[Review] Elgato Game Capture HD
Sharing video game footage is becoming a common occurrence nowadays. People really love sharing their awesome headshots on YouTube or streaming their lets plays on channels like Twitch.tv. With this growing interest in sharing gaming content, several companies have thrown their hat into the ring. Companies like Happauge and Roxio have come out with their own capture devices. Although Elgato is a company I haven’t really heard of before, I decided to take a look at their offerings. Retailing for $179.99, the Elgato Game Capture HD is priced in the same ballpark as some of the other big name capture cards that are popular with streamers and YouTubers alike.
The Elgato Game Capture HD is a video capturing device. For the uninitiated, it means that you can hook this device up to your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 and record gameplay footage so that you can make videos from it. It can also be used to live-stream your game to your streaming service of choice. When I first learned about it, I wasn’t sure it could stream and had to seek out the answer from other owners because it wasn’t advertised as stream capable. The official website has since been updated to change that.
The Game Capture HD is very efficiently designed. It’s hard to get a good idea how big it is in some of the stock pictures, but I was quite happy to find out it’s actually quite small. It could realistically fit inside of your pocket if you needed it to. Instead of requiring a mess of component cables and a power supply like most capture cards, it is powered by the USB connection to your computer and processes video with the convenience of HDMI cables. However it does come with an adapter for component cables if for some reason your device doesn’t support HDMI.
Elgato was clearly thinking of the user when they designed this. In the box you get the device, a quick start guide, a decent length USB cable, a short HDMI cable, the component adapter and specialized cable for the Playstation 3. Sony is very weird about their content being pirated and uses High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) on the PS3. Capturing footage on a PS3 has always required a little extra work. This is still the case for the Elgato, but the provided cable makes the process a bit easier. The Game Capture HD is compatible with both PCs and Macs. For this review I did everything with Windows 7 PC, as my MacBook is not version 10.7 or higher as is required by the Elgato software.
The only real gripe I have with the design is that because it is powered by USB, you will need to have the device plugged into a powered-on PC in order to get a signal, even if you’re not actively streaming or recording. Otherwise you will have to unplug the Elgato and hook up your console normally. It’s not a huge hassle for me, but if you have a big entertainment center, moving the TV and cables around to unhook the Elgato when you’re not streaming/recording could be an issue for some.
The Game Capture HD’s software is simple to use. Having never messed with a capture card before, I was able to have my Xbox 360 hooked up and capturing video in minutes. You have a preview screen to see what the device is capturing, your basic game audio volume controls and your microphone/commentary controls should you desire to put voice over your footage. To start recording you just hit the big red button, and hit that same button again to stop. Very simple stuff.
One interesting feature of the software is “Flashback Recording”. From the moment the software starts receiving signal from your console, it actually starts recording and will keep recording until the console is turned off or the program is closed. This recorded footage is deleted when the program is closed so that you aren’t wasting hard drive space. So what’s the point of this feature? It’s actually useful in a few situations. If you want to record footage but don’t exactly know what you want to record, you can just let the program run and if something awesome happens, you’ll be able to search backwards and start recording before that specific spot. Another example: you’re having a bad game in Battlefield 3 or something so you stop recording. Then out of nowhere you get this ridiculous 360 no-scope MLG across-the-map headshot that nobody would ever believe. Since Flashback Recording is still happening, you simply have to scroll back on the timeline to that shot and you can save it.
The Elgato software provides you with some simple editing options. You can review your entire gaming session and do some quick and dirty cuts of the gameplay you don’t want in your video. The Game Capture HD uses H.264 encoding to keep the HD quality high and the file size low, and records in MPEG-4. After you have your rough cut of your footage you can just drag and drop it into your video editor of choice. The built-in editing is not going to let you put together anything super elaborate, but its nice if you just want to share some footage real quick. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube connectivity are built in as well to make sharing even easier.
Here is a quick video I put together to demonstrate the quality of the capture. I did the rough cutting in the Game Capture software and glued the pieces together with very minimal editing in Windows Movie Maker (I’m MLG like that).
I mainly picked up the Game Capture HD because I wanted to be able to stream Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 games over on our Twitch.tv channel. Just like recording video, live streaming gameplay with the Elgato is super simple. In the software on the main screen, there is a built in application for Twitch.tv. All you have to do is add your Twitch.tv account, authorize the Game Capture HD to use the account, select your nearest Twitch.tv server and hit the button. Seconds later your stream will be up and running. You have the ability to go in and adjust the Bit Rate and output resolution according to your internet’s upload capabilities. It does the job well and I could not be happier with the performance. I don’t have a video demonstrating the stream quality, but if you keep an eye on our channel, I stream with the Elgato pretty regularly.
The Elgato Game Capture HD is an incredibly flexible device that is more than capable of capturing and live streaming video game footage from Xbox 360 and PS3 with exceptional quality. It’s ease of use and setup makes it a dream to work with when streaming/recording gaming content. Retailing at $179.99 it is not cheap, but what you get in return is not cheap either. The consumer-minded features and excellent performance of the device make it worth every penny. If you’re serious about creating professional-looking gaming videos or streaming console games in HD, I highly recommend the Elgato Game Capture HD.