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Is a Capture Card Better Than OBS?

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Ever felt left out when all you can do is watch your favorite streamers create high-quality videos? I’ve always wondered where all the lag-free video comes from and how I can make my own content stand out without a budget for all those high-resolution cameras. The answer lies somewhere between video capture cards and OBS, which begs the question: which is better than the other?

A capture card is better than OBS if you’re recording from a dual PC setup. Capture cards are less prone to latency in a dual PC setup. They “capture” a high-resolution video signal and send it down to your PC for encoding, provided that you use high-performance gear with the video capture device.

On the other hand, OBS is a more general-purpose recording/streaming software that’s freely available. In this article, I’ll tell you why I think capture cards are better than OBS in a professional setup and when OBS is all you need to record high-quality videos.

How To Choose Between a Capture Card and OBS

When it comes to streaming on Twitch or other platforms, there are a lot of moving parts that need to come together.

Capturing game footage and streaming it out to your followers naturally attracts a ton of issues ranging from annoying lags to the occasional crashes. That happens when your computer is being used for recording and playing simultaneously. 

In order to optimize your setup and stream smoothly as possible, you’ll have to decide whether you need a capture card or you simply need OBS. For starters, it depends on your PC setup and quality needs.

Let’s start with your PC setup. 

There are two kinds of setups in the gaming world: single and dual PC setups.

With a single PC setup, there aren’t many resources running, and you can use video capture/recording software to tap into the monitor feed and encode it in a video format for your audience.

OBS is a powerful, open-source software for recording and streaming. It’s free and readily available. Once you set it up, you’re ready to record and share decent-quality videos encoded directly by your PC without the need for third-party software.

The problem with this is that using video recording software while simultaneously running resource-intensive games brings more problems than solutions. A low-performance gaming PC in this setup may not be up to the task when you need it to record/stream while running the game software simultaneously.

How Capture Cards Can Help

Video capture cards like the Elgato HD60 S+ External Capture Card on are little yet versatile devices that not only take the load from your PC but also capture hours of high-quality video streams directly onto your hard drive.

A capture card allows you to convert an encrypted video signal into a format that can be recorded by the computer it’s plugged into. Instead of your computer doing all the work, a hardware encoding chip installed in the capture device encodes the incoming video stream into a playable video file.

Capture cards are a much more efficient option when it comes to dual PC setups, where one PC is for gaming, and the other PC is for streaming. Here, the gaming computer runs the game while a separate computer does the streaming.

Capture Card Pros

  • High-quality streaming: If you want to achieve the best streaming quality for your videos, a capture card is your best investment.
  • Less lagging: OBS, which could overload your PC, while capture cards ensure that your streaming is smooth and efficient.
  • Flexibility: Capture cards are external devices you can take with you anywhere.

Capture Card Cons

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of video capture cards is that they don’t come cheap. Unlike OBS, which is free, capture cards cost money to buy. Top-quality capture cards generally cost more than average-quality cards.

You can get a cheap capture card for less than $30, but get ready to spend over $100 for the real stuff.

Setting Up Your Capture Card

Setting up your capture card is pretty straightforward. Here are the basic steps, although the actual procedure may vary depending on the type you have:

  1. Connect one end of an HDMI cable to the HDMI port on the CPU and the other end to the IN port of the capture card. Note that your capture card will almost always have two HDMI ports, i.e., HDMI In and HDMI out.
  2. Plug another HDMI cable into the capture card’s HDMI OUT port and the other end into the monitor screen/TV set.
  3. Connect your PC or Mac to the capture card using a USB cable.

That’s it! You’re ready to start recording high-quality videos for your audience.

How OBS Can Help

Open Broadcasting Software (OBS) is a free and open-source software that can capture and record videos directly on your PC. The software should suffice your needs if you’re starting as a streamer. 

Take note, though: with OBS, you’re totally reliant on your PC resources—GPU and CPU—to capture and stream video outputs. Your PC should be powerful enough to run the OBS software in the background. You’ll also need to install the NDI plugin on a dual-PC setup. In this case, your computer handles the encoding using NDI.

OBS Pros

OBS has a couple of advantages that really stand out:

  • OBS is free: OBS is absolutely free. Since it’s open-source, it’s supported by thousands of developers from all over the world.
  • OBS is convenient: All you have to do is install the software, and you are ready to use it.

OBS Cons

The main issue with relying on OBS and other recording/streaming software is that you may suffer performance dips—especially on a dual PC setup. You need a powerful PC to use OBS, which could mean emptying your pockets on high-performance parts. 

A low-performance PC can hurt the outcome of your stream, as recording and gaming share the same CPU power. Also, if too many devices are connected to OBS, your PC could be overloaded.

Setting Up OBS

Again, setting up OBS is easy and straightforward. The installation will vary slightly depending on the task you intend to pass onto the software and the gear you’re working with.

  1. To set up OBS, simply download it and install it on your device. 
  2. The Auto-Configuration Wizard in the tools menu lets you set up the configuration that best suits your needs.

Most gamers use a third-party capture card to get the best-looking footage from their console. These devices are easy to set up, but they only work with high-performance equipment. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a fair result with OBS.

Final Thoughts

Streamers can easily stream videos in higher resolutions on YouTube and other streaming platforms, all thanks to video capture cards and OBS. I recommend buying a good-quality video capture card—it’s versatile and works with more platforms, including OBS.

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