What is a Capture Card for Streaming? How Does it Work?

The size of the audience enjoying watching their favorite gamers in action on Twitch, YouTube, or any number of other similar streaming services, has grown at a pace in recent years. That growth has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic to such a degree that the demographic has shifted to a degree away from the traditional youth market and shows no sign of slowing down.

In 2017 666 million were actively watching gamers in action, in 2019 that figure was up to 740 and the latest estimates believe that figure is now closing in on one billion. This is astonishing given the relatively young nature of the technology involved in both playing and broadcasting.

Broadcast Gaming

The global gaming market is expected to be worth a mouthwatering $256 billion by 2025 and while clearly this is driven by continuous growth in the personal gaming market, this, in turn, has led to rapid growth in the size of the eSports market.

There are 8000+ professional gamers in the US but that’s clearly only the tip of the iceberg as the number of people broadcasting their gaming efforts on various platforms is vast. 

Take Twitch, for example, 7 million streamers broadcast their gaming efforts every month, that number doubled during the early months of the pandemic and hasn’t stopped. 

In order to join in this fun, you’ll need the right kit. Hence the requirement of a capture card and we’ll now take a look at just what you can get out of this neat bit of tech.

What is a Capture Card?

A capture card, in simple terms, is a device that gamers can use, in combination with a computer, to capture on-screen action. This is then encoded and is available for playback, this can be via a Livestream or recorded to a high-quality video file.

Successful gamers clearly use this tech to broadcast to their adoring fans, who are eager to watch them in action taking on any number of games via a number of consoles. 

The size of the audience clearly fluctuates a great deal but some pro gamers can make a good living from entertaining their audience and therefore the availability of top-quality capture cards make that service all the more attractive to their viewers.

What Can a Capture Card Do?

Most commonly capture cards work on four levels and these are as follows.

Capture: As you’d imagine, this means the capturing of the content produced by the gaming experience.

Record: This is the act of recording that material and making it available for relevant platforms and channels

Encode: This is the ‘process of converting the recording a relevant format

Broadcast: Basically the final aspect of the process, where the content you have produced (as a gamer) is then aired to your viewers. That can be on Twitch, the most popular format for gaming enthusiasts, or other networks.

How Does it Work?

The set-up for capture cards is pretty straightforward in most cases. The first step would involve the connecting of the HDMI cable between the capture card and console you are using to game with.

The HDMI Out port of the capture card needs to be connected to your TV via the existing HDMI cable and then the final step involves the USB cable inside the box and with this, you connect the capture card to your PC or Mac.

There are chiefly five types of capture card which work according to the connectivity to the following; PC, Xbox, Mac, Playstation, 3DS & Wii. 

The most popular brands of capture cards come from AVerMedia, Elgato and Roxio

Flexibility of Use

The need, and use, of capture cards, is greatly affected by the console that is being played on with some being more amenable to direct streaming, and others needing the capture card to make the connection as seamless, and real-time, as possible.

Also, the PCs used by high-level gamers are usually incredibly powerful and as such are more able to cope with the demands of live-streaming and as such can support the activities outlined above.

These demands occur because clearly a gamer isn’t JUST broadcasting, he is also communicating with his audience, either via chat facilities or directly over their mic.

Now. If you are not planning on broadcasting for a large audience, and want to record for your own enjoyment then there is an argument that a capture card isn’t quite so necessary and that’s a fair assessment.

That said, a capture card is a must for any gamer looking to broadcast professionally to an audience and the costs of these aren’t as high as you’d imagine and the competition in the fast-growing market means the technology is always improving and the cost is being driven down as a result.

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