Basics of Capturing Gaming Videos for YouTube

Bitrate, hardware, software and more

Making gaming YouTube videos is a lot of fun, but it can be pretty overwhelming at first. Our guide will help you figure out the basics before you jump in.

The Truth About 1080p / 60FPS Gaming Videos

1080p resolution and 60 FPS have been the rallying cry in the console wars so far this generation, and even the video capture industry has jumped onto the bandwagon. Every capture device is boasting 1080p / 60FPS these days. Still, they don't tell you something significant — recording games at 1080p / 60FPS at a bitrate that makes it look good results in insanely huge video files. These huge files put a massive strain on your editing rig and forget about uploading the final product anywhere unless you have crazy upload speed.

Computer gamer playing late at night
gremlin / Getty Images

They also don't tell you that when you upload your video to YouTube, it gets compressed to hell and back and shrunk to a much lower bitrate (and up until recently, and even now only on Chrome, they only show 30FPS anyway), so what is the point? YouTube does do other things to make the compressed video look better when you watch, so not all is lost, but it is still a lot of hype for something YouTube is going to chew up and spit out. Streaming on Twitch also has a max bitrate of 3500, which is pretty darn low, particularly if you're on the 1080p / 60FPS train. 

What Is Bitrate?

We keep saying, "bitrate." What is bitrate? The bitrate is how much data makes up each second of the video. The higher the bitrate, the more information used to present an image, the better the image quality. More data means bigger file sizes. 1080p resolution has substantially more data involved than 720p, just because it uses a much larger number of total pixels, and because it uses more pixels, you need a higher bitrate to make it look good.

When you add in 60FPS, the amount of data dramatically increases once again. On the high end with high bitrates and all of the bells and whistles, we're talking file sizes in the range of multiple gigabytes just for 15-minutes of video, to give you an example. On the low end, well, it's a heck of a lot smaller than that.  

High Quality Comes at a Cost

When you want to start a gaming YouTube channel, you need to think about all of these factors. Do you have a decent computer you're going to edit with? Big files take longer to process and encode, so a good rig makes that go faster. Recording at high-res and high bitrate requires a decent computer as well, so a mediocre laptop probably isn't going to get the job done.

Also, do you have a decent upload speed? Making huge, pretty-looking videos isn't worth it if it takes days to upload them. The final thing you have to consider is what video editor you're going to use. Lower-end or free editors do a poor job with high-quality video, so you'll lose some of that quality you worked so hard for. Premium video editing software doesn't have this problem.

One Size Doesn't Fit All - Do What Works For You

Even if you don't have crazy upload speed, a great editing rig, and expensive video editing software, you can still make great videos. Don't get discouraged if you don't want to spend a bunch of money on new equipment. If you're doing a Let's Play channel, for example, your commentary and personality are the stars, so while you want the video to look good, it doesn't have to be crazy high res. You can record at 720p / 30FPS at a reasonable bitrate, and no one is going to complain. If your objective is to show off something visually, and the whole point is to wow people with how good it looks, then you'll need to record at higher settings. Think about your intended audience and what you want to show off, and decide on settings from there. 

One thing worth noting is that different types of games require different bitrates. You can record retro games at much lower bitrates than modern games, for example, because there isn't as much detail on-screen or as much movement. For modern games with more highly detailed things on the screen that are constantly changing and moving around, you need a higher bitrate.

If you don't have a high enough bitrate, the video will end up with many artifacts (blocky square things) because there isn't enough data to make it look smooth. For example, you'd need a higher bitrate to make Geometry Wars 3 or Killer Instinct look good compared to something like Monopoly because there's a lot more going on. 

We won't give you any exact numbers for bitrates because it is better to experiment on your own and figure things out. Learn what your equipment can handle and how big of files you're comfortable with uploading and go from there.

Video Capture Hardware

A vital point of this whole discussion is the video capture hardware you use. They all produce pretty much the same final video quality when you use the same settings across them, so you'll be happy with the picture quality you end up with regardless of which unit you buy. Some do capture at higher maximum bitrates than others, but as mentioned above, max bitrates aren't necessary for YouTube videos anyway. 

The feature set each capture device offers should be what ultimately helps you decide which one to buy. Do you want one with a PC-free mode, so you don't have to plug it into a laptop or PC to record? Do you prefer it USB powered, or is plugging it into a wall outlet sufficient? Do you want to record only HDMI stuff, or do you need component inputs as well? Do you want to record old-school game systems with composite cables? Some devices require higher specs to record correctly, so consider that as well. 

We've tested the Live Gamer Portable, AVerCapture HD, Hauppauge HDPVR 2, Roxio Game Capture HD PRO, and Elgato Game Capture HD60.

Editing Software

Editing software is also essential. While you can get away with using something free, those usually don't offer nearly the final video quality or overall features of a premium editor like Adobe Premiere or other paid products. Just be warned, a good video editor will cost you. Also, while many of the capture devices do come with editing software, a lot of it is pretty meager, so while you can rely on it for a while, you will need to upgrade to something better eventually. 

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