From Amazon’s $970 million buyout of Twitch, the monumental rise of Let’s Play videos, as well as YouTube’s push toward sixty frame-per-second output, it’s clear that the ability to acquire high-definition video is becoming an essential element for those in the gaming community. And while the PlayStation 4 Xbox One both offer ways to capture on-screen action, the methods aren’t without shortcomings. Although acquisition is only a button press away, users have to accept 720p, 30 fps video as well as the constrained editing options offered by each system.
For prosumers pursuing high fidelity and more creative control, Munich-based Elgato Systems has crafted a remarkably elegant solution with the release of the Game Capture HD 60. Although casual gamers might be able to get by on the capture utilities built into next-gen systems or use one of Hauppauge’s peripherals to capture video from previous generations, those looking for first-class output might want to give the $180 device a serious consideration. While the price might seem lofty at first glance and the unit’s diminutive footprint might be off-putting, but the HD 60 is capable of some serious encoding alchemy. The sole caveat is that users will need to own a newer television.
Capture Conveniences and a Few Complications
Housed in a box that’s about the same size as a three-disk Blu-ray collection, owners will find the HD 60 unit, a three foot long HDMI cable, as well as a seven foot Mini USB-B to USB cord. Notably missing is any kind of AC adaptor. Deftly, the bar of soap-sized HD 60 grabs power from the USB line, which is a nice reprieve for overcrowded electrical outlets as well as a nice push toward portability. While a lack of any analog video input might be missed by those seeking to capture video from older consoles, the design decision helped to keep the peripheral petite and pleasingly lightweight.
Shunning an optical disk or USB drive, the HD 60’s accompany software is attained from Elgato’s website. Currently, in its second major iteration, the 40.2 MB download (32.1 on OS X) installs an eponymous application that unites capture, editing, and streaming functionalities. Once the peripheral is placed between an outbound HDMI signal and a connection via the USB cable, the program is ready, and most players should be acquire and encode video.
However, we did run into a few snags with some of our in-office televisions. HDMI handshaking can be quite finicky, with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (or HDCP) protection creating yet another hurdle to leap over. Mercifully, Sony backtracked from the encryption standard with their 1.70 firmware update, allowing gamers to capture video once they’re turned off the security measure. Both the HD 60’s software and the LED ribbon that wraps the peripheral warns of the presence of HDCP.
That said, some televisions were unwilling to rebroadcast the HD 60’s HDMI feed. On one set, this was remedied by delving into the software’s settings, and adjusting a thirteen-position slider, then waiting to see if a picture appeared. On another five-year-old, 720p television, we weren’t able to get output at all, despite decreasing the pass-through fidelity of the HD 60. Introducing an HDMI splitter into the equation also created an issue with one of our test set-ups as well, seemingly stymying the HDMI pass-through signal. Contemporary, 1080p LCDs proved much more compliant, exhibiting gameplay without an iota of menu fiddling.
With the HD 60’s unfailing output to our desktop monitors and laptap screens, one might wonder why someone couldn’t just play from this display. Unfortunately, there’s about two seconds of lag between controller movements and on-screen responses, making this an unfeasible method for all but protracted turn-based strategy titles. But given the amount of data that the HD 60 is crunching (about 6.2 megapixels at sixty times a second) the interval is understandable.
Once owners bypass any emerging handshaking issues, operation of the HD 60 is remarkably intuitive, with the peripheral automatically identifying which console is connected. Beyond picking a location to store footage, the other major decisions are what resolution and quality players want to record at. Uncompressed video takes up massive amounts of disk, making editing a cumbersome task. Thanks to the hardware inside the HD 60, this data is reduced to a fraction of its original size, by way of the h.264 codec.
In essence, raw 24-bit data habitually exceeds 1000 Mbps. Recording 1080p at the HD 60’s highest fidelity setting, that figure is downsized to a much more reasonable 40 Mbps. Those interested in greater compression can sacrifice a bit of quality, while maintaining resolution, reducing the capture stream to as low at 14 Mbps. Dropping the resolution to 720p can even half those figures, allowing for up to 500 hours of recording on a 1TB hard drive at 720p60.
With the desired fidelity selected, capture can be initiated by a single mouse clip or owners can leave theGame Capture app running in the background and can call on the Flashback function to grab a highlight from the program’s recording history. As expected, there are plenty of options for streamers, from audio mixing for a commentary track. The software can even automatically adjust the sound levels so streamers aren’t overpowered by effects as well as allow budding broadcasts to alter the bitrate on the fly. Camera and text overlays are easily handled, giving a complete toolbox to those seeking to enter the streaming business.
While streaming functionality is the Game Capture HD 60’s forte, editing is a weakness. Beyond cutting clips down to size, other essentials are missing. Ideally, Elgato’s would include the ability to add titling and at least rudimentary transitions. Right now, the Game Capture’s strength over the PS4 and Xbox’s toolsets is the ease of importing footage into other video editing programs like PowerDirector, iMovie or Final Cut Pro. On the upside, uploading clips to YouTube is handled automatically, needing a minimum of user intervention beyond titling and tagging.
Naturally, a decent rig in needed to accommodate the video stream coming through a USB 2.0 port. Elgato recommends at least an Intel i5 for capture, but we were able to successfully grab 1080p60 video with a lowly AMD A4 laptop. For streaming, especially for those hoping to capture their live performance, the company suggests at least an i7, which is an apt advisement.
Given the burgeoning development of game broadcasting, it’s surprising that the market isn’t filled with tools which capture the high-definition fidelity of the latest console. While casual streamer might opt for the free, de facto toolset offer by next-gen hardware, those seeking recognition through first-class quality will want to work the HD 60 into their budgets. If the company can work out a few kinks in their hardware and software, Elgato is poised to be the top cat in the capture market.
Interface: USB 2.0
Input: PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Xbox 360 (unencrypted HDMI)
Output: HDMI (pass-through)
Supported resolutions: 1080p60, 1080p30, 1080i, 720p60, 720p30, 576p, 576i, 480p
Dimensions: 112 x 75 x 19 mm / 4.4 x 3 x 0.75 in
Weight: 106 g / 3.7 oz
Includes: Elgato Game Capture HD60, USB cable, HDMI cable