Group Test: Game Capture Devices

The fact that we can plug in a widget costing less that a couple of hundred pounds (much less in some cases) and get good quality, watchable HD captures in real time is frankly brilliant! So regardless of who wins this, that we can do it at all means that frankly, we should!

The Kit

There are a raft of gadgets out there, but the three devices we are looking at here are:

The Method

Dan and I captured the same bits of game footage from the Xbox 360 with each of the devices and I knitted them together using Final Cut Pro X in a side-by-side format so the differences are easier to see. We chose what we thought were both interesting and challenging for the hardware; rapid movement, subtle shading, harsh contrast and high frame rates. Plus this was a great excuse to look in very close detail at Lara Croft – I’ll do almost anything as an excuse for that!

Note: All capture for these tests was performed using an Xbox 360 via HDMI, all the tested devices also support the WiiU via HDMI and the PlayStation 3 via Component passthrough, this is not a true digital connection so the capture quality is slightly lower.


BlackMagic Intensity Extreme

Easily the best device for capturing the highest quality video. But that power puts it in the ‘Pro’ category and, as with most other ‘Pro’ stuff, that means it’s neither the easiest nor, on a day-to-day basis, the best to use for game capture.


Excellent quality, I cap’d at 720p 60 (more on this in a bit) and saved the file as ProRes 422HQ. As a result:

  • Brilliant depths of blacks and colour saturation.
  • Mega easy to ingest into non-linear editors (NLEs) like Final Cut Pro X
  • Stand up well to transcoding and re-encoding post edit for upload

It’s got a solid, robust feel about it, being carved from a solid block of aluminium.


  • A total ball-ache when connecting to your console. You think you’re running 60fps? Well no, it’s actually 59.97 and if you don’t select the right one, you see nothing. NOTHING.
  • Doesn’t support 1080p 60 capture. None of these devices do, but they do transcode on the fly so your 60fps output is captured at 30fps, but you don’t need to worry about it. With the BMIE, if it’s not set right it doesn’t work.
  • The Xbox won’t see it as a 1080p device – because you can’t tell the Xbox to send 30fps at 1080p you’re stuck with 720p 60, and don’t even think about using 1080i – yuck!
  • You need a ‘proper’ editor to do anything special. This is a capture device, nothing more really.
  • If you don’t have a new Mac, forget it. This is a Thunderbolt device – no t-bolt, no party. There is the USB3 Intensity Shuttle option which does pretty much the same stuff though, although again, your PC will need to be of a fairly high spec to handle the raw video.
  • If the app isn’t running in the ‘live’ window, you see nothing on your TV. The pass-through is driven by the software, if the software isn’t running or even your active window, there’s no pass through. Kinda sucks.

If you are doing video capture for other reasons and game cap’ing is something you want to do as well, this’ll be the Pro tool for the job. I bought mine for this reason but I also have…


Elgato Game Capture HD

It’s a small black box which you plug in and capture your video with. No, really, there really isn’t anything more plug and play than this. Connect up your HDMI and a USB cable and you’re off and running. Records pre-compressed H.264 video.


  • Easy, very easy. Plug it in, press the big red button in the software and record
  • Time-delay – something cool just happened? No worries, the Elgato buffers quite a few seconds so you can still hit the button and capture your glory.
  • Stream – integrated Twitch streaming means that you can instantly stream your derring-do and awesome skilz to the world at up to 720p
  • Commentary – if you’re not streaming but doing a talk-through, the Live commentary option let’s you do just that.
  • A half decent editor is built in so you can record, cut and share directly from the app. Which is nice.
  • Standard file output is easily ingested into other editors or uploadable.


  • It’s a small black plastic box. Not pretty or exciting.
  • USB2 as an interface means that the throughput is ALWAYS going to be limited by that pipe. Compression is done in the box rather than on the PC to achieve this.
  • Because the capture is not in real time you cannot use the preview window to play.
  • You can’t plug it in and leave it. Without the USB power there’s no HDMI pass through. You could solve this with a cheap USB power adaptor and a cable, but that’s a bit kludgy

This is my (John) everyday device. For a quick grab or getting some backgrounds for InGame, this is the one I reach for simply because it’s easy and quick. If it broke I’d buy another without hesitation.


Hauppage HD PVR2

The Hauppage is also a black plastic box, but this one has some colour thrown into the mix too so it’s perhaps a little more aesthetically pleasing. This black box has its own power supply though, so it’s possible to ‘install’ it into your environment.


  • While having very slightly more to plug in that the Elgato the HD PVR2 is still extremely easy to connect and use.
  • Record/Stream button on the box, while only useful if the box is nearby it saves you fumbling for a mouse to start recording or streaming.
  • Stream – also supports Twitch & streaming withing the supplied software.
  • Commentary – also supported here.
  • In app editing and the ability to automatically overlay a logo for recording and streaming.
  • Again, standard file format is a breeze to import and edit in 3rd party applications.
  • External power supply means the passthrough works even when disconnected from your PC.


  • Larger than the Elgato.
  • PC only support unless you go hunting for 3rd party applications.
  • Similar USB2 interface to the Elgato so again you will be capturing compressed video, again at a delay so unlike the BlackMagic you must play on your TV.


A great device that is extremely easy to use. While very similar in in operation and performance to the Elgato I found the HD PVR2 more suitable to my (Dan) needs, being able to leave it hooked up to your console and TV removes the huge annoyance of setup from the capture process.


What We Discovered

Each device’s output seen on its own is more than acceptable. You’d actually not go wrong grabbing the one which suits your budget, setting it up and just using it, there’s no real ‘loser’ here. In fact the output from the Elgato and Hauppauge devices is so similar that we’re pretty convinced that the guts of these devices are actually pretty much the same so it’s probably the other features which are going to sway your buying decision one way or the other.

The ‘Pro’ device in the test is just that. On the surface it seems to cost more and do less, plus it’s more finicky to use and to set up. What Pros want however is the ability to capture in the highest possible quality and the BlackMagic device uses the bandwidth available down the Thunderbolt cables to provide VERY high quality, fast and massive files as a result.

Transcoding the outputs for re-use can significantly impact your quality. During the testing we had the Hauppage outputting .ts files which I couldn’t pull into FCPX, the transcoding necessary basically destroyed the quality of the clips to the point where they were unusable in any serious way. This is one of the reasons why the Pros like uncompressed or very high bit-rate capture as it gives head-room for compression where needed. The second set of captures from the Hauppage were to mp4 files and these were brought into FCPX without any issues.

All frame rates are not the same. I mentioned above that 60 fps can actually be 59.97 – it’s a tiny difference but can be significant – but when you’re taking captures from different sources the differences between 60 fps and 30 fps is more interesting! Stepping through the footage to line the three up showed up the ‘missing’ frames from the Elgato and Hauppage devices when compared to the BlackMagic.

Finally remember that unless you’re showing your captures directly from the files you’ve created, online services like YouTube re-encode them for streaming and presentation in various resolutions and bit-rates.

In Conclusion

John: If I were starting from nothing, I’d buy the Elgato Game Capture HD. I don’t need to have it plugged in all of the time and the features in the software provide more than I need. With my ‘Pro’ hat on, the BlackMagic Intensity Extreme provides the very best quality output and for further manipulation or for paying work, that’s what I’d need. I own both and I don’t regret buying either one of them.

Dan: All the devices here performed well beyond expectations. If you’re a Mac user and don’t need the power of the BlackMagic then you should go for the Elgato as it is natively supported. As a PC user I prefer the HD PVR2, the quality is on par with the Elgato but while its external power supply means more cables it also allows its passthrough to remain active when not connected to your PC. You can hook the HD PVR2 up within your entertainment system and forget about it and for me that closes the deal.







5 responses to “Group Test: Game Capture Devices”

  1. Giles Armstrong avatar
    Giles Armstrong

    John / Dan – cheers for this, good points made.

    Do you have a recommended minimum PC/Mac spec for someone wanting to capture game video?

    I’m currently looking into buying a PC or Mac (leaning towards Mac) and would be curious to know what you’d recommend for possible game capture / editing of captures.

    1. John Brown avatar
      John Brown

      Giles, for the two USB devices I’d suggest that you can use pretty much anything with that kind of port. Because the crunching is done within the device (either the Elgato or the Hauppage) all you’re really doing is downloading a file. the software is pretty slim too, so I’d say that as long as you’ve got a couple of processor cores and a couple of gig of RAM you’ll be good to go. Here’s the skinny from the Elgato site:

      System Requirements
      Mac: OS X 10.7 or later, 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU
      PC: Windows 7 or later, 2.0 GHz dual core CPU, sound card
      4 GB RAM, built-in USB 2.0 port

      If you’re going to buy a new Mac then you’ll be getting a thunderbolt port or two so that opens the door for the BlackMagic option. However I’d say that unless you’re also going to be getting some fast Thunderbolt storage (either SSD or RAIDed spindles) then you’ll not be able to make the most of it. I love the depth I get from the BMIE, especially noticable in the blacks in our side-by-side tests, but for every-day game capture I genuinely grab the Elgato because is so easy.

      1. Giles Armstrong avatar
        Giles Armstrong

        Cool – thanks for taking the time to make the recommendations Mr B. ^_^

  2. Gemma Hart avatar
    Gemma Hart

    I’ve been looking at the Elgato for a long time, I’ll defo be picking one up when I have the funds.

  3. Walter Fraser avatar
    Walter Fraser

    Check your USB 3.0 chipset compatibility on the Blackmagic site if you’re going with the BMI Shuttle USB edition, it’s pretty specific on which chipsets it will and won’t work on. I’ve used all 3 devices in the hardware test and I agree 100% with what John has said.

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