Maybe you’re thinking of starting a YouTube channel about retro gaming, or you’re planning on streaming something like speedruns or (god forbid) let’s plays – you’re going to need a way to record the gameplay. Sure, you could simply point a camera at the screen and hit record – but you’re better than that! There are millions of other content creators out there and competition is heavy to stand out. If your production values suck, you’d better hope you have something exceptional to show or have the on-screen personality of a rockstar TV host (okay, maybe that’s a pretty average example) but regardless – and I’m getting a bit off-topic here – you will want to show decently recorded game footage!
Dedicated Capture Cards
By far the best option, there are a number of companies out there who manufacture dedicated video game capture devices. The range is huge too – overwhelming even. Luckily for the garden variety retro gamer, the range can be whittled down thanks to video outputs. Retro consoles are old and thus, don’t natively support HDMI. Generally, you’ll be outputting using connections like composite, component, s-video, scart and a few more. I won’t get too bogged down in the details of the video outputs used (check out this previous article of mine if you’re after more information) but most recorders these days only support HDMI.
Sure, this can be remedied by using an analogue to digital video converter (composite to HDMI, for example) and plugging the converter into the capture device – however, video conversion can cause problems. Looking aside from the fact that daisy chaining more equipment than necessary is inconvenient, you’ll also have to worry about the video footage being upscaled which may appear undesirable.
If you can record natively in analogue, you’ll likely remove the possibility of some problems. Hauppauge is an example of a company that still supports analogue recording, with most of its line-up having an AV-in port along with HDMI in and outs.
Another factor you’ll have to consider is the quality of the software used. I personally use an Elgato Game Capture HD (now sadly discontinued) that not only natively supports composite and component (which I mostly use) but uses excellent software. Not only does it record it in real-time (as you’d expect) but has a ‘flashback’ recording feature. This means it records everything in a session – even if you haven’t hit record yet – meaning you can go back in time and retrieve footage if you forgot to record it the first time around.
This is handy if you’re, say, recording footage for a review and are having a hard time beating a boss. You don’t want tons of junk footage filling up your hard drive of you failing; once you finally win you can just rewind and record the footage you’ll actually use. You don’t want your viewers thinking you suck at games, after all.
It’s for that sole reason that I will recommend Elgato if anyone asks, but as I said before, the range is huge. It starts with very cheap brandless devices that work questionably, to very expensive devices that have features like inbuilt storage so no PC is necessary. The quality of the software will also depend on how much you spend too, obviously.
I was going to list these with their own separate headings, but since there is not much to say about them (and honestly, not many more to list) I’ll bundle them together instead. Having said that, the golden rule of starting a YouTube channel or something along those lines is using what you already own when you begin. It would be a shame to throw down several hundred dollars on a capturing device to then find out that your heart isn’t really in it, after all.
One such device that you may already own is a DVR. Usually used to record TV, in most cases, there’s nothing stopping you from plugging a game console into the input. You won’t have the luxury of features like Elgato’s ‘flashback’, but at the simplest level, you’ll be able to record the footage.
Be warned, though (and this is from personal experience) older devices are a pain to extract footage from. When I first started out, I used a recorder released around 2008. Even though it had a hard drive to record to instead of DVD (which was a huge feature at the time) the only way to export the footage was by burning it to a disc. So, every time I wanted to export footage, I had to waste a disc. What a pain.
Another device you might already own is a video camera. While they are much less common these days thanks to everyone now having a HD recorder in their pocket, a lot of models at one time had the option to record straight to a video input. Additionally, this can be handy as video cameras are usually quite easy to export onto a computer from.
You could also use a VHS recorder… I guess. But as you can imagine, the quality will be awful and you’ll still need some other method to then capture that captured footage into a digital format anyway. Yeah, best sticking with what’s described above.