Retro Capture Setup – Part 1

Welcome to my Totally Not Recommended guide to capturing accurate and authentic footage from your consoles. This is how I’ve got things set up, such that I can easily record and stream from real hardware (with all the real problems that brings).

The only reason it’s ‘Totally Not Recommended’ is because I imagine there are far more efficient ways to do this. (Yes, emulation is one of them…!)

To give a brief overview of what I’ve got in my setup, here’s my chart. If you’re embarking on such a setup, you may want to do the same so you can keep track of what’s connected where… otherwise, it might get a touch messy.

So, what’s the purpose of all this? Why have I got so much hardware just to get a picture out of my consoles?

The fact is, I could do this with a lot less. I could run my consoles through a simple HDMI converter and get some sort of output, which in all fairness would technically be usable. I’ve come across plenty of people who do just that – heck, that’s how I had my Wii hooked up for a while, simply because it was the most suitable option at the time.

But what I’m aiming for here is to get the best possible picture out of my systems, and it turns out that takes a heck of a lot of effort!

OBS Studio

The logo for OBS Studio, showing what looks like a three-bladed shuriken in a circle. I've never understood this logo.

I’ll start from the top with my software of choice: OBS Studio. OBS is a fantastic piece of software, even more so considering it’s 100% free; and it serves my purposes extremely well. A few years ago, I struggled quite a bit to get it to play well with my capture card (we’ll come onto that), but it’s come a long way in that department since then, to the point where I can somewhat feasibly play a game entirely through OBS.

If you’re not familiar with OBS, it’s an open-source broadcasting software which is primarily built for streaming. You can build up a broadcast with a variety of sources, like text, images, browser windows, video files, open windows on your computer… and, of course, capture devices such as a webcam or a capture card. It’s absolutely essential, and comes highly recommended for anyone looking to record or stream in most situations. I’ve even used it at work for Christmas parties.

Long story short: it can pick up and record whatever my capture card spits out. Speaking of which…

Elgato HD60 Pro

A PCI Express card with a black metal shroud. On it, the words "HD60 Pro" are printed in white.

My capture card is an Elgato HD60 Pro, an internal PCIe card. I picked this card mainly out of necessity; my previous low-end AVerMedia card stopped working, and I needed a replacement. This one just happened to be on eBay, boxed, for a fraction of the price of a new card. Can’t really argue with that.

Like I said before, at the time I got it, it wouldn’t play nice with OBS. I could sometimes get a signal out of it under the right circumstances, which seemed largely to be based on moon phases and the average temperature of a blue whale’s bum. Thankfully, the software the card came with was satisfactory. There were some interesting UI quirks, like how it would only go fullscreen if you didn’t touch it for ten seconds, except sometimes it wouldn’t. It also really struggled with some of the more exotic resolutions I was putting through it, as it probably expected me to be using contemporary consoles and not a PC Engine.

Nowadays, with driver updates and OBS updates, it seems like it’ll just take whatever I throw at it. The signal does drop out for several seconds on a resolution change, which is less than ideal, but that’s a minor niggle in the grand scheme.

I should mention that this card has a HDMI passthrough option as well. What this means is that I could connect a separate external display to my capture card, and I would (in theory) get a zero-latency signal. As it stands, I have to monitor it using OBS, which introduces a noticeable amount of input lag. (More on that later.)

There are lots of other options in this department. Internal PCIe cards aren’t for everyone – maybe you’re streaming from a laptop, for example, or a PC which doesn’t have a great deal of expandability. Elgato, AVerMedia, and a few others make USB capture cards, which are a lot better than they used to be. Make sure you get one that operates over USB-C, or at the very least USB3, to get the best quality out of it.

If you’re made of money, you might even go for a Magewell or a Datapath card. These are the highest of high-end, and will work perfectly with anything. However, they’re also built for broadcast, and so they’re not cheap: easily four to five times the cost of a high-end consumer card. Frankly, I think these are probably overkill for streaming games on Twitch… but then again, maybe if I used one, I wouldn’t want to go back. Especially not for the four figures they charge for these things.

It might be worth checking out the OBS Certified Devices list for quality capture devices, although there are only four listed to press.

In the next part, I’ll talk a little about upscalers and switching solutions – see you there.

About LunarLoony

IT support technician by day, artist also by day, video game enthusiast by day as well. Not keen on doing things by night... when else am I supposed to sleep? I have been making internet things since about 2005, and advocate for personal websites and blogs and things. I also run Broken Circus, where I make short films about video game history!
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