Hello, folks! Lumpz the Clown here, and I have become increasingly fed up with the complete lack of information on how to start doing your own Let’s Plays or streams on the interwebs. Much of my own work, including revamps and improvements to my own setup are the fruits of tirelessly digging through forums, seemingly endless calls to technical support and INNUMERABLE sleepless nights. As my needs changed, I’ve had to upgrade my own setup to obtain the result I was looking for, but along the way, I discovered that not everyone can afford the high-end equipment that many of the bigger personalities on YouTube and other sites use. Because of this, many people won’t even try to make a Let’s Play or broadcast a stream, no matter how much they want to. Well, I’m here to tell you that YOU CAN! Below I will outline the various options that you have, in the hopes that it will inspire YOU, the reader, to strike out on your own and make your own original content!
First, I will discuss the equipment necessary to capture console gameplay. The crucial piece of equipment that drives this whole setup is the capture card or PVR (Personal Video Recorder). Capture cards and PVRs come in a wide variety of flavors and generally either capture standard definition (SD) video or high definition (HD) video. Many retro consoles, including the NES, SNES and Sega Genesis/Mega-Drive can output their audio/video signal through RCA and look something like this:
The video signal is fed through the yellow cable, and the audio is fed through the red and white cables. Many older consoles only output monaural (mono) sound (e.g., the NES) and only utilize the red cable for audio. In all consoles that output in RCA, the yellow will always indicate the video signal.
New consoles, like the PS4, Wii U and XBox One, use an HDMI cable that transmits both its audio and video signals and looks like this:
To get the best quality video and audio for these newer systems, you will need to get a higher-end capture device, as SD capture cards will not work with consoles that solely utilize HDMI. Below, I have compiled a list of available capture cards to fit all budgets and needs. Granted, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather a good starting point for upcoming Let’s Players. Do your own research and always consider which systems you would like to record/stream, and your computer’s specifications (RAM, operating system, etc.) before making a selection.
Standard Definition (SD) Capture Cards
Price: Approx. $19.99
Available online or at Best Buy
Description: This item is perhaps the most budget-minded selection out of all the available SD capture cards. Purchased new, this device comes with its own video editing software and captures audio and video through RCA inputs and even S-Video. However, customer reviews for this item have cited numerous low-quality knockoffs being distributed through eBay and Amazon, so beware if you go that route. Furthermore, online support for this item seems to be sparse, so keep your receipt and buy from a reputable source.
Elgato Video Capture
Price: Approx. $99
Available online or in a Mac Store
Description: This device is able to capture audio and video from any analog device (e.g., NES, SNES and Sega Genesis/Mega-Drive) and outputs in SD and is a worthy investment for a startup Let’s Player. Online and phone support is amazing, and updates and software are available online through Elgato’s official website (http://www.elgato.com). One word of caution: make sure that the computer you are using has at least 4GB of RAM or the video signal may not display in the preview window (though it should still record), or WORSE, may result in choppy video playback. The Elgato is compatible with Windows and Mac.
Pinnacle Dazzle DVC 100 DVD Recorder
Price: Approx. $120 (varies)
Description: This capture card is similar to the EasyCap in that it utilizes a USB 2.0 interface to connect to your computer, and it receives audio and video through RCA inputs and S-Video. Support online is available that offers downloads for drivers based on your operating system and Pinnacle’s official website. Customer reviews, however, have pointed out compatibility issues with Windows 7 and above, so keep that in mind if you select this card.
Now that we have covered the most readily available and popular SD capture cards, let’s move on to your HD options!
High Definition (HD) Capture Cards/PVRs
Roxio Game Capture HD Pro
Price: Approx. $119.99
Available online or Best Buy
Description: This device is able to receive component and HDMI inputs and can output video up to 1080p at 30 frames per second (fps). The Roxio Game Capture HD Pro also includes the ability to stream directly to Twitch as well as adding special effects and quick sharing options for Youtube and Facebook. Another big perk about this card is that it is able to capture PC gameplay as long as your computer graphics card supports HDMI. However, live commentary is not an option available directly through the card, but support may be found here. Furthermore, this card is only compatible with Windows, and no HDMI cable is included in the package.
Hauppauge! HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition
Price: Approx. $145
Available online or electronics outlets (Best Buy, Walmart)
Description: This device is able to record video up to 1080p while playing in HD. Live commentary is available with this device through your microphone (using Hauppauge Capture; free download here) and the package includes component, PS3, USB and HDMI cables as well as an installation CD. This device also has options for sharing your videos to Youtube, and live streaming is also available through the included StreamEez application. The one quirk about this device is that it requires an open electric socket to power it and cannot be powered through USB like the other devices on this list. The Hauppauge is only compatible with Windows.
Elgato Game Capture HD
Price: Approx. $179.99
Available online or electronics outlets (Best Buy, Walmart)
Description: Similar to the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro and Hauppauge HD PVR 2, this device is able to capture both HDMI and RCA input (using the included component cable). The Elgato Game Capture HD also comes with USB and HDMI cables and software and support are available online through Elgato’s official website. The device is not able to pick up an HDMI signal when using a PS3, however, but the package also includes a PS3 cable. Live commentary with your microphone is available and the software includes volume controls for all inputs. This card also offers quick options in the software to share your game footage or save it for later editing. The Elgato Game Capture is compatible with Windows and Mac.
If you plan on only capturing PC gameplay, there are many other options out there, many of them FREE! Recording microphone audio simultaneously can be a seemingly insurmountable task when using these methods, but there are programs available to capture your microphone audio as well, and most of them are also FREE! The list includes:
Audacity: A FREE open source audio recording program that can record microphone audio while recording your gameplay. This program would run separately from your gameplay recording software and can import/export in WAV, AIFF, MP3 and Ogg Vorbis. Versions 1.3.2 and newer also support Free Lossless Audio Codec, or FLAC. You will want to ensure that your editing software can handle these types of audio files and you will also need to “cue-up” (i.e., pressing the Power button on your console while simultaneously hitting “Record” in Audacity) so that you can line up your audio with your video later in your editing program. Audacity is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux.
Soundflower: A FREE system extension that allows applications to pass audio to other applications. This program can be used to route your microphone audio into your gameplay video. I’ve used this program in conjunction with Linein (another FREE program) while doing my first live stream and it worked beautifully. Linein can be downloaded here. Setup instructions for Soundflower and Linein can be found here. Soundflower is compatible with Mac Intel and PowerPC from 10.2 and up.
CamStudio: A FREE open source screen and computer audio recorder, the program outputs AVI files which can later be converted to Streaming Flash Videos (SWFs) using the built-in SWF Producer. SWFs do not take up as much room as other file types, yet still produces comparable results. You will want to use Audacity in conjunction with this program if you want to record your microphone audio. In theory, you can use Audio Repeater (another FREE program compatible with Windows and found using your favorite search engine) to pipe your in-game audio along with your microphone audio into CamStudio directly. Setup instructions for Audio Repeater can be found here for all different types of setups, including consoles. Audio Repeater can be found through a simple search engine inquiry. CamsStudio is compatible with Windows.
FRAPS: FRAPS is a screen recording program that gives you the option of including in-game audio if you choose, as well as setting your own framerate and saving screenshots to a designated folder. A FREE version of this software is available, but has a 30 fps limit and adds a watermark to your videos. It is also possible to record your entire desktop on Windows 7 if Aero is enabled, but Windows 8 users have not been able to since version 3.5.99. You can purchase this program without limitations for $37, which opens up the 60 fps option and removes the watermark. Bear in mind, however, that due to the FRAPS video compression process, this method is very CPU-intensive and produces large file sizes (e.g., a 22 second video is over 200 MB), so it is not recommended for older computers. FRAPS is compatible with Windows.
OBS: Open Broadcaster Software, or simply OBS, is a FREE program that not only allows you to live stream your gameplay, but also record it to disk as well for future editing. Onboard options allow you to set the video and audio to your specifications as well as add numerous different scenes (e.g., opening screen, webcam, gameplay & webcam) as well as edit those scenes individually to your specifications. The only issue that I have discovered with this software is that the codecs for audio and video vary between each project, which may need to be run through a converter so that your editing software can recognize it. Free online converters can be found through a simple search engine query. Setup instructions are here. OBS is highly recommended and is compatible with Windows.
Flash Media Live Encoder: Flash Media Live Encoder, or FMLE, is a FREE streaming software comparable to OBS. Scene edits are possible as well, and FMLE also offers various video and audio options. One item of interest: the Mac version of FMLE offers AAC as a selectable option under Audio Settings, but the Windows version only offer MP3, which is not as high-quality as AAC. Saving a local copy of your stream is also possible under FMLE, and can be used as simply a local recorder much like OBS. Setup instructions for Mac are here and Windows here. If you are using Mac, I would recommend using CamTwist to join your webcam with your gameplay stream. CamTwist can be downloaded for FREE here, and setup instructions are here. Sadly, CamTwist is not compatible with Windows, but OBS can perform the same functionality by adding your webcam as a “Source” over the “Capture Card.” Flash Media Live Encoder is compatible with Windows and Mac.
These programs are more than capable of getting you started, and as you become more familiar with them, you can tweak their settings to your own tastes. The best part about many of these programs…they’re FREE! :-)
Finally, I will lightly touch on some other equipment you will need. Most importantly, you will need a microphone in order to capture your voice. If you have an iPhone, there are microphone apps that you can download to allow the iPhone to function as a camera. Similar apps may be available on the Android Marketplace, but I haven’t tested this myself. To use an iPhone or smartphone, all you will need is this:
This is a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable, which you would connect from your smartphone’s headphone jack into your computer’s microphone jack, and then enable your Microphone application. Of course, you could also purchase a computer microphone, many of which are simply plug and play devices that require no additional software to operate short of any drivers that may need to be installed after you plug them in. If you have a webcam that comes with a microphone, you could use that instead. In the end, what you pay for is what you get. Many high-end microphones come with noise-cancelling features and mute buttons, but if you are concerned about filtering out noise, pantyhose stretched around a piece of metal (even a coat hanger) will work in a pinch! That’s right…PANTYHOSE!
Just make sure the ‘hose is new and clean, alright? :-)
For many of us who talk too loudly (myself included), microphone pop is the mechanical impact on the microphone whenever fast-moving air goes over it. Furthermore, saliva can corrode your microphone’s internal parts over time, so I would recommend using a pop filter if you plan on using a dedicated microphone. For ease of operation, I would recommend investing in a webcam with a microphone even if you don’t use its video feature (though your viewers may enjoy seeing your reactions as you progress through your game). Just do your homework to ensure that the microphone/webcam is compatible with your system before purchasing, shop around for the best compatibility and price, and ALWAYS hold on to your receipts and packaging in case there are any issues with the equipment. Don’t be that person who buys new equipment and tosses everything out!
Short of the capture card, webcam and microphone, there really isn’t that much of an investment into doing Let’s Plays and as you can see, there are many options available. Always consider your computer’s hardware before making any purchases. I have plinked down many man hours trying to perfect my setup, from streaming/recording to editing, and if a clown can do it, anyone can! Nothing would make me happier than to see my fellow gamers who have been itching to stream/record Let’s Plays have a crack at it. I sincerely hope that this article has been a tremendous help to you and good luck! Lumpz the Clown OUT!
Lumpz the Clown, Electronics Guru at Gaming Rebellion