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 overwhelming at first. Our guide will help you figure out the basics before you jump in.

The Truth About 1080p and 60 FPS 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 on the bandwagon. Every capture device boasts 1080p and 60 FPS these days.

Still, they don't tell you something significant. Recording games at 1080p and 60FPS at a bitrate that makes it look good results in huge video files. These huge files put a strain on your editing rig. Forget about uploading the final product anywhere unless you have a fast 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 and shrunk to a lower bitrate (and, up until recently and only on Chrome, they only show 30 FPS). YouTube does other things to make the compressed video look better when you watch, so not all is lost.

Streaming on Twitch also has a max bitrate of 3500, which is low, particularly if you use 1080p and 60 FPS.

What Is Bitrate?

The bitrate is how much data makes up each second of video. The higher the bitrate, the more information is used to present an image, the better the image quality. More data means bigger file sizes. 1080p resolution involves more data than 720p because it uses a larger number of pixels. Because it uses more pixels, you need a higher bitrate to make it look good.

When you add in 60 FPS, the amount of data increases once again. On the high end with high bitrates and all of the bells and whistles, file sizes can be multiple gigabytes for 15 minutes of video. On the low end, it's smaller than that.

High Quality Comes at a Cost

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

Also, do you have a decent upload speed? Making large, pretty-looking videos isn't worth it if it takes days to upload them. The final thing to consider is what video editor you'll use. Lower-end or free editors do a poor job with high-quality video, so you'll lose some of that quality. 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 a high upload speed, a great editing computer, 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. While you want the video to look good, it doesn't have to be high res. You can record at 720p and 30 FPS at a reasonable bitrate, and no one will complain.

If your objective is to show off something visually, and the point is to wow people with how good it looks, record at higher settings. Think about your intended audience and what you want to show off, and decide on the settings from there.

Different types of games require different bitrates. You can record retro games at lower bitrates than modern games, for example, because there isn't as much detail on-screen or as much movement. For modern games with highly detailed images on the screen that constantly change and move around, you need a higher bitrate.

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

Experiment on your own and learn what your equipment can handle and how big of files you're comfortable with uploading, and go from there.

Video Capture Hardware

Most video capture hardware produces 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 capture at higher maximum bitrates than others. Still, max bitrates aren't necessary for YouTube videos. 

The feature set each capture device offers should be what 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.

Editing Software

Editing software is also essential. While you can use a free editing tool, those usually don't offer the final video quality or features of a premium editor like Adobe Premiere or other paid products. A good video editor will cost you.

Also, many of the capture devices come with editing software, but the software can be meager and you can rely on it for a while. However, you'll need to upgrade to something better eventually.

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