SSBM Streaming Guide – Part 4: Choosing a Capture Card

As a kid on YouTube in 2006, I wondered how Let’s-Players captured their gameplay.

Did they have a camera pointing at their TV?

Were they somehow emulating the game on a computer and recording it that way?

Or was there a method that was unknown to everyone but the Let’s-Players themselves?

It turned out that while some recorded their gameplay with cameras focused on their TV, most people were capturing footage from their consoles with something called a “Capture Card”.

It’s a device that captures signals from your console and translates them to a video stream that your computer can present and record.

Time to choose a capture card. I’ll list some of the most popular choices, sorted from lowest to highest cost.

1. EasyCAP

  • Price: $6 (varies)
  • Inputs: Composite, S-video
  • Video format: 480i 30fps
  • USB 2.0
  • Link

If you just want to get out there and capture some gameplay, but you’v got less than $47 in your bank account (reference to Tai Lopez), then this is your best choice.

There are a lot of versions of this capture card, some real, some fake, so this is a risky card.

2. Diamond VC500

  • Price: $34
  • Inputs: Composite, S-video
  • Video format: 480i 30fps
  • USB 2.0
  • Link

This was VJA Smash’s first capture card. Tweaked with the right settings, it could look good.

I started seeing a great increase in quality once I started using S-video with this card. Check out VJA Smash Inferno on YouTube to see some examples of this card in action.

3. Elgato Game Capture HD

  • Price: $136
  • Inputs: HDMI, Composite, Component, S-video
  • Video format: 1080p 30fps, 480i 60fps, 480i 30fps, 480p 60fps, 720p 60fps
  • USB 2.0
  • Link

This is VJA Smash’s current capture card. Check out some S-video 480i 30fps example by looking up VJA Smash Weeklies.

It’s very versatile, accepting a wide variety of formats. For S-video, you have to buy an extra $15 cable from their website.

The problem with this card is that there is a few second delay on the computer output. However, there is an HDMI out port that compensates for this.

4. AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable

  • Price: $142
  • Inputs: HDMI, Component, Composite
  • Video Format: Same as Elgato HD
  • USB 2.0
  • Link

I’ve seen a lot of Twitch streamers that use this card. I think it’s basically just like the Elgato HD. I’m not very sure that it captures more than just HDMI though. Please do your research.

5. Elgato Game Capture HD60

  • Price: $152
  • Inputs: HDMI
  • Video Format: 1080p 60fps and everything below basically
  • USB 2.0
  • Link

This card is just like the Elgato HD, except that it can capture 1080p at 60 fps instead of 30.

HDMI is the only port though, so you won’t be able to stream consoles other than the Wii U, unless you have an adapter.

6. Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle

  • Price: $189
  • Inputs: HDMI, Composite, Component, S-video
  • Video Format: Same as Elgato HD
  • USB 3.0
  • Link

The mother of all consumer capture cards. The beauty of the card is in its inputs and outputs: it provides a lagless pass-through for every single input.

This allows you to capture component 480p and let your players play on an old CRT with composite 480i.

This card requires certain computer hardware, so do your research before buying it.

7. Honorable Mentions:

There are a lot more capture cards than that, but these are the most popular ones for streaming Smash.

Depending on the capture card you choose (most of the HDMI ones don’t require one), you may need to buy AV splitters. These will allow you to split the console’s video and audio signal to both the players’ TV and the capture card. I use these. If you don’t have composite cables for the splitters, you’ll also need these (your capture card may come with them).

Next segment: Configuring OBS.

SSBM Streaming Guide – Part 3: Things You’ll Need

In this segment, I will cover the necessities of streaming or recording Melee (or another title).

1. Console and Game

Obviously, you will need an N64, GameCube, Wii, or Wii U depending on your desired game.

For Melee, I’d recommend using a Wii. It offers cheaper and more abundant options for video cables compared to the GameCube.

2. Computer

Again, this is obvious, but not just any computer will work.

While you might get away with streaming on a Mac, it’s harder and might be impossible with some capture cards that don’t support Mac.

I highly recommend to go with a Windows 7/8/10 desktop or laptop. A cheap laptop probably won’t have the power, but it’s worth trying. Use this site to see if you’ll be able to stream.

If you are opting to just record your gameplay, I’d recommend having a big, fast hard drive that could store it just in time.

3. Internet Connection (Streaming Only)

Streaming to the internet requires a fast and stable connection.

If you want to dramatically reduce the chance of dropping frames or disconnecting, then go with an Ethernet cable rather than over wireless.

Twitch allows a stream upload speed of up to 3500 kbps. Once again refer to this site, which links to a site that will check your upload speed.

Depending on your stream’s resolution, it’s even possible to stream at a half or even a fifth of that speed. Here’s what it will look like: video.

4. Cameras (Optional)

If you want to capture the players or the commentators, cameras could spice up your stream life.

The standard for streamers is the Logitech C920 Webcam. In addition to its high quality, it also can be mounted onto a tripod.

Other good options are the Logitech C270 and the Logitech C525. I have used all three of these webcams and I can say that there is definitely a quality difference based on the price.

Logitech webcams are the best webcams, by the way.

5. Headsets/Microphones (Optional)

If you have player or broadcaster commentary, a microphone will let your viewers feel more of the game’s atmosphere.

While my club usually uses standalone microphones such as the Blue Yeti or the Blue Snowball, professional streams like VGBootCamp always have headsets.

If you go with headsets, go for a noise cancelling microphone. I can’t offer any links because we haven’t had very successful headset streams.

Also, if you’re into it, add an Audio Mixer to mix up the audio (I haven’t tried it, but I want to).

6. Capture Card

The Capture Card is the device that will be capturing the video and audio for your game. In the next guide, I will give a list of viable capture cards with links on where to buy them.

Also, depending on the capture card you choose, you may need some additional items that I will also talk about in that guide.

7. A TV

Duh. Depending on your capture card and video cables, you may need a TV with special ports.

But basically, I’d recommend an LCD/LED for Smash 4 and a CRT for anything else.

If you’re in the mood for a CRT, go to your local electronics recycling place or take a cruise around the neighborhood on garbage day. You shouldn’t have to pay for anything but gas.

I’ve got a friend that’s been collecting free TV’s. If he can get 10+ TV’s, you can get one!

8. Extra Monitor (Optional)

If you have commentators, you might want them to look at a screen different from the players’ TV.

Make sure it’s got the inputs that your computer or capture card can output to.

I think that’s everything. Next episode: choosing a capture card!

SSBM Streaming Guide – Part 2: How Video Signals Work

Ever wonder what the “p” in 1080p stood for? What’s the difference between 1080p, 1080i, 720p, and 720i?

This part of the SSBM Streaming Guide will teach you everything you need to know to choose the right input method.

All Smash games run at 60 frames per second. That means that every 17 milliseconds, the game’s logic is updated, and the controllers are polled for button inputs.

While most televisions have a 60 Hz refresh rate, that doesn’t mean that they’re displaying 60 full frames every second.

It depends on the TV and the format of the console’s output.

Composite (480i)

Let’s begin with the Nintendo Wii.

The Nintendo Wii comes with a 480i composite cable. You can distinguish this gray cable by looking at the plugs: a yellow, white, and red plug.

The white and red plugs are for stereo audio; respectively, they provide the left and right speakers with audio.

The yellow cable is called a “composite” cable. It outputs 480i video. The 480 means it has a height of 480 pixels. The “i” stands for interlaced. Here is a brief explanation of how interlacing works from Wikipedia:

Interlaced video is a technique for doubling the perceived frame rate of a video display without consuming extra bandwidth. The interlaced signal contains two fields of a video frame captured at two different times. This enhances motion perception to the viewer, and reduces flicker by taking advantage of the phi phenomenon.

This technique is used by nearly all CRT TVs.

Basically, the screen is split into two fields of horizontal lines like so:

Therefore, for any frame, you’re only getting half of the picture. The other half is part of the previous frame.

The S-video cable also produced a 480i signal. However, the S-video cable produces higher picture quality because it has two separate signals.

Component (480p)

There’s another set of cables known as “component” cables. They’re the ones that have 5 plugs: red, green, blue, white, and another red.

Once again, the last two are for audio.

But this time, the red, green, and blue plugs together provide a 480p signal. The “p” in 480p means progressive scan.

In progressive scan, every frame is drawn every 1/60th of a second, so you’re not losing half of the video content. Instead you’ve got the full, crispy picture.

The problem with this format is that 99.9% of CRT TV’s aren’t able to output 480p.

Display Lag

“Alright, Truski, I’ll bring you a flat screen 32 inch TV to stream with.”

Please don’t do that unless we’re playing some sweet sweet Smash 4. Did I mention that Chicago loves Smash 4?

A lot of people don’t understand why every Smash game other than Smash 4 should be played on a CRT and not on an LCD TV.

To put it extremely simply, LCD TV’s display a digital picture. N64s, GameCubes, and Wiis all output an analog signal (there are some exceptions).

The LCD TV has to convert the analog signal into a digital signal. That could take, say, 70 milliseconds, which equates to 4 frames of lag. In frame tight situations this is unacceptable.

Read more about Display Lag.

1080p and 720p

1080p and 720p are video formats that the Wii U outputs. The HDMI cable that comes with the Wii U is compatible with these formats. Both are known as “HD” and fully show every frame. The only difference is the resolution. Here’s a graphic showing the sizes:

1080i and 720i

These are the same as 1080p and 720p, but they use interlaced scan. While 1080i is used, 720i is very rare.

Why this all matters

Another way to describe video resolutions and frame rates is by having the true frame rate after the “p” or “i”.

If a video format has p in its name, it’s showing 60 frames per second.

On the other hand, if it has an i in its name, it’s like it’s showing 30 frames per second.

When your computer is trying to capture the video signal, the difference between these frame rates is very easy to tell.

Just compare The Big House 5 to VJA Smash Weekly 4.

The difference is tremendous. We love our progressive 60 fps, don’t we folks?

Now that you have learned the basics of video signals, you should have taken away with you the following tidbits:

  • The difference between interlaced and progressive.
  • What the numbers and letters in video signal names mean.
  • Why LCD TVs have display lag.
  • Which cables produce which signal.

In the next part of this guide, we will be talking about the things you need to successfully stream Smash.