almost lag free. Almost everything readily available on the market is USB 3.0. If you’re going to go with a USB capture card, I’d recommend going with a USB 3.0 device.

You might be able to save money by going with a USB 2.0 device at this point. However, the signal lag is quite significant. On my Elgato Game Capture HD, the input delay was 900ms, which forced me to manually adjust the timing on my microphone, camera, and browsers just to stay in sync. In certain cases, you can’t even set the delay in OBS past 500ms, which meant that some of my stuff was always out-of-sync. I would avoid this option unless you had no choice.


Capture cards are a key tool in the creation of video content centered around gaming. Make sure to do as much research as you can before making the splash. I hope this post helps you find the right card for your needs, whether it’s one by Elgato or another manufacturer.

 

If you still need more help, there are a number of communities on Discord that could help you out. Some of those include Alpha Gaming, Nutty’s Discord, or even The Support Role Discord that I’m a member of. See you in the Streaming and Video Advice section!


Buy the Elgato Game Capture HD60 S Now From Amazon.com

[Purchasing through this Amazon affiliate link gives me a small commission without adding any extra cost or effort to you. Thanks for your support!]

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