Review: Elgato Game Capture HD

Elgato's Game Capture HD is a video capture device designed specifically to work with your game console, allowing you to capture screenshots and video directly to your PC or Mac.

NameHigh definition game recorder: Elgato Game Capture HD
At a glance:Captures video up to 720p/1080i,Supports HDMI, component and composite inputs,Works with Xbox, PS3, Wii U and many older consoles,Software for Windows and Mac OS X
Summary:Brilliant when it’s working, though we had problems using it with our own PS3 and Wii U.

Ever seen a really good ‘speed run’ of a game, or a Minecraft tutorial video on YouTube, and thought “I could do that”? Well, if you’re a PC gamer, that’s very true. As long as your PC has the significant grunt required to both run your game and record video at the same time, it’s easy to take a crack at YouTube stardom. If you’re a console gamer, you’ve no such luxury. Excepting specific games that implement the feature themselves, you can’t even take a screenshot of your latest achievement to post on Facebook.

Elgato’s Game Capture HD is one of a class of products that address that issue: video capture devices designed specifically to work with your game console, allowing you to capture screenshots and video directly to your PC.

The Game Capture HD is a wonderfully simple little device: it’s a box about the size of a smartphone, but 2-3 times thicker. There are HDMI and AV inputs on one end, and an HDMI output on the other. A 5-pin mini USB port connects it to your PC, and provides power via USB 2.0.

It’s an easy thing to set up. Whatever console you’re using, you connect the Game Capture HD’s ‘HDMI out’ port to your TV, where the console was plugged in previously. If you’re using an Xbox 360 or Wii U, you then connect the console’s HDMI cable to the Game Capture’s ‘in’ port, and you’re ready to go. A special cable is included to the PlayStation 3, which connects to the Game Capture’s ‘AV in’ port instead. A composite/component video cable is also included, for use with older consoles such as the PS2.

The device acts as a ‘pass through’ from console to TV, letting you play as normal whilst you record. We didn’t notice any lag introduced by the setup – recording is not going to impact your gaming experience in any way. Note that the pass through only works while the Game Capture HD is plugged into your PC for power. So, it’s easiest to only connect it when you’re planning to record.

Instead of including already-outdated software on an old-fashioned DVD, the box just contains a URL for a software download. Versions of the Game Capture HD software are available for both Windows 7 and Mac OS X.

The software is one of the best applications we’ve seen included with a video capture device. It’s intuitive, has a clean user interface, and sticks to a strong set of core features rather than shoddily implementing everything under the sun. What are the core features? Well, there’s a big ‘record’ button you click to start and stop recording. Easy.

One very pleasant surprise is the ability to record commentary as you play, by connecting a microphone to your PC and clicking a single button. (You can also use the in-built microphone of a laptop or webcam.)

The software also lets you split video into segments, letting you quickly chop off all the preamble where you’re setting up your game – or just excert that one awesome kill in Halo 4, avoiding the twenty-nine times you died immediately prior. For any more complex editing, it lets you quickly export into a video editing package such as Movie Maker on Windows, or iMovie on Mac OS.

You can quickly share clips via YouTube, Facebook ,Twitter and email, and there’s a nice one-click export feature for Apple TV, iPad and iPhone.

Tested with the Xbox 360 Slim, we tried recording at both 720p and 1080i resolutions. Both resulted in perfect video captures, with no skipping, quality loss or audio desynchronisation. The video output, in MPEG-4 format, was indistinguishable from what we saw on the screen as we played.

Minimum system requirements for both PC and Mac are simply a 2.0GHz dual-core CPU, 4GB of RAM and a USB 2.0 port. You’d have a hard time finding a modern PC with less than that. The only thing you do need a lot of is disk space. Our 15-minute test videos (at 720p) each took around 3.8GB – so if you’re recording something like a ‘speed run’ of an entire game, or long competitive multiplayer matches, you’re looking at around 15GB/hour for 720p, significantly more at 1080i. You’ll want that to be onboard storage, on your laptop or desktop – recording to an external hard drive or NAS box is going to introduce a massive bottleneck.

If it all sounds perfect, that’s because it really is. Tested with our Xbox 360, it was an ideal video capture solution. However, setup for PlayStation 3 users may be more complex, if your console is usually connected via HDMI. It requires changing your console's video output setting, and the instructions included in the box don't appear to work for some models of PS3. Tested with the Wii U, the Game Capture HD passed through a hideously oversaturated image to our TV. It didn’t make games unplayable, and the recorded video came out fine, but it was an annoyance nonetheless.

From our research online, this is not a common problem – again, we’re unsure as to why they occurred with our test console. There are plenty of people using the Game Capture HD with the Wii U, without issue.

If you want to capture gameplay videos and screenshots from your console, we’ve yet to see such an easy and high-quality method. Just hope it plays nice with your console.

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Tags screenshotplaystation360XboxwiivideoPS3

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Harley Ogier

Harley Ogier

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