If you’re a budding computer enthusiast searching for hardware to increase the performance of your rig, one of the most difficult things ever is finding a part that will yield tangible performance gains. I don’t know about you, but DAMN I hate reading review after review of vague, nondescript praise about a product. If you’re just now getting into streaming or recording videos for Youtube, you’ll definitely be running into similar problems. What program is the best? Is Xsplit worth buying over something like FMLE or FFsplit? What is the difference between h264 and x264? And for hardware…Is hyperthreading really that great, is it worth the extra money? How much more will it help? Will a better CPU or GPU help me with streaming? Do SSDs even matter? What about RAM speed? If I overclock my CPU, how much will it help? Sure, it’s possible to find the answers to all of these questions, but it requires digging and digging and reading and reading and so much more research than one should ever have to do to find the simple answer to certain questions:
“How much of a performance gain can I expect from a given upgrade?”
A lot of people out there bought a PC with the intention of upgrading it at some point in time. Of course, this is hard when those Intel bastards change their socket type every 2 years, but I digress. A lot of people now are getting into the wonderful world of streaming! A year or two ago, hardly anyone streamed. If you’d venture a look onto teamliquid.net, you’d find maybe 10-15 streamers at any given point in time. If you check today, that number is easily 10 or 20 times greater.
One question people constantly ask me is “What part of my computer should I upgrade to stream better?” Unfortunately, the answer is your CPU. Streaming is entirely CPU dependent and better RAM/SSDs/GPUs will not help you stream better. Unfortunately a CPU upgrade for a lot of people also means a motherboard upgrade, and, consequentially, sometimes a RAM upgrade as well. This translate into way more money + time than a person might want to invest into just picking up streaming as a hobby. And that brings us to….
I, on principle, absolutely hate these kinds of products. “Plug this device in and it will magically decrease the strain on your computer and increase your system performance!”…yeah, right. As someone who’s been streaming for a long time, I’ve become highly skeptical of products like these. My motto is the typical “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” I searched and searched for any kind of decent benchmarks, but all I could find were these vague statements of praise -
Low PC resource consumption???
I searched and searched and I couldn’t find any good reviews. I hate descriptive adjectives; I WANT NUMBERS!
ARG! Let’s start with the product that we have here.
The Avermedia Live Gamer HD C985 is a PCI-insertable card that assists with capturing and encoding. You plug it into a PCI slot, run an HDMI cable from a monitor to the “Out” port on the card, then run an HDMI from your graphics card to the “In” port on the capture card. The card can then be used to capture the image, or you can use it to encode it into an h264 stream. You can only do one at a time, though that’s irrelevant. I won’t go into detailed explanation here, but the h264 hardware encoder on the card is no good for streaming as the bitrate it spits out is far too high. If you’re interested in purchasing this card for streaming, you will be using it for its capture purposes.
The card is capable of up to 1080p@30fps or 720p@60fps. Based on the polling I’ve done, either setting seems to be fine, with a slight preference for the 720@60fps option.
My rig -
I7-2600k @ 4.4GHz
GTX580 @ 975MHz
Benching software -
Fuck Furmark, and fuck 3dmark. I don’t care about the results for those programs because I don’t play those programs in my free time. I, personally, play Starcraft 2. Starcraft is an incredibly CPU-intensive game, so it should be a good program to get us some decent benchmarks.
3 tests to make sure I have a decent average. I’ll be using FRAPS to give me averaged FPS measurements. I’m going to run a Starcraft 2 replay from 0:00 for 1 minute for every test. All tests will be done using Xsplit doing a local recording. The testing will be done at 1280×720 @ 60fps.
All graphics set to their lowest setting, game is in Fullscreen: Window mode and running at 1920×1080.
Starcraft 2 baseline bench - 334FPS
Streaming with X-split's "Screen Capture" - 203FPS
Streaming with X-split using the C985 - 237FPS
Wow, I’m honestly surprised. That’s a fairly solid 34FPS (17%) gain, considering all I did was plug in a card to my PC. I was more just curious to see if I could get a noticeable difference in FPS with these settings. I would never stream with the game looking like this, however. So I bumped up the settings to “Medium” and checked the “Reduce Mouse Lag” button (Keeping off anti-aliasing/other effects) and repeated the same tests.
Starcraft 2 baseline bench - 202FPS
Streaming with X-split's "Screen capture" - 111FPS
Streaming with X-split using the C985 - 147FPS
Holy shit. If anyone had told me that these kinds of gains were possible (32%) using a $220 capture card, I honestly wouldn’t have believed them. Not only is the FPS bumped, but the game feels amazingly smoother. Streaming with the capture card eliminates all of the jittery laggy problems that occur when streaming.
My chip is no slacker. Even when it was clocked at 4.8 I could not stream without some noticeable lag, especially when scrolling on the sides of the screen. The C985 eliminates that lag.
Buy. This. Card.
If you are someone who is looking to upgrade your machine to get into streaming, I have two pieces of advice for you. 1) If you’re looking at streaming in high quality (720p@60fps or 1080p@30fps) you WILL notice some lag on even the BEASTLIEST of systems unless you want to run a two-PC set-up. Again, this is coming from someone with a GTX 580 and an i7 that was clocked at 4.8GHz. And 2) even though this card is somewhat pricey for a PC part ($220), the amount of money you save by purchasing this card over building a whole second system is irrefutable. I will never stream again without using this capture card. Ever since I first hooked it up and got it working, it has become an indispensable part of what I do every day. In case you’re not too familiar with me, I stream ~8 hours a day 6 days a week, so I’m very serious about my streaming hardware.
Questions/comments? Leave ‘em below, I’ll try to edit or update everything up here accordingly if there’s something I missed.