Streaming is rising in popularity as it opens many opportunities for games and other content creators to monetize their hobbies and passions. Twitch is one of the most popular streaming platforms, you’ll almost always find gaming content on there as that was what it was made for.
Most streamers are prevalent on PC, but you can find many people streaming their console content so that’s probably what’s got you wondering about the requirements for streaming. Streaming on PC requires you to meet a few requirements, usually a decent processor with 6-8 processing cores. Streaming on a console is quite different.
Answer: Capture cards are devices that capture the display of one device and send it to another, this is used to offset the streaming onto a dedicated system. You do not need a capture card to stream as you can just stream on the device you’re gaming on, this can be easily done with software such as OBS.
What Is A Capture Card?
Capture cards are devices used to capture on-screen content and record it; it then sends this high-quality signal from your PC or Console(Primary Device) and sends it over to your streaming device. So it basically works between your streaming device and your gaming device, but capture cards are not always necessary to stream.
When you’re gaming, the data is being sent into the capture card for it to send that data in a language form for Twitch or Youtube to understand. This raw data will be encoded by your streaming device, usually a dedicated streaming machine so it can be displayed for your viewers to watch, capture cards do not encode data.
There are two types of capture cards, Internal and External, and both aim to achieve the same thing. Internal capture cards are plugged directly into your motherboard usually via PCI-E port, and external capture cards are plugged in via USB. There are subtle differences, but mostly it comes down to personal preference.
External capture cards are really easy to use, it’s literal plug and play and the computer will understand the capture card like it was any other USB device. There are many brands to select from, but the most popular is Elgato and Magewell.
Internal capture cards are less portable as it requires you to plug directly into the motherboard, they provide a more consistent and stable signal and usually support a wider range of resolutions. This option is usually best if you’re serious about streaming and producing high-quality content.
With capture cards, there is so much to choose from as they all support different quality types, they come in at different prices and produce many different outputs such as HDMI or SDI. So you have so much to choose from.
Why Would You Need A Capture Card?
Capture cards are usually used because the user is streaming from a device that doesn’t support built-in streaming capabilities, or the user wants to offload the streaming load from their primary device onto a dedicated streaming PC. So this means capture cards are not always necessary, sometimes it’s a choice to use one.
Top streamers will usually have two PCs, a primary PC, and a dedicated streaming PC, so they have a whole PC dedicated to streaming, usually of lower specs. The primary PC will send data to the capture card so the capture card can send the raw signal to the dedicated streaming PC. Usually, people do this so they can save resources on their primary PC because streaming is a resource-heavy task.
Another scenario where you’d need a capture card is when you’re gaming on a console, built-in streaming is cool and all, but they cannot compete with a capture card for the simple fact that the stream is limited by the console’s processing power. Capture cards can retrieve the data from the console, offload it onto a more powerful streaming PC for it to be encoded and rendered faster and with higher quality.
Another likely scenario where you’d require a capture card is where you want to use a DSLR camera as your webcam. DSLR cameras offer superior picture quality but you need a capture card to convert the signal into a digital signal. This is obviously ideal if your built-in webcam isn’t good enough, and you have a DSLR camera that you can use as a webcam.
So, Can You Stream Without A Capture Card?
To stream without a capture card, your device will need to have built-in streaming capabilities that are usually prevalent in most gaming consoles and PCs. PCs can stream without a capture card, but you will need to download a few things, OBS for the data encoding, and a platform you can stream to, usually Twitch.
The downside to not using a capture card is that the primary device will have to share CPU resources with the stream, so if you’re gaming, it can get quite laggy. This isn’t ideal if you’re playing competitive games such as CSGO, or League Of Legends, and you’ll find many streamers that play these games using dedicated streaming PCs.
Also, single streaming PCs will not be able to compete with dedicated streaming PCs in terms of raw speed, quality, and consistency. So for this reason, we’d recommend you build a dedicated streaming PC if you’ve already built a decent following and want to increase your stream quality.
How To Stream Without A Capture Card?
If you’re on PC then you have all the requirements you need right off the bat, but it might not be a great experience depending on your specifications. PCPARTGUIDE recommends a single streaming PC have at least 8 cores, this is because streaming is quite CPU heavy. If you meet these hardware requirements, all you need to do is download Twitch and OBS, OBS is to encode the stream, and Twitch is to Livestream it.
If you’re on a console, it’s simple as the specifications are set, you cannot change it. Depending on the console it might come with Twitch pre-installed, to stream on PS4/PS5, you need to press the share button, press broadcast gameplay then choose the streaming service, usually Twitch or Youtube.
So, streaming via capture is usually to offload the streaming onto a more capable device so it doesn’t jeopardize the stream and your gaming capabilities. It makes sense to stream on a single device initially as it can be expensive to purchase a whole different computer and its peripherals just for streaming.
To conclude this post, you do not need a capture card to stream, you can stream on a single device pretty easily if you have the specifications, or you’re streaming via console. But purchasing a capture card and offloading the stream onto a dedicated device can make the stream slightly more enjoyable whilst making your primary device less laggy.