Hardware Review:- Elgato Game Capture HD

Anyone that has ever wanted to create and upload their own gameplay footage has probably experienced the same problems that we have in recent years. Yeah, there are lots of inexpensive devices out there that claim to be answer to your prayers, but invariably the results leave a lot to be desired.

And then there are the hulking great expensive devices that need approximately 3,000 cables and a backup generator to capture a few seconds of gameplay. Why can there not be a comfortable middle ground, inexpensive devices that are easy to set up and produce good results?

Enter Elgato’s Game Capture HD, a new device that merges the high quality performance with a system that’s incredibly easy to set up. Costing about £180 / $200 / €200, Game Capture HD is a powerful and – most importantly – affordable option for those that want to start recording their own gameplay footage.

The first thing to strike us about Game Capture HD (GCHD from now on) is how new user friendly it is. It’s by far the easiest device we’ve had to set up, and shouldn’t need more technical knowledge than it would take to plug in a games console.

It comes with all the cables you would need to capture footage from your PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and even comes with a Component cable adaptor that allows you to connect other lower resolution devices, such as the Nintendo Wii. Simply connect your chosen console to the small device, then connect that to your TV and computer, and hey presto you’re raring to go.

Elgato's Game Capture HD can connect to any device that has either component cables or a HDMI

One thing worth noting is that, due to Sony’s Bluray coding, the PlayStation 3 must be connected via the included optical cable. This is still capable of capturing HD footage, without any noticeable degradation of the image quality.

The fact that there are just three cables that you will need to use is a major advantage that GCHD has over its competitors.  Many other capture devices require numerous cables and fiddling around with display settings, but GCHD is the very definition of a plug in and play product.

As the device is connected to both your TV and your computer you’ll be able to continue playing on your TV as you normally would, while the software does its work. The footage that appears on the computer does suffer from a few seconds of lag, but the TV footage is flawless.

The lack of proper Mac support has been a major disappointment with other HD capture devices we’ve tried out in the past, so when we learned that GCHD fully supported both PC and Mac, without the need to purchase any additional software, we were very pleased.

One thing you’ll need to make sure of before buying this product is to check that your computer can handle the software.  Be warned, it needs either Windows 7 or Lion on Mac (version 10.7 or higher) to fully function, which may potentially add to the cost.

Game Capture HD is a small device, just a little bit bigger than a mobile phone

In terms of recording, the GCHD records up to 1080i resolution, but for most games you will want to use 720p. Although 1080i is technically a higher resolution in our experience it has resulted in some blurring when playing fast paced titles. Some may be concerned that it does not capture at 1080p resolution, but this really isn’t a problem at all – the vast majority of games these days don’t even use 1080p resolution (most consoles try to upscale to 1080p, with varying degrees of success) and if you’re just uploading videos to Youtube or Facebook 720p is more than good enough.

After just a few hours tinkering with the device it’s clear that, for such a tiny product, it’s really powerful. It doesn’t need it’s own power supply, instead running off the USB cable that is used to connect to your computer. We did initially have concerns about the amount of heat that it would generate, but so far these fears appear to have been unfounded. Yes, it does get warm after long periods of usage, but no way near as warm as, say, the games console itself.

Another brilliant feature that it has is the Flashback Recording that creates temporary files of whatever you’re playing as soon as you plug the device in.  This means that, in the event that you forget to press the record button, all of your hard work is not lost. More permanent files are made once you press the record button, without erasing the temporary files.

The included software, available to download for free from Elgato’s website, is easy to use, but very basic. In terms of editing you can only trim your captured footage, nor can you import footage from your computer, or splice different recordings together. It is fortunate then that you can but export your captured  video out for use in other editing programs with great ease.

The editing tools, while very basic, are easy to use and allow you to export to almost anything you can think of

Another disappointment is that you are not able to create screenshots with the default editing software. It is possible that they may include the feature in a software update in the future, but for now you’ll just have to make use of other programs if you want to create screenshots.

As GCHD only uses Component cables and HDMI, if you want to record SD footage, perhaps on a classic console, then you’re out of luck. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Elgato would release a cable that supports the old composite scart cables, but at the time of writing there are no plans for this as far as we are aware.

Still, these are just minor complaints, and they don’t really have a major impact on how impressed we are with this product. We could probably go on about how great the videos have turned out, but what better way to exhibit this than to simply show you?

We recorded footage on two Xbox 360 titles below to show how GCHD handles a fast moving action title and a slow paced game (remember to switch quality to HD when watching!):

Batman Arkham City:

Hitman: Sniper Challenge:

We also tested out its ability to capture Wii footage, at 480p:

Super Mario Galaxy 2:

While we’re no Digital Foundry, we have to say that we are really very pleased with the results, and we think that you will be too. It’s an easy to use and completely intuitive product that is ideal for those that are completely new to capturing gameplay videos as well as seasoned veterans.

If you are looking to start recording your own gameplay videos in HD then the Elgato Game Capture HD is likely the product you would want to use.

- Luke Mears

Mon, June 11 2012 » Reviews, Videos

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