Video Capture

Capturing your gaming experience has become much easier over the years and I always encourage anyone interesting in streaming with their friends to give it a try.  If you’re using a modern console – Or a retro console that’s outputting HDMI from a scaler or mod – things are pretty straightforward:  Casual streamers can get started on a budget with not much setup and have a good experience.

Unfortunately, capturing a flawless reproduction of your game console’s signal is tricky with any generation and when analog video is involved, it can get really complicated.  This section hopes to make all of that easier, showing both beginner and expert options for most scenarios.

While this section might be enough for most people to get started, the R3 team is constantly testing new methods and covering lots of niche use cases.  They were also a huge help in getting these pages created, so please check them out:  http://r3.fyi/

 

Video Capture Hardware – Beginner Options

If you’re just starting out streaming and simply want to share you gaming experience with friends, I’d strongly recommend getting the cheapest capture card available.  Unlike cheap scalers and cables, getting a low-quality capture card won’t affect your gaming experience at all:  Simply split the signal before it gets to the capture card.  If your goal is gaming on a CRT and capturing digitally, there are many ways to safely split the analog signal to route one output to a monitor and the other to a scaler.  If you’re gaming on a flat-panel, it’s even easier:  Simply use a cheap HDMI splitter to send one output to your display and the other to the capture card.

Here’s an option I often recommend for beginners…not because it’s good, but because it’s less than $20.  You’ll want to set your scaler or console to 720p (480p is fine too if you’re a TINK2x/RAD2x user), but anything higher than that won’t hit 60fps.  I’m sure the colors will be slightly off and it’ll probably even drop frames…but for $20, I think it’s the perfect device to get started.  Even if you someday upgrade to a “pro” solution like discussed in the rest of this section, you can still hold onto this one as a backup:

Stone Age Gamer Link:  https://retrorgb.link/oldskoolusbcapture
Amazon Link:  https://amzn.to/3CgWpny
Audio fix (if yours records in mono):  https://www.reddit.com/r/obs/comments/mm0saj/psa_if_youre_using_one_of_those_cheapo_1020ish/

I’m sure there’s plenty of other cheap, entry-level options out there that are fine as well.  Regardless of what you choose, just try not to spend too much money if you’re just getting started and are unsure of how far you’d like to go with all of this.

Video Capture Hardware – Higher End Solutions For Retro Gamers

As stated above, if you’re just looking to get started, any capture card is fine…but if you’re on RetroRGB.com, you’re probably interested in a quality option as well.  While new models of capture cards are constantly being released, all new cards can be broken down into two basic categories:  Ones that provide a truly uncompressed capture and ones that don’t.  If you’re not creating archival footage, or doing analysis comparisons, my suggestion is to just get whatever’s the most cost-effective solution for your setup.  Look for features that fit your workflow, or available connectivity options.  A good example is the Live Gamer 4K:  It’s not a fully uncompressed solution, but can capture 4K60, has an HDMI passthrough and generally does a fine job overall:  https://www.retrorgb.com/avermedia-live-gamer-4k-review.html

If you’re looking for uncompressed captures (including true 4:4:4 colorspace), you’ll either need to spend a ton of money on a new card, or purchase used.  Here’s some of my favorite cards, that can even accept direct analog RGB and component video (more on that later):

Datapath Vision

I use the Datapath Vision E1 or E2; Identical cards, but the “2” has two inputs instead of one.  The “s” versions of the card can support multiple 1080p windows accessing the streams, but offer no other functionality over the non-s versions.

I’ve briefly tested older versions of the Vision line and at first glance, they seemed to work well.  I wasn’t able to verify against this guide, but if you have one, give it a try, as the software should be very similar.

Epiphan DVI2USB 3.0

Another excellent card for 480p and up is the Epiphan DVI2USB 3.0.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get resolutions lower than 480p working properly (I’d need to capture at 4x for the card to recognize the signal), however developer Michael Huth has created a guide and even an alignment tool for it.  While I hope to someday get it working with retro-gaming resolutions, at the moment, this card should be used for resolutions between 480p and 720p, up to 60fps.  Luckily, it can accept DVI, HDMI, VGA and component video, all utilizing the full RGB colorspace.  Here’s Michael’s guides:

http://retronn.de/imports/capture_setup.html
http://retronn.de/imports/dvi2pcie_align_tool.html

 

Analog Scalers:

Most people will benefit from converting an analog signal to digital and scaling the image before capturing.  If you’ve split your analog signal and just need a basic way to digitize, any scaler will get you started.  In fact, this is the perfect scenario for those terrible SCART to HDMI boxes:  They won’t look perfect, but if you’re just looking to share your gaming experience with friends, they’ll be fine.  Check out the following video at the 7:20 mark for more info:  https://youtu.be/ZUrqWN4AcJc

If you’d like to improve the quality of your captures, a good entry-level options are the RetroTINK2x / RAD2x devices.  They output decent quality 480p video, which you can then scale in your capture software however you’d like.

If you’d like more control over your signal and higher quality output options, the Framemeister and RetroTINK 5x both provide excellent options and deinterlaced 480i signals look great.  If you don’t own either yet, definitely stick with the RT5x!  It’s an amazing solution that’s great for both capture and gaming.  That said, if you already own a Framemeister and only need it for capture, it’s an excellent solution – I just suggest taking the time to load FirebrandX’s profiles, to get the proper aspect ratio and scale.

The Open Source Scan Converter is another excellent choice and it provides an interesting option:  Dialing in picture-perfect captures, for each console and each resolution it supports.  Unfortunately, many capture cards have issues with these settings and while “generic” mode is more compatible, you won’t always get the best look.  Overall, it’s an excellent scaler and capture device, but I’d either recommend it for experts, or people who’ll just run it in generic mode;  That’ll still look great at a good price, but you won’t get the pixel-perfect, expert look.

Direct Analog Video Capture

The Datapath and Epiphan cards linked above, as well as any others like them will work with VGA, component video and RGB.  All signals will need a low-pass filter (LPF) applied to reduce noise (or oversampled – More on that in their respective sections), as with any analog to digital conversion.  Also, the RGBs signals will need to present csync at a higher voltage than most SCART equipment outputs, often requiring a sync stripper.  Luckily, there’s some inexpensive hardware that can accomplish just that:

HD Retrovision

One easy solution is to use the HD Retrovision component video cables, for consoles that are supported.  Since they’re component video, you don’t need to worry about sync and they have a low-pass filter built in, so interference shouldn’t be an issue. All you’ll need is a cheap RCA to DVI passthrough cable and a coupler; Only around ten dollars of equipment!

RCA to DVI Passthrough Adapter:  https://amzn.to/2GWm6Rj
RCA Component Video Coupler:  https://amzn.to/2EiNcQO
RCA to 3.5mm for Audio:  https://amzn.to/2NhmhHG

SCART Cleaner

The SCART Cleaner is an open-source (CERN OHLv2) device, designed for 15KHz (240p & 480i) retro gaming signals.  This device is powered by USB, passes through audio and has toggle switches for both the LPF and sync stripper.  More information can be found here:  https://www.retrorgb.com/scartcleaner.html

Comp Cleaner

Much like the SCART Cleaner, the Comp Cleaner is another open-source (CERN OHLv2) device, designed to accept component video signals ranging from 240p to 1080i.  There’s a switchable low-pass filter that will allow you to add a low-pass filter to each range of signals.  More details here:  https://www.retrorgb.com/compcleaner.html

 

Audio Hardware

Almost all HDMI capture cards should include support for audio.  If your source signal was digital to begin with (like any console that outputs HDMI natively), then you probably won’t need to worry about audio at all.

If you’re a casual streamer, or aren’t doing any archival or analysis capture, using the analog to digital converter that’s built into your scaler should be more than good enough!

If you’re an expert, looking for the best possible analog audio capture – Or if you’re capture card doesn’t support audio at all (like the Datapath Vision’s), you’ll need a way to capture analog audio directly.  While you could certainly just try whatever audio solution is built into your scaler, there’s some quality, tested solutions out there that provide amazing audio capture:

MOTU M4 USB Interface:  https://amzn.to/3xYJ4Ps
M-Audio AP192K PCI Audio Card (often hard to find): https://ebay.us/UvFsqk
RCA Adapters for 1/4 Inputs:  https://amzn.to/3euoX43

Both of the above solutions performed remarkably well and are verified by the MD Fourier team.  I highly recommend checking out that project as well, including their Discord server:  Artemio Launches MDFourier Audio Preservation Project

Capture Software

Setting up software for casual streaming is fairly easy.  I use OBS, but there’s also XSplit and a few other solutions out there that will work great for most people.

If you’re looking for pixel-perfect captures, you’ll want software that gives you more control over the signal.  I haven’t found a “perfect” solution, but I’ve used Virtual Dub and Amarec, which mostly work well…each with their own caveats.  Hopefully someday we can create software that’s sole purpose is to capture video games, in their exact original framerates with no compression:

Capturing with VDub2

Capturing with Amarec

 

Direct Video Capture

If you’re looking to capture analog video directly, things are much more complicated.  In most cases, I’d suggest using a scaler instead, however there’s one scenario in which I found direct-capture extremely helpful:  If done correctly, uncompressed captures of 240p game signals can be a perfect representation of the image, that barely takes up space on your hard drive.  Also, capturing in the original resolution allows you to manipulate the signal any way you’d like, allowing it to fit in any target video resolution.

If you’re someone analyzing signals of classic game consoles, or if you’re a historian looking to archive accurate representations of this era of gaming, this might be a great solution for you.  I’ve created a guide to help people using Datapath vision capture cards with classic game consoles, but the theory should be applicable to any capture card that supports full uncompressed analog video signal capture:  https://www.retrorgb.com/datapathcapture.html

 

Scaling Captures

After capturing, you may want to scale the video to a different resolution (especially if it’s a 240p direct capture!).  With modern games, or some older games that feature 3D graphics, this isn’t a huge deal and most people will be happy using whatever method is built into their video editing software.

If you’re capturing classic games with 2D graphics, you’ll need to follow a specific procedure to retain the sharp look of the image.  The procedure is basically the same, regardless if you’re scaling direct-captured 240p video, 480p video captured from a TINK2x, or even 1080p video you’d like to scale to 4K:  https://www.retrorgb.com/virtualdub.html

Video Tutorial

Here’s a video tutorial that sums most of this up.  It starts with direct capture, but if you’re capturing from a digital source (scaler, HDMI console, etc), you can just skip that part:

 

Conclusion

Once again, if you just want to stream your games, or add some causal retro gaming footage to your videos, I strongly suggest whatever’s the cheapest and easiest solution for you.  For most people, sharing their game experience with friends is much more important than obsessing over stream quality and you don’t need an expensive, complicated solution to do that.
Now, on the flip side, if you’re a “historian” who’s looking to accurately capture these games, or someone doing analysis/comparison footage, it’s worth the effort to represent these signals properly.  While it’s a bit of a learning curve, after doing it a few times, it’ll seem much less complicated.