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Lots and lots of discussions online about recording video gameplays, whether it's a simple proof of you beating a game, sharing a crazy yet close moment where you almost lost/died, showing off the ending of a game, and/or live streaming you playing a game. I remember I'd always get called out whenever I'd join a server, on a first-person shooter PC game, whenever I act as an observer watching others play; That was back as early as 1999. Looking at the industry in watching others play going into the billions, I can completely relate to finding joy watching others play video games and/or watching video gameplay whether it's a pure run or a tool-assisted speedrun.
With the exception of built-in recording tools inside emulation software, this article is for those using regular hardware to record gameplay straight from your console(s).
It is with sincere understanding that not all video gamers are video-tech savvy. In other words, it's more than just plugging in the consoles to the TV and the different types of video connections, such as analog and S-Video. That's why I wrote this very article for you, fellow gamers, as a little guide to help you record your fabulous gameplays. (Reading this may seem like shameful advertising, but I'm neither paid nor sponsored by the products mentioned, unless noted otherwise.)
DVD recorder or a Dedicated (video game) Capture card?
Not everything in Life is free, be it good or bad, so all this depends on your budget and what/why you want to consider such option. This is all written by my own experience.
Back in 2011, my available recording device was a DVD recorder—I owned a Panasonic DMR-ES20 DVD recorder originally picked up back around 2006-2007. After heavy usage for a mind-boggling 8 years, it burned out and I had no energy to even find a hole-in-the-wall repair shop to make use of it again. Instead, I went and picked up a Toshiba D-R410 DVD recorder which was strictly used for nothing but video game recording. That thing only lasted me 2 years before it began glitching like crazy, "pretending" it couldn't read the blank DVDs and failed my recordings spewed with disc errors. It was awful and very frustrating.
Against my own wishes, I went with the Elgato Game Capture HD, and closing in at 2 years of usage, it hasn't disappointed. It's quick, it's painless and you can capture with composite, S-Video, Component and HDMI. I wasn't hot on capture cards until I did extreme amounts of research and settled for this for my own video gaming needs. Many others have different capture cards/devices and swear by it, but again, by own experiences, this is mine.
Much to my surprise, yes folks, there is a huge difference in video quality between recording it on DVD versus recording via capture card to hard drive. Feast your eyes:
Capture Card (Elgato):
Here are my notes from that observation:
• [DVD] No matter what, DVD recording devices are still analog, and while the colors try to be a little more punchy, the interlacing and sharpness depicted by the sprites aren't very good. Plus, the typical aspect ratio of DVD is 720x480, which, due to some pixel shifting, makes the picture a little wider than normal.
• [DVD] While DVDs make excellent ready-to-archive mediums, they have gotten slightly lesser and lesser in price over time. This makes them accessible whenever you need to go back to a particular moment in your gameplay. I have and use a portable DVD player to test and assure the quality of the final recording.
• [DVD] Briefly mentioned before, DVD recorders can fail very quickly, or very late, without notice. I used DVD lens cleaning solutions and the recorders still fail. No matter what, you're guaranteed to either find another recorder or seek another option. Truth is, DVD recorders are getting scarce, and like VHS decks, they're getting higher and higher in price—a very odd phenomenon for old technology. (Lots of companies and film production houses always feared for DVD recorders as a base to pirate and duplicate shows and movies, and secretly sell and distribute them without getting caught, forcibly getting companies to stop selling them.)
• [DVD] Transfer to computer? That requires a DVD ripping software, either MPEG Streamclip, VLC player (read the manual), MakeMKV or Handbrake. After doing so, you'd have to convert the video AGAIN to something online video-sharing websites allow to be uploaded, or if you're a video editor, a file format that your editing software is compatible with (whether it's Avid DNxHD, Apple ProRes, etc).
• [Capture Card] File organization is key and it's nice being able to capture your gameplays straight to your [external] hard drive.
• [Capture Card] Depending on the brand of your capture card, the software supplemented with it works nicely when compatible with both Mac and PC. This was a HUGE plus for me after I switched from Mac back to PC (I'm not ashamed to admit that).
• [Capture Card] Picture quality is near-emulation crisp. The sharpness is very good and the colors aren't overbearing. (Granted, you can adjust these but I leave them at the default setting.)
• [Capture Card] Watching and playing using your software preview window won't happen as there is about a 3-second delay from the console to the computer. This may mean you'd have to connect the console to the TV to track your game playing in real time.
• [Capture Card] Depending on the tonality of your voice, without the annoying heavy breathing, the software allows for live streaming with voiceover allowing full commentary as you play.
• [Capture Card] Capturing the video without conversion, according to my software, captures in MPEG-2 .ts interlaced video. You can have the raw video converted to MP4, though the conversion quality results in a little fuzzy video, but it's barely noticeable. After capturing, it's ready to upload to social media or you can convert into a file to send to an editing software. In our case, it can convert to Apple® ProRes format—the professional video codec commonly used for the editing platform Final Cut Pro, or even Avid Media Composer or Adobe® Premiere Pro.
• [Capture Card] Being that your computer hard drive is dependent on saving your recorded videos, external hard drives are a huge must. Depending on the quality settings and durations of your recorded gameplays, external HDDs can get pricey, though it shouldn't be too much of a factor (1TB hard drives now cost below $80, at least). I have not tested it, but it should work fine if you have a solid-state drive (SSD), however they are still up there in price. For best results, I recommend hard drives with a 7200RPM and a USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt connection (you may get by with a FireWire 800), allowing for faster operations and processing for file creation and transferring. (If you're a video editor, you know exactly what I'm talking about.)
Once I began recording my gameplays with Elgato's capture card, I never looked back. Granted, having switched to PC, the software creates .ts video files AND are interlaced. I plan to use my recordings to edit with, so conversion to a editable file, or even to online upload, isn't a problem.
Audio? It's a subjective take but it's slightly close. I do notice a little hiss in the audio from the DVD recorder, and a little buzz in the background, depending on what cables you use and how tightly connected they are to the recorder. The capture card is as clean as you can get (we'll compare audio very soon).
As matter of fact, I used to use a consumer HDV camcorder (Canon HV30) that allowed video and audio INPUT to record IN the camera but I sold that so I'm unable to test it (though I plan to get a HDV video deck in the future). The video quality on MiniDV tape is okay, yet much cleaner than recording to DVD, but the audio is nice and clean.
The overall winner has to be the capture card (thanks, Elgato!). However, if you have a DVD recorder lying around, put it to good use until you're ready for a capture card. The fact that it's compatible with both operating systems, Mac and PC, and has connections from Composite to HDMI, makes this the perfect product for both the retro and modern video gaming.
Like I said, upgrading to HD RGB isn't in our books yet but will be in the future. Upscaling to RGB requires exact and precise hardware equipment to get it right, which to most folks can get very expensive. We'll be there eventually, but for now, we're enjoying what we have as of now (though for you fans of our website, you can keep in touch with our progress over time!). Nevertheless, all mentioned here are the most cost-friendly solutions without breaking the bank too much, bringing in the closest possible choices to acquire the best quality you can get for your money.
This means, for me at least, games recorded on DVD, I may have to play the games again to capture on computer for a full higher quality version. While I don't mind, I don't plan to play the games that took me forever to beat and finish. An example is NBA Jam for the Game Boy, which were the longest 6 hours I played, bruising my fingers due to awful controls (read our review here on SHOWSOTROS!).
Feel free to leave comments, email us using the contact form below or contact us on social media with any of your questions, concerns and everything else you want to know. I have 15 years of Video Production experience and counting, so I'll be happy to help you out on what more you need to know and any advice/suggestions you like to get you up and running.
Now, pop the game in and starting playing....and recording!
Speaking of which Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire is available! Play now: