If you have a powerful enough PC, you are just about $300-to-$400 away from having the option to record beautiful 4K footage off of a PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One X, or separate gaming PC. That’s because Elgato Gaming (a newly acquired subsidiary of Corsair) and AVerMedia have both launched their 4K PCIe capture cards that are capable of recording footage at a resolution of 2160p and 60 frames per second.
I’ve talked about both at this point. The Live Gamer 4K is $300 and can do 2160p60 with HDR. The 4K60 Pro is $400, but it can’t do HDR. But now I want to get into a few more of the details to show how these two devices compare head-to-head at their max settings.
Just to get a sample, I recorded the opening cinematic in the PS4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus on both devices with everything turned all the way up. Neither capture card does any encoding locally — instead, they use your PC’s CPU or GPU depending on which option you select. That is why you need a recent CPU from Intel or AMD and the latest-generation graphics card from Nvidia or AMD Radeon.
In this system, I’m using an Intel i7-7700k CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, and for these tests, I selected the option that would use the video card. I also used the bundled software from the respective companies. Capturing 2160p60 footage with OBS Studio or XSplit is still a headache that requires tinkering with settings, so I used Elgato’s 4K Capture Utility and AVerMedia’s RECentral 4. Both are serviceable even if they look exactly like the kind of software you imagine a company would bundle with a piece of hardware.
The Elgato and AVerMedia cards don’t work identically. The most significant difference is the codec that each one uses. The 4K60 Pro records in H.264 through the 4K Capture Utility. The Live Gamer 4K, however, can do H.264 or the HEVC/H.265 standard. That HEVC codec is crucial for capturing the HDR metadata, and it is also generally more efficient at reproducing high-quality visual data without requiring a mammoth bitrate.
Since I wanted to do a maximum-quality test for each, we’re comparing H.264 and H.265 with HDR. But it’s important to keep in mind that since you aren’t doing any encoding on the cards themselves, you still use OBS or Xsplit to record in whatever codec you want. I’ve attempted to use H.265 HEVC with the Elgato, and I’m close to getting the results I want in terms of smoothness — but again, those headaches are a real factor.
Other differences include the maximum color depth and bitrate. The Live Gamer 4K is capable of recording in 10-bit color depth, which means it can provide HDR10 metadata. This is the open HDR standard that just about every HDR device supports, and the competing Dolby Vision standard is capable of interpreting the HDR10 info. The Elgato 4K60 Pro, meanwhile, maxes out at 8-bit.
The Elgato 4K60 Pro can also only handle a bitrate of 140Mbps. The Live Gamer 4K claims it can do up to 240Mbps, and that’s what I have it set to. But the video below ended up recording at a bitrate of 146Mbps. I think this is a bug, and I’ve asked AVerMedia about it but I’ve had other videos come in at a much more appropriate 231Mbps since then.
I will attempt another recording of the opening section of Shadow of the Colossus to see if I can get a higher bitrate on the Live Gamer 4K, but this bug works out because it means we can look at the Elgato at 133Mbps H.264 and the AVerMedia at 146Mbps H.265, which both produce similar file sizes. The Live Gamer 4K still has its 10-bit HDR data if you have a way of watching that, and I think it ends up looking a touch better even without HDR turned on.
Here’s the AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K:
Here’s the Elgato 4K60 Pro:
I think it’s important to note that the footage looks wonderful through both devices. If you don’t need HDR, then the differences are tough to notice through YouTube’s compression.
Both cards work well if you have the hardware
Both cards record in the YUV color space, which replicates the range of luminance and color closer to what the human eye sees in nature as opposed to the old RGB model.
The cards also use the 4:2:0 chroma subsampling algorithm. This is where a recording program looks at two rows of 4 pixels each and then it samples the color from 2 pixels in the top row and 0 pixels in the bottom row. Then when it’s time to re-create the image, the 4:2:0 system blows up the color from the 2 sampled pixels. This compression is a big part of efficient encoding, and it works well for something like capturing footage from a game — although it may cause problems with reading text or if you need to use a green screen for something. That’s when you’d want something like 4:2:2 or better, which is not an option yet on either device.
But both cards are viable for anyone who already has the PC to run them. The requirements are steep, and while you can maybe get away with having just the 6th-gen Intel Core i7/Ryzen 7 or 10-series GeForce GTX/Radeon Vega, you probably shouldn’t get one of these capture cards unless you have both the CPU and GPU.
I think you should also prepare yourself for some frustrations with either card because I get the sense that they came in hot from their engineering teams. Elgato has already updated the 4K60 Pro firmware a number of times squashing bugs and improving performance, and I suspect AVerMedia will have a similar road ahead. If you want to use either of these with OBS or XSplit instead of the included hardware, you may encounter some troubles that drive you mad.
All of that said, the AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K is $300 and does a great job with 2160p60 HDR video. Even without HDR and at $400, the Elgato 4K60 Pro is still impressive. These cards are making UHD video content a possibility for a much wider class of creators, and that’s exciting and something I’m going to continue following.