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Review: AVerMedia Live Gamer HD (C985)

*** Disclosure: I received this capture card from AVerMedia for free, but this in no way affects my review of the product.  My opinion does not sway at all regardless if I bought the item with my own money or it was provided to me at no cost. ***

If you are involved in the streaming community at all, then you've heard of AVerMedia's Live Gamer HD (C985) capture card.  As far as consumer capture cards go, it's considered one of the high end cards, and for good reason.  Whether you're doing a 1 PC stream setup, 2 PC stream setup, or even streaming your console games, the Live Gamer HD can give you increased performance and/or increased stream quality.

The card retails for ~$215 USD and in my opinion it's well worth it.  It comes with the card, all the cables and basic converters you could need, as well as a device that plugs into the card and sits on your desktop.  The device has a button on it that allows you to start/stop capture without having do anything software-side.  Additionally, this isn't something I normally mention, but the packaging of the Live Gamer HD was excellent and really impressed me.

Top notch packaging!

Alright, let's get to the specs of the card. It has a max input of 1080p 60fps and an output max of 1080p 30fps or 720p 60fps.  This is quite nice, it means you can have your monitor running at 1920x1080 at 60hz yet output to XSplit (or otherwise) at 720p 60fps, or 1080p 30fps if you choose.  I use a 120hz monitor, so I did what's called the "mirror method".  This involves having your graphics card mirror your desktop on both your monitor's output (dvi/dl-dvi/hdmi) as well as the HDMI to the capture card.  

Another feature of the Live Gamer HD is the option to use the card for hardware encoding.  This means in theory you could have 2x Live Gamer HD's, and use one for capturing and the other for encoding and have zero load on your PC due to streaming.  As this is something I have tested, I can tell you that the hardware encoding really isn't feasible in comparison to using x264 encoder via XSplit for example.  I would highly recommend not getting the card for this purpose.  This card's strength lies in it's capture and output of 720p 60fps, or 1080p 30fps, from a 1080p 60fps source

Installing the Live Gamer HD was truly a breeze. It comes with it's own software called "RECentral" that can be used for both recording and streaming.  I tried the software out and it worked well, but I was eager to get it hooked into XSplit and get that 60fps stream rolling!

In box: actual capture card (connects into PCI-E x1 slot), a device with a button to start and stop recording (connects into USB-port), CD-ROM with software and drivers, HDMI-cable, audio cable and two adapters – “HDMI to DVI” and “DVI to HDMI”. Also included is a user manual which discusses in detail all the possible ways to connect video sources to the capture card.
XSplit will automatically detect your stream settings and match the Live Gamer HD's output to match.  For example, if you are streaming at 1080p, it will have the card output at 1080p 30fps.  Currently (2012-10-21), we have a new beta build of XSplit (currently in testing) that allows you to toggle on or off the auto-configuring in XSplit.  This is nice because you can turn it off and force the card to always output at 720p 60fps for example. There was one other problem I did notice in XSplit though, and that was the picture that the card outputted.  It had a "washed out" look to it, as if the brightness was too high.  But, I found a simple fix for this.  In the color settings for the Live Gamer HD in XSplit, just add +4 contrast.  It makes a huge difference!

Overall, I've been really pleased with this card.  Normally I would use DXTory to hook into my games and output to XSplit to get high-fps capture.  When streaming a First Person Shooter game at 720p 60fps for example, I've found my personal frames per second performance to be superior when using the capture card instead.  Even more important, the FPS of my stream is a lot more stable.  This is because DXTory can fluctuate it's fps output via DirectDraw, whereas the Live Gamer HD does not. Currently (2012-10-21), there are a couple bugs that I do want to mention though. First, sometimes when a game will refresh your monitor (ie when a game runs fullscreen) it will cause the Live Gamer HD to output a black screen to XSplit.  To fix this, in XSplit you have to go to Config -> Video Output for your card's settings and hit "OK" and it outputs properly again.  Whether this is an XSplit bug or firmware/driver bug for the Live Gamer HD, I'm not sure.  Second, there's an issue with random (and somewhat rare) freezes/stutters on the output to XSplit.  Though, I'm 99% sure this is an XSplit bug, and once it's identified we should have it fixed.  I would like to note that the card only captures via HDMI, which was perfect for my setup personally.  Also, it does not capture content protected by HDCP -- take note PlayStation 3 gamers!
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