The lack of a proper solution for PC game capture

(UPDATED 2015-04-17)

It is quite frustrating when I need proper equipment to get certain things going, and am willing to pay a fair price, but sometimes solutions seem to be missing.

I checked all the game capture devices (for recording gameplay footage as video) that I could find, but – as so often – it’s a mix of up- and downsides, and generally they’re all primarily designed for gaming consoles, for standard entertainment.

Here’s what I am willing to pay for:

Playing games on my PC, in the native resolution of my monitor, which is 2560×1440. The screen data being grabbed hardware-side, latency free, so basically via the standard video cable. I chose a monitor that doesn’t have an HDMI input, only DVI and DisplayPort, so that would have to work, too. And then the device saves the video data via USB onto an external storage – harddisk or flash card or even USB stick.

And here are all the problems:

1) All devices I could find are capped at 1920×1080. One can at least record this in 60p, but resolution is still limited. Apparently they also don’t support higher input resolution and downscaling for the video compression. So I’d have to play games I want to record in 1920×1080.

2) They all operate based on HDMI as digital interface. I suspect this is some kind of legal mandate so that people cannot use such devices to record HDCP-protected content – because if you use DVI or DisplayPort, if copy protection is there, it cannot be obeyed. I guess we have to thank that whole movie and music industry lobbying for this technical limitation.

3) You can adapt DisplayPort down to HDMI and HDMI down to DVI. But I’d have to first figure out whether this is also handled well by the recording devices. And even if that works, then the next problem arises…

4) I have connected my monitor using DVI because that interface causes Windows to reserve active desktop space for it, to always keep the device registered as present. When I initially connected my monitor using DP, I noticed that whenever I turned it off – only with the button on the front, not with the power switch, the display would immediately get removed as system component, and because I am also using a digitizer display and have arranged both a certain way, this will (and it’s a Windows fault) eventually lead to mixup of the numbering and the alignment of the two displays. It would be even more hassle than what I already have anyway.
(If I have the nerve, I might eventually experiment some more and see whether I can find a compromise.)

5) So even if all that works: It seems people using game capture devices are typically the invested gamers with a very powerful gaming PC. Mine isn’t weak, but it’s also not super-powered, and what bothers me is that while the CPU load for the video compression is then taken off by the capture device (or in some cases just most of it), based on past experience I would almost bet that transferring several MB/s of data via USB and then burdening the CPU with the I/O interrupt load of saving that stream onto local harddisk will cause noticeable interference in my games. Because it has always appalled me how even today, harddisk work can have such an interfering influence on unrelated processes.
To give you a comparative example: Remember how when you used an optical disc drive and every time you put in a CD or DVD, the whole frickin system would pause until the media had spun up? This is the kind of crap one still has to expect to happen.

6) And then you’d think that the immensely valuable feature of having a hardware button on the device for starting and stopping recording would be mandatory, but only some devices have it. More generally, even if all the previous problems were resolved, then there would be the whole pile of the usual potential issues with electronic products: bugs in software, inconvenient handling etc..

This is really a crappy situation, but I don’t take fault with my end just because I like to use modern technologies that don’t fit the bread&butter mainstream.

Even equipping my old PC with a video recording card would not be a good solution, because then I’d have to have that one running all the time so that the video signal can be passed through.


I now figured out that apparently harddisk I/O is not or only a minor problem. The issue is that the hardware encoding, at least when performed with Open Broadcaster Software, is optimized for 1080p. 1440p is larger, but not extremely so, yet a demanding game like Planetside 2 runs really unplayably when recording it in 1440p, but when in 1080p and recording, you rarely notice any interference. That distinct difference doesn’t seems to be just the computing load difference. Encoding bitrate doesn’t affect the results. I even recorded in 720p and had worse results. It’s all a bit confuse, but that only further underlines the point I’m making about the lack of proper hardware solutions.

    UPDATE 2:

I was willing to give nVidia Shadowplay a try, since it supports the (fullscreen only – which is fine) high performance mode with low system impact. But for that, I’d have had to install geForce Experience, which turned out to be a Big Brother total data collecting and activity tracing software, and I’m not willing to pay that price for a software that might not even be better than OBS in game capture mode, for example.
For recording 1440p I probably simply would need a more powerful PC that can run a recorded game in around 60 fps all the time. This of course could save the investment in a game capture device, but I’m not willing/able to experiment with money like that.

    UPDATE 3:

I now tested recording to replay buffer, meaning that there’s no harddisk writes involved during the recording. It just captures and encoded and stores it in memory. And even there, the same happens as with conventional game recording with any codec in OBS: Jaggy motion. Interuptions in video fludity. The game itself is not affected except showing a slight framerate reduction and less-than-perfect fluidity based on framerate fluctuation. But it’s nowhere as bad as the video output, which studders and sometimes even hangs, having dropouts. I’m tiring of this lack of a proper solution. I’d love to just connect a hardware device to one of my free graphics card outputs, connect a USB harddisk to that one, and then record 1440p 60 fps just as it looks in the game, without any interference or hassle.
I’m beginning to suspect that the hardware encoding assistance gets overloaded and then doesn’t share the burden software-side. Because when I play a game in 1080p and get constant 60 fps, I can record nearly flawless 30 fps video from that. But once I record to 60 fps, it is mostly fluid with some nasty dropouts during fast movements. And this even happens in old and unburdening games like Half-Life 2, despite the CPU load for recording 1440p 60 fps being a mere 38%, which should not be a problem in combination with such an old game.

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