The top performers in our review are Mirillis Action, the Gold Award winner; D3DGear, the Silver Award winner; and PlayClaw, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 video game recorders.
A video game recorder gives you a host of tools that allow you to record gameplay footage of you in action. Some game recording software programs also have integrated live streaming capabilities, and a few even have built-in editing tools. Whether you want to broadcast your gaming on Twitch and have a few extra features or just record gameplay for YouTube, game recording software can make the process much easier.
The best game recording software gives you access to powerful recording and streaming tools, but presents them in a way that's easy to understand and use. After all, cluttered menus filled with jargon and useless options don't help anyone. Some applications are streamlined enough that after you enter your Twitch.tv information, all you have to do is click a single button to start streaming. It doesn't get much easier than that.
Sometimes you want to strike the best balance between video quality and file size. Other times, you don't care how large the file is – you just want the best-looking footage you can get. The best game recording software gives you enough options to customize everything about your video capture methods. Custom recording resolutions, custom frame rates, and adjustable audio and video bitrates give you fine-grained control over your recordings.
We took into consideration how easy it is to access all of the application's options and how accessible information about each option is. Especially if you're new to game capture software, a few explanations can go a long way to making recording a better experience. While our scoring for each product is partially subjective, we came at each product thinking like a new user would. Is it obvious how to start and stop recording? Can I customize the hotkeys? Are the tools built in or external to the application? These are all questions we considered with each product to help shape our ease of use score.
When you're playing video games, especially competitive ones, the last thing you need is something slowing down your computer's performance. All video game recording software has an impact on your in-game fps. The question is how much of an impact each one has and which impacts your performance the least. Check out our testing methodology below to see how we determined the best game recording software in this regard.
Some video game recorder software gives you access to more codecs than others. More choices are always better than fewer, so we evaluated each product on this basis. Some game capture applications, like Fraps, only have one file output. In the case of Fraps, you get an uncompressed, huge file. While that can be compressed with other software, the fact that you have to do more work and use another application isn't ideal.
In video recording, there's a major trade-off between file size and video quality. Generally, the larger the file is, the less compression that file has gone through. This provides you with a higher-quality video, which can be useful for editing. However, when uploading videos to the internet, you need to compromise between video quality and file size, as online content distributors rarely support large files.
What You Should Know About Video Game Capture Software
Regardless of what resolutions you want to record a video at or whether you want to upload it to YouTube, the most important factor in the video's quality is the game you're recording. If you can run a game at 4K resolution and record it at 720p, it looks much better than running a game at 720p and recording at 720p. In short, the better your source material, the better your final video – regardless of what resolution you record.
It's fairly obvious that, ideally, you'll have a computer that can run your games at the highest possible settings and high resolutions. However, such a computer would be a huge investment, and the truth is that you don't need a top-tier gaming PC in order to produce decent gameplay videos for YouTube. There are a few things to consider, though.
First, you'll want to spend as much money as you feasibly can on the processor. Many codecs are processor dependent, and a good processor makes a big difference in game performance while you're recording. Of course, having the best graphics card you can get also makes sense, but in many cases, the CPU should take priority.
You also need a large amount of RAM that runs at high frequencies – the faster the better. No less than 8GB of RAM is necessary in order to record games while playing them and get decent results. Another important point to consider is that you should have two storage drives. You should install your video game capture software and games on one drive and record your videos to the other drive. This ensures that your hard drive isn't the bottleneck in performance.
While you can certainly use a gaming laptop to record gameplay, it's not recommended for most cases. In order to get specs that can adequately handle playing and recording games at good settings, you'll have to pay considerably more. CPU and graphics cards' mobile counterparts are weaker across the board, and most gaming laptops don't come with more than 8GB of RAM. It's also somewhat difficult to find laptops that have more than one storage drive.
If you have more questions, check out our articles about video game recording software.
Our Testing Methodology
Recording gameplay can be taxing on your hardware due to all of the encoding that happens. Don't let that scare you away, though. You don't have to build a $3,000 desktop in order to reliably capture high-quality video game content. In fact, the PC we used to test all of the applications we considered in our lineup is solidly in the middle range for gaming PCs.
Test System Specs:
This is by no means a top-of-the-line system, but rather something that's more likely indicative of what many people own. And it's enough to record 1080p videos without suffering too large a hit in fps. It's important to note that we installed all recording software on the hard disk drive (HDD) and then recorded video to the solid-state drive (SSD). While this isn't exactly common, as many people are concerned about the read and write longevity of SSDs, we felt that the potential performance benefits would outweigh a shortened lifespan. We also were dealing with relatively small video files of five minutes each.
We tested each video game recorder software with four different games: "Tomb Raider," "Company of Heroes 2," "Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor" and "Total War: Rome II." We made sure that the graphics settings for each game were the same for every game recorder test.
Here are the settings we used for each recording application. We stayed as close to these as each application would allow:
After all of the settings were in place, we ran the built-in benchmarks for each game and noted the average frame rate, minimum frame rate and maximum frame rate. We then compared those to the control frame rates of the in-game benchmarks being run without any recording going on. This tells us the relative impact that each video game recorder has on in-game performance.
In order to test relative video file size, or what the video game capture software outputs, we recorded three five-minute videos of each game and averaged their final sizes. When possible, we used MP4 encoding with quality settings as close to 50 Mbps as possible.
Our Top Recommendations:
The best video game capture software combines efficiency and powerful tools with a wide variety of options. Mirillis Action is our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner because it has a relatively light impact on your in-game performance, gives you a fair amount of control, and has many different options and settings that allow you to tweak the application's performance any way you want. However, if you want the video game capture application with the lightest impact on performance, then you should look to D3DGear's self-titled capture application.
D3DGear is our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner because it gives you integrated live streaming and a good number of recording options, and it had the smallest impact on gameplay during our testing. Other applications out there give you more options or look prettier, but few offer as many tools as efficiently as D3DGear. One thing that might be a problem is that you can't record videos at more than 60 fps. While this isn't critical, if you like to do lots of editing, it can be somewhat frustrating.
Our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner is PlayClaw. This video game capture software is easy to use and gives you many tools and recording options. The extent to which you can customize the application's overlays is impressive. This is purely a recording tool for video games – it doesn't record web browsers or their elements. While it lacks that functionality, it mostly makes up for it by excelling at recording video games.
Even though we looked at game recording software that costs money in our reviews, there is a host of free software that can record your gameplay. In fact, many of the applications on our lineup have free versions. Generally, free game recording software programs do not offer as many features or tools as their paid-for counterparts. However, there is a major exception called Open Broadcasting Software, or OBS. OBS allows you to record and stream just about anything on your desktop, for free. It has most, if not all, of the features that you'll find in applications like XSplit.
There are a couple of other big players in the free game recording software race. Nvidia and AMD each have their own free game capture applications. Nvidia's ShadowPlay uses processors built into their GPUs specifically for recording gameplay, which means very little performance impact on your computer. ShadowPlay only works with Nvidia graphics cards. AMD's GVR is also a good option, but ShadowPlay beats it in most cases. However, if you have an AMD card, then you should definitely take a look at GVR.