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What Is a Capture Device?
This term covers a variety of cards, boxes, and appliances. In layman’s terms, this is the device that gets the signal from your camera and microphone and gets it ready to be sent upstream on the internet.
Capturing and Encoding
Two things need to happen to get your images and sounds ready for the internet. They need to be captured, and they need to be encoded. How and where this happens depends on your equipment. How you capture may dictate how you encode. There are two main types of devices:
Computer Capture Cards and Boxes
The video from your camera and the audio from your microphone need to be captured before they are encoded. There are a number of devices that will do that and feed the data via USB, Thunderbolt, Firewire, etc. In this situation, the computer will do the encoding. We will talk more about the software that does that later.
Note: We tend to think in terms of Mac or PC. However, these days, with capture devices, it is about connection type. Even with that, things can get confusing. The devices below will work with Macs or PCs as long as you have the right connections.
USB Capture Devices
Thunderbolt Capture Devices
These devices capture audio and video and encode it directly onboard. This means that a computer is not needed to do the encoding. In some cases, the device can send the encoded stream directly to your streaming host. In those cases, a computer is not needed at all for streaming. In other setups, a computer may be part of the workflow. However, it doesn’t need to be as powerful as it would need to be if it were handling encoding.
Teradek VidiU Pro $948.99 (amazon.com)
This little box will take an HDMI source, encode it, and send it directly to your streaming service. It can be configured from a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. It is small enough to mount on a camera.
Platform Specific Recommendations:
I will get to live streaming providers later but some providers offer their own encoding device. The upside of this choice is that is likely that the encoder will work flawlessly with the service. This can reduce setup time and the headaches often involved in getting things running. The downside is that you may be locked into your live stream provider unless you buy a new box.