Video game capture cards are a great tool to upgrade your streaming quality, but they quickly get real expensive.
The good news is that if you’re a beginner, there are some excellent budget capture cards out there.
The problem with cheaper capture card alternatives is you get what you pay for.
Cheap capture cards tend to be built incorrectly and include terrible technology, which will cause several issues.
So you will want to find the balance between price and budget. Luckily, we come bearing gifts!
After scouring hundreds of different “budget” capture cards and researching what pro gamers and famous twitch streamers use…
We have rounded up the five best budget capture cards for you to choose from, which have proven to work well and capture your juicy highlights and big-brain plays.
But enough talk, let’s dive in!
The Elgato HD60 S+ is one of the go-to external capture cards on the market that you can get for a relatively affordable price.
You can capture your games at 1080p 60FPS quality while playing your games on 4K.
As you can see, it’s not the most “high-end” capture card, but 1080p resolution is HQ enough for your audience to enjoy.
It also has the lowest delay when previewing your games, so if you want to hook up your game console/PC to your TV and play that way, you can.
You can record in 4K, but we don’t recommend it as you are limited to capturing at only 30FPS which looks choppy and lowers the quality of your stream.
You connect the HD60 S+ via a USB cable which will be picked up by your PC instantly. It works similar to how you would plug in a webcam...
And Elgato has its own game capture software, so you won’t have to use other third-party programs like OBS or Streamlabs.
The HD60 S+ doesn’t have a built-in encoder, so to run this card, you will need to run it with a dual PC setup or from your console to your PC.
The Elgato Game Capture HD60 S is ~$20 cheaper but doesn’t record in 4K, and you will get more of a delay when watching your gameplay previews. If those two features don’t matter to you, you can save extra by getting the original S instead of the S+.
AVerMedia is the only company we know of that can directly match Elgato’s line of streaming products, and their “mini” capture card is their flagship budget-friendly product.
Their “mini” capture card allows you to stream at a smooth 1080p @ 60FPS, which, unless you’re running a high-end computer, is all you will need for an HQ stream.
It does not have 4K capture capabilities like the Elgato HD60 S+, but what it does have is a built-in hardware encoder that takes the strain off of your PC.
Although, you can’t use the encoder with overlays (a bummer), and you can only use the audio that’s already in your video.
So, we wouldn’t recommend streaming while relying on the encoder. Using it to capture and record gameplay is a better option.
If you want to stream with this capture card, you will need to have a dual PC setup per usual.
With this capture card, you will enjoy a zero-lag pass-through with uncompressed gaming footage straight to your PC.
AVerMedia does have its own native software known as RECentral, and it does give you quite a lot of options to play with.
If you don’t want to constrict yourself to an unknown brand, but don’t want to spend upwards of $99 on a capture card, then the AVerMedia Mini is the best choice.
I came across the FcrenHuang capture card researching more “unknown” branded alternatives and was pleasantly surprised when I came across this product.
The capture card won’t blow you away with its quality. It’s the type of product that just works for its intended purpose…
And that purpose is to stream flawlessly at 1080p @ 60FPS.
You can also stream 4K footage with HDR, which is very surprising at this price point. This feature alone makes this capture card attractive if you want to stream at 4K.
It’s effortless to use; all you have to do is pop both HDMI cables in, plug in the USB to your computer, attach your audio and microphone, and off you go.
There’s literally nothing else you need to do.
When buying a “budget-friendly” capture card, the main concern is that they tend to overheat after streaming for a long time.
But with the FcrenHuang capture card, you won’t have to worry about that since it has decent ventilation.
If you want to test out a capture card before grabbing the premium options, we highly recommend using this capture card.
If you want to capture 4K at a smooth 60FPS, this is the best-valued internal capture card for its capabilities.
You will need a dual PC setup to run this capture card since you can only install it on a motherboard using PCIe…
There are pros and cons regarding PCIe vs. USB connectivity, but PCIe capture cards tend to have fewer issues and have a more reliable connection.
But this capture card does everything you need. It has 120Hz, 144Hz, and 240Hz pass-through, so if you want to take advantage of the high refresh rates on your monitor, you can.
The capture card supports resolutions up to 2160p @ 60FPS, with HDR 10-bit pass-through and recording, perfect for you if you need to capture the highest-quality gameplay...
And, the 4K60 MK.2 can output two programs at once, a feature that may be a gamechanger for many streamers...
This feature means you can record and stream at the same time.
You can record your gameplay in raw 4K resolution while streaming in OBS at a lower 1080p resolution while using the capture card as the middleman.
Doing both of these tasks simultaneously is taxing on your gaming hardware, so you will want to make sure that your secondary streaming PC can handle it.
If you want to stream and record at 4K resolution and be able to stream and record simultaneously, the 4K60 MK.2 is the best budget-friendly option for those features.
MiraBox is a capture card that gets the job done if you want to stream at 1080p @ 60FPS.
If you’re not a fan of Elgato or AVerMedia, MiraBox should be your second choice.
To be clear, MiraBox does not capture 4K footage and is only has the capabilities to capture 1080p @ 60FPS.
However, if you like to game on 4K resolution, you will be able to pass through 4K resolutions @ 30FPS, with zero latency.
You don’t need to install any drivers or software; the capture card works right out of the box without hassles.
The MiraBox does not have excellent ventilation; therefore, it is prone to getting hot, which may lower the quality of your footage if you don’t give it adequate space.
It also is a little finicky to play with.
Your PC may not read the capture card right away, so if that’s the case, try restarting your computer with the capture card attached.
The bottom line is that the capture card works great, especially when paired up with OBS.
If you want a plug-and-play solution, the MiraBox is an excellent choice.
You can use capture cards in a variety of ways other than streaming or recording gameplay.
Although game capture devices tend to get confusing...
Capture cards have different capabilities depending on if you want to stream, record, or pass through your gameplay.
So in this section, we will clear up any confusion and guide you on how to choose the right capture card for your streaming setup, starting with...
A video capture card is a device that you use simultaneously with a computer to capture on-screen content.
The content is encoded using your CPU and GPU and then played back either through your live stream or converted into a video file.
A video capture card essentially “passes through” what is happening on one screen to another.
You have three options when creating a capture card system:
When searching for a capture card, you first need to think about whether you want to stream, record, or just pass through your gameplay?
After, answer the following questions:
All of these questions will determine the type of capture device you will choose.
If you’re just starting or looking to get decent quality streams, you will want to stream at 1080p @ 60FPS (or above).
1080p is high-quality enough to be enjoyable for your viewers. There’s no pixelation or hard-to-see elements on your stream.
60FPS should be the bare minimum live streaming. 60FPS is good enough to see smooth gameplay.
Anything below 60FPS tends to get choppy. You wouldn’t want to play on less than 60FPS, so why stream on anything less than that?
That is why even when budget capture cards include capturing 4K resolution, you will want the minimum FPS to be 60.
30FPS may be “good enough” for some of you, so test it out on your system and see if you like it.
Recording your gameplay is a different story from streaming.
Most capture cards have better capabilities to record than to stream, allowing you to record on a higher resolution with higher FPS. Again, just make sure you can record at 60FPS minimum.
Most budget capture cards will allow you to record at 1080p, providing excellent video quality if you plan to distribute your videos on YouTube, Facebook, or other social media.
Passing through your gameplay is one of those “cool” features you may find with capture cards, more aimed towards console players than PC players.
You can hook up your console to a monitor or TV and play your games using the “preview” window with a capture card.
Bear in mind, not all capture cards have zero-lag pass-through, so you will want to look for what the delay is when looking at the features of a capture card.
If you like to game on a big screen and find that directly connecting your console to your TV produces a ton of input lag, then using a capture card as the middleman will work wonders for you.
Additionally, if you want to take advantage of a high refresh rate monitor, you can do that too. Just ensure that the capture card can pass through 144Hz or 240Hz, and your chosen resolution.
The only capture card that can run higher refresh rates on our list is the Elgato 4K60 Pro MK.2. You won’t be able to do this with any other capture card, unfortunately.
On average, the most popular capture cards on the market are Elgato and AVerMedia…
Most streamers prefer the PCIe version over the USB version since most of them have a dual-PC system.
The more money you spend, the better the quality of your footage will be.
If you want a stand-alone capture card that does all of your encodings, the Elgato 4K60 S+ is the way to go.
It’s a portable USB-compatible capture card that includes a built-in hardware encoder that can produce HEVC/H.264 footage and allows you to save your footage to an SD card.
Elgato’s 4K60 Pro is around ~$100 cheaper and works best with a dual-PC system.
The card allows you to game on 1080p @ 240Hz and 1440p @ 144Hz pass-through.
For most “budget” capture cards, the highest you will be able to stream at is 1080p @ 60FPS, which is perfect if you’re growing as a streamer.
That being said, the budget capture card we would pick is the Elgato HD60 S+.
We think that the Elgato HD60 S+ is the most reliable budget capture card on the market, perfect for you if you’re just starting.
The HD60 S+ allows you to game at 4K while capturing 1080p quality, with minimal lag when watching the “preview” window.
Although the HD60S+ will set you back around ~$130, so if you want an even cheaper alternative, the AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini comes at around ~$99; you just won’t be able to game on 4K resolutions.
Or, if you’re just dipping your toes into the capture card industry, go with the FcrenHuang capture card. It’s cheap and does the job.
By now, you should have a decent understanding of what to look for in a budget capture card and how to do proper research so you can choose one that suits your live streaming setup.
For the most part, capture cards will make the recording, streaming, or passing through of your gameplay a whole lot easier, but they can get costly quickly.
If you are just starting, we recommend starting the resources you have now and then slowly upgrading your streaming essentials when you have the budget to do so.
Capture cards are not a necessity. You can get away with using OBS and your computer’s resources to stream.
However, they can upgrade the quality of your stream significantly.
Live streaming does take a lot of resources from your PC and your internet, so building a proper capture card system will reduce the strain on your gaming PC and allow you to record at the highest quality.
If you have had success with any of the capture cards on our list, comment below and tell us about your stack, we would love to hear it!