Tech By John Thatch / April 2, 2017 Share 0 Tweet Pin 0 All over Let’s Play and Twitch forums, users question whether they need to purchase a capture card to get higher quality video streamed from their gaming. On the other side of production world, an editor needs to show footage on a high resolution screen and would also be looking for the best possible capture card. It’s a huge investment, and, depending on your purposes, it could make an enormous difference in the quality of your footage. So who could benefit from a 4K capture card? First, capture cards are only useful for capturing from separate devices—for example a second PC, a gaming console, or a camera—not for screen capture from within the same machine. Often screen capture software can’t handle the frame-rate and quality output by modern graphics cards in PCs and gaming consoles, so although you can watch or play in incredibly high resolution, it doesn’t mean your computer can capture exactly what you’re seeing. With a 4k capture card, you can capture in Ultra HD, which has a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels (double the resolution of regular HD at 1080p) and at a frame-rate as high as 60 fps , so all of the finer details can come through. This could be incredibly useful not only for gamers, but also for tutorials, capturing quality footage from old VHS tapes, or for editing video in which you need a real-time preview. Choosing the best card for you will depend on what level of quality you need to capture plus how much you’re willing to spend. What to consider when making your choice A quick glance at the cards themselves can show that there are a lot of variables at play, even if they are all accomplishing the same tasks. Some have tons of input options; others have only one. Some come with a fan to keep them cool, while others aren’t even installed in your computer directly. Let’s look at these factors to consider when choosing the best professional 4k capture card. Resolution You might think that for a 4k capture card, the image qualities would all be basically the same. 4k is not just some selling gimmick but an actual numerical value—typically 3840×2160 pixels—but that doesn’t mean it’s consistent across capturing devices. In some situations, the frame-rate will decrease if capturing at 2160p or increase at a lower resolution of (the now old-fashioned) 1080p. Some cards can capture at even higher frame rates or even wider resolution up to 4096×2160. Consider your purposes here for what your needs are. If you’re capturing from footage that has a lower frame-rate, the card can’t magically insert data between frames like a bad police procedural episode. Similarly if your end product is for online streaming, Ultra HD is nice, but it might not be practical for most your use and audience. Input How your card connects to your device is also important. This is one of the differences between the cards you can quickly see at a glance. Does your console only have an HDMI or USB connection? You might want a card that matches. Are you capturing from a VHS or from an older console? Then you might want a capture card with component video inputs. Other capture cards focus on both quality and versatility, able to connect to a wider variety of video and audio connections, including down-converted for standard definitions. Your old home videos are not shot in Ultra HD, of course, but that doesn’t mean these cards can’t help you capture those tapes at the highest possible quality and scale the resolution up for modern devices. Make sure you card can scale to your needs. Software It’s important to have support for software that’s either easy to use or that you’re familiar with. Most of these professional cards covered below work for an array of software for Windows, MacOS or Linux. In the tech specs sections on the websites for each of these cards, check for your preferred software to make sure you won’t have to learn an entirely new video editing software just to handle your capturing work. Speed Finally, you want a card that captures quickly. Usually measured in Gb/s, it’s important to know if you card can capture huge files at a rate that works for you. Professional 4k Capture Cards Let’s look at some of the top performing cards to compare their strengths and prices so you can make the best choice for your video capturing needs. A lot of these companies offer cheaper 4k cards, but this article will focus only on the fastest and most versatile professional-level products. #1 DeckLink by Blackmagic Design Blackmagic Design is one of the world’s leaders in post-production editing and engineering technologies producing a wide array of cards for a variety of users. Their 12G-SDI DeckLink line mixes both quality and value depending on whether you’re making a Let’s Play video for Youtube or screening editing footage for a major production, with three vastly different cards. Blackmagic’s cards come with software and drivers. The 12G in its name refers to its speed—in this case, with a single and dual link, the DeckLink can capture at 12 Gb/s in both links for all resolutions from SD to 4k. Starting with the top of the line, the DeckLink 4k Extreme 12G, Blackmagic mixes versatility with quality. It supports either file or tape input, so you can capture from a range of sources. You can connect with SDI, HDMI, or analog sources. The Extreme version allows for 2160 60p resolution, which is about where most professional capture cards max out. A lot of what you’re getting here is options—many different inputs and formats are compatible with this card. With their mid-range model, the DeckLink 4k Pro, there are significantly fewer connections. There are no analog inputs or outputs, nor HDMI inputs or outputs. While Blackmagic sells other models that have these inputs at similar prices, this is what’s currently available at the highest speed of 12 Gb/s. The DeckLink 4k Extreme 12G has an MSRP under 1500 USD, and the smaller DeckLink 4k Pro just under 600 USD. Blackmagic sells other 4k capture cards that can run as low as 100 USD or less but quality, speed, and versatility drop. #2 Pro Capture HDMI 4k Plus by Magewell Magewell works almost exclusively in video capture hardware and software. And its products look very different from the ones sold by Blackmagic. For one, they typically have only one input instead of the massive array in the DeckLinks. This way, you can get a less versatile product at a cheaper rate. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s an inferior capture card, just that its goals are a little different. Instead of complete coverage with various inputs, the Pro Capture is able to mimic a lot of displays to capture exactly what is shown, including multiple color formats and it can even include timestamps in many DSLRs and video cameras. The resolution for the Pro Capture is also a tiny bit higher, allowing a slightly wider frame at 4096×2160. The frame-rate can also get as high as 144fps in theory, but this can be limited by PCIe bandwidth when you transfer. The Pro Capture Plus can typically handle 4k at 60fps, but again this could vary. It also has no mention of its capture speed in the tech specs. One of the biggest differences between this pro model and the Blackmagic is the price. The “Plus” model is under 1000 USD. It can also work on any operating system and boasts a broad range of software it is compatible with. #3 KONA 4 by AJA AJA has been around since 1993, and though they specialize in capture cards, they also make digital recording devices and 4k cameras. The KONA 4 is a very powerful capture card. It supports AJA Raw capture at 120 fps using 3Gb/s upload rate (but with 4 of these instead of 2 like the Blackmagic, this is quite fast). Working at a high frame rate is this card’s specialty, and KONA boasts it can readily capture 50/60fps—true of the other capture cards as well, but without all of the caveats. The KONA 4 also captures color well with HDR. As for connectivity, the KONA has a variety of options including HDMI and analog outputs. There is also a KG3-Box available separately to help connect to rack set-ups, and includes 8 additional audio channels. The resolution and frame-rate are top of the line for the KONA 4, supporting 4096×2160 at up to 60 fps and all the way down to standard definition. This is truly a professional product, but it comes at quite the cost. Just under 2000 USD, this is the priciest pro card on the list. That said, its specs are top of the line, and if you need the highest quality capture, this could be a good choice. #4 Av.io 4k by Epiphan Video Rounding out our list is a more inexpensive capture card by a smaller name in the business. Epiphan Video focuses on audio and video capture and has been in the business since 2003. They remain on the cutting edge, having been the first to update their firmware for the Av.io 4k in 2017 so that it could capture from Xbox One S and the PS4 Pro in 4k. Their emphasis on this accomplishment shows Epiphan’s product is geared more towards the gaming audience, and instructions for 4k console capture with the Av.io 4k are included on their website. Reaching resolutions up to 4096×2160, this capture card operates much differently from the others on the list. Instead of being installed into your computer, this is an external device designed to be more portable. It connects to your computer via USB and to the device with an HDMI cable. This simpler setup might be a bit minimal for professionals but could work excellently for a YouTube gamer looking to capture 4k. Your frame-rate may dip from the expected, but it is possible to get up to 60fps at 4k. Costing just under 400$, this external option can be a good introductory device for 4k capture cards.