Streaming is extremely popular and also accessible thanks to free programs. However, capture cards can offer advantages in certain cases in terms of performance, image quality and features. In this article we explain why and compare ten models.
It's been possible for ages to stream with free programs such as Open Broadcaster Software (OBS). These days streaming is even easier and with a minimal impact on performance if you use the built-in encoder of your graphics card. You can even record in Windows 10 by using the built-in game-recorder. This is definitely a huge plus, especially for inexperienced streamers, since you don't have to invest anything extra to start streaming.
Streaming without separate hardware is perfectly doable, however it does come with a couple of disadvantages. In short, a capture card gives you better performance, image quality and stability in theory. Furthermore, such a device also gives you more features if you want to stream from a console.
Capture cards are available in various flavors, the most common ones are external devices that are installed in between the graphics card and the monitor. However there are all kinds of models: in addition to external USB devices there are also plug-in cards (both are called 'capture cards'), and models with and without a built-in encoder. There's a surprisingly large amount to choose from, both in terms of products and manufacturers.
In order to clear things up we've tried to test as many relatively affordable capture devices as possible, which we compared afterwards. In total we tested ten products from six manufacturers.