Review: Avermedia Extremecap U3 Capture Device
*Note: video and screenshots posted in this review were made possible by using a device that removes the HDCP encryption on the HDMI connection. All video and images were recorded by Glenn for the purpose of this review.*
Some would say that since the new generation of consoles include live-streaming and recording capabilities (or “will” include at some point) that there wouldn’t be a need for a capture device any more, but you’d be wrong. While the built-in features offer some limited streaming at sub-HD resolutions and recording with editing limited to a start and end time of a 15-minute clip, there’s still a much better opportunity to show the world your gaming prowess.
The device itself is quite compact, but right away you’ll notice a glaring omission, there’s no HDMI output for pass-through. The reasoning for this is that because you’re connecting to the device via USB 3.0, there’s no lag and you can play the game right on your computer monitor. In theory, this is correct, but as you’ll find out, if you plan on streaming your gameplay, this design hampers your abilities out of the box. Fortunately, it can easily be fixed with about $20 worth of equipment and cables, but we’ll get to that later.
Packaging is compact, and Avermedia provide (almost) everything you need to get started, including a USB 3.0 cable, HDMI, and even a component dongle that also allows you to connect analog audio sources via 2-channel RCA connections. What’s not in the box though is any sort of software media or detailed instructions past a quick-start guide. But with the proliferation of the Internet this isn’t much of an issue really. At the time of this review, the Avermedia Extremecap U3 only supports Windows, but Avermedia have assured me that Mac OS X support is on the way, which makes me happy since I edit on my Mac. Software installation is a breeze, and they even include a utility to check your USB 3.0 connection to assure that everything is ready to go. The RECentral app includes both Recording and Streaming features, and the U3 is also fully compatible with XSplit. Setting the software up is pretty easy overall, but this is where a couple of issues crop-up.
Avermedia advertise that the Extremecap U3 is capable of recording in a fully uncompressed manner, but that comes with a huge catch, and not one easily discoverable. I had to dig on the Avermedia website to find out why I was only being given the choice of recording in .mp4 format. After digging for a bit, I finally found an answer to my issue in their FAQ section:
“Yes, CV710 supports raw data capturing. However, recording in compressed or uncompressed format depends on the software you use. In order to record in 1080p@60 (uncompressed), the minimum system requirements should be as follows:
CPU: i7 with independent graphics card
Storage: SSD Raid 0
Recommended read and write speeds at 300MB/sec”
So, the problem here is that I don’t have a rig that meets these requirements, and quite frankly, these requirements are a tad ridiculous, especially needing an SSD in RAID0. Fortunately though, the performance in .mp4 is really good if you have a decently powerful machine, which you probably do if you have USB 3.0 connections. They’ve done a really nice job at letting you adjust quality settings for both audio and video, but it will take a lot of trial-and-error to find what works best for you. I’m actually able to record at the highest settings available for .mp4 on my laptop, but I do have a 7200RPM hard drive. I have also recorded to an USB 3.0 SSD at SATA6, because editing goes much faster that way. Also, they have included an easy screenshot feature, and image quality is very good, and saves in .bmp format at full resolution. Any gameplay images posted in this review were taken with this device.
I’ve uploaded a quick video sample to show what kind of quality you can get. You’ll need to download it though since all of the streaming sites knock videos down to 30 frames. Right-click the link below and save the .mp4 file to see a sample running at 1080p at a full 60 frames per second
The quality is quite good, but even at the highest settings you’ll notice is some compression artifacting. The image quality is definitely better than what you’d get from an Elgato Game Capture HD, but the question really is if this is worth the extra money. Since the streaming sites like YouTube and Vimeo knock any video down to 30fps, is it really worth having the capability to record at 60fps for most cases? If you downloaded the video, you’ll see that even at 1 minute, the file size is substantial. No matter what, you’re going to edit your footage and then output to .mp4 or a similar h.264 format, so now you’ve compressed the footage twice, adding even more artifacting and quality loss. This is a problem that you’ll have with most consumer capture devices though, so you really need to decide what’s acceptable for your needs.
OK, enough thinking. Lets talk streaming, which will challenge you with another speed bump. The Avermedia software will handle streaming to all of the usual haunts, and even supports the use of a separate microphone. Where the problem lies though is that I still haven’t been able to get a usable image quality on the stream. There aren’t any useful instructions, and in all of my attempts, the video has always been blocky and pretty poor. The good news is that XSplit is fully supported, and image quality is fantastic. But not all is well, because XSplit’s video interface isn’t meant to be used as your primary viewport when playing the game, but because there’s no HDMI out, you’re stuck with using it, unless you buy a couple of items.
You can buy a cheap HDMI splitter for around $20, and then of course, you’ll need an additional HDMI cable as well. You take the cable from the console to the splitter, then one connection goes to your Avermedia Extremecap U3, and the other goes to your TV. It works wonderfully and luckily, it doesn’t cost very much. Via XSplit, you’ll achieve a fantastic stream quality in both resolution and framerate (depending on your available upload speed of course). The U3 excels in this format, and it has become my go-to device for live-streaming.
Overall, I really like this device. I’ve been using it quite a bit in the last month, and now that I’ve added the HDMI splitter, I’ve really had no issues, except for the occasional disconnect when I first get started. Occasionally, my laptop doesn’t seem to see the device, but quite honestly, that could be the fault of the laptop and/or USB drivers. I can’t be certain that it’s an issue with Avermedia’s hardware or software. Every problem that I’ve encountered with this device has been easy to take care of with alternate software or hardware, but is that really what you want to do with something that you’ve just spent $179.99 on?
You can’t deny the high quality content that you get from this though, and at the end of the day, that’s really what counts for most people. If you’re just a “casual” YouTuber/streamer you may want to find a cheaper solution, but if you’re looking for the best quality in a consumer-grade product, there’s nothing better than the Extremecap U3.