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How To Use a Capture Card on a Laptop

A capture card is a device you connect to a computer to record on-screen audio and video. It encodes the output signals for live streaming or high-quality playback. Capture cards are often used with gaming consoles, but you can also use them with a camera or another computer.

Here are the steps to use a capture card on a laptop:

  1. Know what to look for when buying the right capture card.
  2. Check if your laptop is compatible with your capture card.
  3. Make sure you have 2 HDMI cables and a USB cable.
  4. Plug the first HDMI cable into your capture card’s IN port.
  5. Plug the same HDMI cable into your streaming device.
  6. Plug the other HDMI cable into your capture card’s OUT port.
  7. Plug the same HDMI cable into your monitor’s IN port.
  8. Plug the USB interface into any USB slot on your laptop.
  9. Download and install capture software.
  10. Add your capture card.
  11. Start streaming.

This article will explain each step in more detail, choosing the right capture card and discussing the installation process for both the hardware and software. To help you get started, we will also cover basic operating procedures using OBS Studio as an example. Keep reading to learn more!

1. Know What to Look For When Buying the Right Capture Card

There are so many different models to choose from when picking out a capture card. Prices start from as low as ten bucks and can quickly go north of a thousand dollars. 

If you plan on purchasing a capture card to stream or record videos from an external device to your laptop, you can come up with a shortlist and select the right one for you by taking some of these factors into consideration. 

Video Quality Capabilities

Capture cards will differ in terms of the resolutions and frame rates they are capable of supporting. 

Resolution is expressed by the number of pixels that run on the vertical axis of a monitor. For example, a monitor with a resolution of 1080p usually has 1920 pixels on its horizontal axis and 1080 pixels on its vertical axis. 

Frame rate, on the other hand, signifies the number of images that appear in succession for every second. Also known as refresh rate, the frame rate of your laptop will greatly impact how smoothly each frame on your screen flows. Hence, the unit used to measure frame rate is frames per second or FPS.

To keep things simple, all you need to know is that capture cards that support higher resolutions and frame rates will produce sharper images and smoother motions. 

How much quality you need will depend on the type of content you want to record. Gaming content may require a capture card that can support 4k at 60fps. At a minimum, you should choose a capture card that can support 1080p (FHD) with a frame rate of 30fps if you plan on uploading your videos to platforms like YouTube. 

It’s important to note that your system requirements will get higher as you increase the quality of resolution and frame rate. 

Types of Input Sources

Make sure the capture card you choose has the correct input port for the device you want to connect to. Most modern cameras and gaming consoles work with HDMI cables. 

However, older devices use component cables. So if you plan on streaming from an older device like a Nintendo 64, you need to find a capture card with that type of input port.

Interface Options

A capture card’s interface is how you connect it to the computer with the software to record and stream your video. The most common interface is a USB or USB-C since it is easy to install and set up. 

There are also capture cards that connect directly to the computer’s motherboard’s PCIe slot, so these are not an option if you’re using a laptop. One of the advantages of this type of interface is that they are not limited by bandwidth specifications that can cause lagging. This is especially true when you have multiple peripherals connected to your computer’s USB ports.

A less common type of interface is a Thunderbolt 3. This interface looks identical to a USB-C and can accommodate USB-C devices. The difference is that Thunderbolt 3 can transfer data much faster. 

The Klocaty HDMI Video Capture Card (available on Amazon.com) uses a USB interface, making it extremely easy to install. It also supports 1080p resolution, so you can expect it to produce good video quality.

2. Check if Your Laptop Is Compatible With Your Capture Card

You also need to ensure your laptop is compatible by checking if it has all the necessary ports and the minimum system requirements for the capture card you plan to install. 

The capture card may fail to run smoothly if your computer falls below the requirements, such as lacking power, memory, or storage space. Some capture cards only work with USB 3.0 cables, so it is extremely important to check for compatibility before making any purchases.

3. Make Sure You Have 2 HDMI Cables and a USB Cable

Before installation, you need to ensure that you have at least two HDMI cables and a male-to-male USB cable if your capture card does not have a USB interface. 

The first HDMI cable will serve as the input cable from your device to your capture card, and the second HDMI cable will serve as the output cable from your capture card to your screen. Finally, the USB cable will connect the capture card to your computer.

Keep in mind that not all capture cards come with HDMI cables out of the box.

4. Plug the First HDMI Cable Into Your Capture Card’s IN Port

If your laptop is up to spec and you have everything you need, the first step is to plug the first cable into the HDMI IN port of your capture card. Each port should be clearly labeled, so you can’t miss it. 

You can think of your capture card’s HDMI IN port as the receiving end of all the data that travels through the cable. As you can imagine, things won’t go as planned if the input HDMI cable isn’t plugged into the HDMI IN port!

5. Plug the Same HDMI Cable Into Your Streaming Device

Next, plug the other end of the first HDMI cable into the HDMI OUT port of the device you want to stream from. This port is where your device sends data from—be it a gaming console, camera, or another computer.

Once the first HDMI cable is connected to both ports, it serves as a bridge where data can be transmitted from your device to your capture card. Your device will continuously send data for the capture card to record and encode so the video can be uploaded to sites like YouTube and Twitch using your laptop.

6. Plug the Other HDMI Cable Into Your Capture Card’s OUT Port

The next step is to plug the second HDMI cable into the HDMI OUT port of the capture card. This output port is where your capture card sends out the recorded and encoded data to be displayed on a screen.

Again, make sure the cable is connected to the HDMI OUT and not the HDMI IN port! Connecting the cables to the right ports will save you a lot of trouble down the road. 

7. Plug the Same HDMI Cable Into Your Monitor’s IN Port

Take the other end of the second cable and plug it into the HDMI input of a TV or monitor. A TV will usually have multiple HDMI inputs, so take note of which one you plugged it into so you can later select the correct source to view your video. The ports are often labeled with a corresponding number, such as HDMI 1, HDMI 2, and so on.

8. Plug the USB Interface Into Any USB Slot on Your Laptop

Most capture cards have a built-in USB cable with only one end sticking out. If this is the case, just plug the end of the USB cable into your laptop’s USB port.

Other capture cards come with a separate USB cable with plugs on both sides. Plug one end into the capture card and the other into your laptop. 

The USB cable plugged into your laptop will serve as a power source, and a means for your computer and capture card to communicate with each other. Your computer should recognize the capture card as a new device. 

After completing steps 1 to 5, you can now run your capture card software. If you don’t have software yet, continue reading steps 6 to 9.

9. Download and Install Capture Software 

You need to download and install capture software to run your capture card. Your capture card should come with software supplied by the manufacturer. However, you can use other software depending on your needs.

There are many capture software to choose from, and—despite performing what is essentially the same function,—each one will have unique features and limitations. You must choose the right software to match your needs, capture card specs, and the computer’s operating system.

Prices for capture software range widely, but if you’re hesitant to spend money on one, you’ll be happy to know there are many free versions online. Most free versions do not come at the cost of quality, but some versions may charge you for additional features.

Here’s a table from Wondershare that shows the features that come with 10 of the best video capture apps.

Demo-CreatorWindows 10 GameBarCam-StudioVLCOBSQuick-TimeLoomJingMono-Snap
Customized recording windowYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
HD Video QualityYesYesYesNoYesNoNoYesYes
Webcam RecordingYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Audio RecordingYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Video EditingYesNoYesNoNoYesNoNoYes
Image EditingYesNoYesNoNoYesNoYesYes
Customize AreaYesYesNoNoNoNoNoYesYes
Set Frame RateNoYesNoYesYesNoNoNoNo

OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is a popular and free open-source software that enables you to run your capture card. You can use this software to record, encode and stream what’s displayed on your gaming console, camera, or computer. I’d recommend OBS to anyone looking for a free capture software that doesn’t sacrifice quality. 

Here’s how to install OBS on your computer:

  1. Using your preferred browser, go to the OBS Studio homepage. From there, you’ll be able to choose your computer’s operating system.
  2. Click on the operating system you’re using. You should see a prompt on your computer screen that indicates the software is downloading.
  3. Open the file once the download is complete.
  4. A prompt will appear asking permission to run the installer. Click ‘Yes.’
  5. You should shortly see the OBS Studio installer setup screen. Click ‘Next.’
  6. The License Agreement will then appear. If all is well after reading through the agreement, click ‘I Agree.’
  7. Next, choose where you want to install the software. You can stick with the default location or change the location by indicating the path. Click ‘Next.’
  8. You can indicate any additional components you would like to install on the next window. Simply indicate the components or click ‘Install’ if there aren’t any.
  9. Installation is now complete. Click ‘Finish.’
  10. An icon should appear on your desktop for you to launch the software for future use.

10. Add Your Capture Card

Now that you’ve installed the software, you’ll need to introduce your capture card. Do that by clicking on “Sources” and selecting the plus (+) sign to add a new source. Select your capture card and rename it.

If you want to add another device, such as a webcam, you can do so by repeating this step and selecting your webcam. You can adjust the image size from your webcam by clicking on the top left corner of the image and dragging it to your desired length and height.

11. Start Streaming

You now have your hardware connected and software installed, so you are ready to start broadcasting. 

If using OBS, you can start streaming by following these steps:

  • Go to Settings,
  • Click on Stream,
  • Select the platform you want to broadcast on from the dropdown,
  • Connect your account,
  • Click on Start Streaming

The software is relatively straightforward. However, if you encounter any issues, you can go to the help section of the OBS Studio website. 

Final Thoughts

Capture cards are handy if you need to record or stream videos from external devices, such as a gaming console and DSLR camera. Some people even use it with another computer or laptop to prevent straining their gaming PC. 

As long as there aren’t any compatibility issues, installing a capture card and its software on your computer can be done in a matter of minutes. Hopefully this article will serve as a helpful resource for you!

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