Capture Card & Game Recording Software – How to Stream Your Event

by Fabio

Broadcasting is one of the most important aspects to tackle when hosting an event. After all, you want as many people as possible to enjoy a tournament that is as great possible. So should you want to host your own tournament, this guide will help you gain a basic understanding of what you’ll have to work on. If you’re interested in creating a truly professional and engaging experience, you will have to do more than merely recording your monitor’s output, slapping a few images on top, and then sending everything off to some streaming service.

In this series, we explain every facet of esports broadcasting and how you can set up an appealing tournament stream, especially on the amateur and semi-professional level. Which streaming service do you choose? How do you set up a chat-bot? What is a capture card and how do I use one to record games? There is an almost infinite number of aspects to consider and traits to master, so you better stick around for the rest of our series on this topic.

But first, we kick off by explaining how to record games on PC for streaming.

How Does Game Recording Software work?

Depending on what you aim to achieve, capturing your game’s video output is actually quite easy. Services such as FRAPS and Shadowplay offer to record lengthy gaming sections to your hard drive without demanding too much of your system, but that comes with a price. Because the video and audio are saved to your hard disk very much unaltered, the file sizes become extremely large. You might end up with 600MB for just three minutes worth of footage. In terms of event production, this is of course unthinkable. Unless you have a large network storage sitting by, you will never be able to save these huge amounts of data, let alone be able to put them out into the world wide web – but you don’t need to anyways. 

Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) and XSplit, two of the most popular streaming software solutions, work by taking your game’s output and compressing the video down to a size that is suitable for online streaming. If you now choose to save the video to your hard disk as well, you won’t have to deal with terabytes of footage. The downside is that this process is much more demanding of your hardware. This is something that we will discuss in length later on.

Different Modes of Video Encoding

There are dozens of video codecs out there and some of them are actually really great for streaming. But generally speaking, there are two different ways in which your computer can tackle video encoding. Software encoding means that your computer’s processor takes the bulk load of processing the video stream. Hardware encoding, on the other hand, lends that task to the graphics card. There are external and dedicated hardware encoders out there, but we’re assuming that you’re interested in streaming off of a PC, using the typical type broadcasting software that every streamer uses nowadays.

Both methods have unique advantages and issues. For starters, whichever component you pick to handle video compression will of course be heavily impacted in terms of performance. Since you’re uploading into the internet and the size of your datastream has to be kept at a minimum, encoding for streaming services will always result in a deterioration of video quality – and here the differences between the two methods show. While software encoding seems to be better at keeping detail in smooth gradients (let’s say, a lens flare), hardware encoding better preserves hard edges (in text, for instance). 

Video: GPU vs. CPU Encoding

Generally, both work fine and – at a high enough bitrate – won’t show any major difference to the naked eye. So you might argue that it doesn’t really matter which option you opt for, provided you have adequate hardware in both departments. Nonetheless, it is absolutely critical for you to decide for one of those two methods.

One-Computer Streaming Setup

Using one computer for playing, recording and streaming simultaneously will cause all kinds of issues, assuming that you actually want to play games that were released this decade. Although it may not look like much, video encoding is a hardware-intensive task. Depending on the type of encoding that you have set, you will massively impact either your CPU or your GPU. On top of that, you obviously need to play the game. If this game maxes out one of the components that you are using to encode, you risk impacting your stream. The processor or graphics card will have to choose between the game and the encoding process, which will result in frame drops and generally deteriorate video quality. 

Using high-end components will of course mitigate these issues. Furthermore, you could lower the graphics settings in-game or even set a frame limit, which will drastically increase the remaining computing power of your device. However, not everybody wants to play their games on low quality. Especially in competitive scenarios, limiting the frame rate is an absolute no-go. 

There is another option, which we will take a look at later. For now, we want to discuss what happens when you try to stream console games. There, you can’t just install a program and stream off into the internet that easily. 

Consoles & External Capture Cards

So what are capture cards? There are plenty of devices on the market offering to record your video game and to output it onto either a storage medium or into another computer. Especially for console gaming, this is an absolute must-have. While current-gen consoles often give the ability to directly stream to another service, you lose all the benefits of displaying overlays, incorporating chat-bots, and more.

There are capture cards for PS4 and capture cards for Xbox, which range from less than $100 to over $250. This is due to massive differences in hardware. At the low end (let’s say, an EZCAP capture card), these devices offer lower resolution, lower frame rates and generally, lower quality. Be wary of no-name brands, since they often try to trick you with misleading advertising. For instance, “4K passthrough” means that, technically, the device can receive and output 4K video. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will also give a 4K stream of your console output.

Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro MK.2
Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro MK.2

At the high end, these capture cards become absolute monsters. The “Elgato Game Capture 4K60 Pro MK.2” slots right into one of your computer’s PCIe connections and offers UltraHD, 60 frames-per-second video quality. Judging from reviews, this is perhaps the best capture card if you’re not too tight on your budget.  Additionally, the Elgato capture card is supposed to come with overall lower latency and pre-packaged software. To be honest, you’re most likely going to work with your own streaming software anyways. 

In the computer, the capture card is basically treated like a webcam and can be used as a video input. You can even connect a high-quality DSLR camera to it (provided it has clean HDMI output) and use it like a webcam to improve your stream quality even more. 

Dual-PC Streaming Setup

So far, we have only discussed how to record PC games on one PC and how to get your console’s video output onto your computer in order to stream it. Recording your console works by piping its HDMI output into a capture card. So couldn’t you theoretically connect another PC to it instead of your PlayStation or Xbox?

Indeed, you can! This is the pinnacle of personal streaming, as you’re now able to use the full hardware power of your main PC for playing the latest games on the highest settings, while a different computer takes care of encoding the video and sending it into the internet for live consumption. Now that you have a computer solely dedicated to processing the video stream, you can build it precisely for this one single task. If you want to use software encoding, you can cheapen out a bit on the GPU. On the other hand, if you prefer hardware encoding (i.e. Nvidia NVENC), you can install a weaker processor.

This his will massively improve your stream’s quality, especially since you’ll be able to interact with your stream and simultaneously have the game running. On the downside, it comes with additional costs. Obviously, buying a second computer isn’t cheap. You also need to connect more monitors and extra peripherals, so space might become quite an issue.

Should I Go For a Single-PC Streaming Setup or Capture Card?

In the end, it all comes down to what you’re actually planning to stream. If you’re going to broadcast games like Apex Legends and Rainbow Six: Siege, you will need a ridiculously powerful system to handle both tasks at once. Or you’ll have to delegate the encoding and streaming portion to another computer in a 2-PC streaming setup. Conversely, games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Dota 2 will likely stream just fine on a good PC, even with higher settings.

Is That All I Need To Do?

Of course there is more to esports event broadcasting than merely recording a video stream. We will continue this series with a guide on graphics and overlays, so make sure to check up on our blog regularly. If you’re interested in hosting your own tournament, why not take a look at Bitspawn? Our system will facilitate a lot of complex processes for you and will give you plenty of opportunity to invest more of your time and resources into creating beautiful and engaging broadcasts for your viewers!

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