The market for video capture devices doesn't seem to be slowing down, and manufacturers are racing to keep up with the demand for more productive and flexible kits. The latest device from AverMedia, the USB-powered Live Gamer Portable, brings its product lineup to modern standards with HDMI support, Twitch.TV integration, and an onboard H.264 encoder. These features aren’t unique to the Live Gamer Portable, but its ability to record directly to an SD card is. Capturing footage without a PC is a key feature of AverMedia’s older capture deck, the Game Capture HD, but with the introduction of true HD support, a new form factor, and the switch from HDD to SD storage, the Live Gamer Portable looks much more attractive on paper.
- Codecs: H.264 (video) / AAC (audio)
- HDMI, Component, PlayStation Multi-Out
- 3.5mm stereo input and output
- HDMI Passthrough
- 720p 60FPS / 1080 30FPS 60mbps
- PC Free mode: 720p 60FPS 16mbps
- Protective bag
- HDMI cable
- Component video / stereo audio dongle
- 3.5mm audio cable
- PlayStation 3 Cable
- Mini USB cable
Setting up the Live Gamer Portable is simple enough, and AverMedia thoughtfully included a wealth of cables to get the ball rolling, but you'll need an existing HDMI or component cable for your chosen input device. To capture without a PC: flip the switch on the side to activate PC Free mode, connect the appropriate video cables, and plug the USB cable into any nearby port (USB 2.0 compliant) to supply power to the capture deck. The record button on top controls capturing while in PC Free mode, and it's surrounded by a ring of light designed to indicate the current status: booting, standby, recording, or "error." The Live Gamer Portable prioritizes HDMI over every other input, so make sure to disconnect excess cables when you want to capture from a component video source in PC Free mode.
Before capturing video with a PC, you need to download and install AverMedia's RECentral software from its website. Unlike some of the competition, Elgato and Roxio for example, there are no video editing capabilities to be found. When configuring the capture settings, you can define the video source, resolution, file container (MP4 or TS), bit rate, and audio source, which is used to enable voice-over recordings over an external microphone connected to the line-in port. The same options exist under the streaming section of RECentral, but in addition, you can sync up your Twitch.TV or UStream account and define how to optimize the stream by prioritizing video quality or stability. For streamers looking for more advanced options, every Live Gamer Portable package includes a three-month trial license for XSplit.
When capturing footage with a PC, you can encode a 1080p video signal at a maximum of 30 frames per second, or a 720p signal at 60fps, both with a bitrate up to 60mbps. The 30fps limit for 1080p videos is forgivable, since it's a common limitation for USB 2.0 capture decks. The 60mbps bit rate is more than adequate, with plenty of bandwidth to capture clean, lightly compressed video. Below is an example of a file encoded with maximum quality settings at 720p.
On the whole, RECentral is functional, but it has a slew of issues. The layout is cluttered, and the lack of video editing capabilities stands out as a glaring omission. Without support for OS X, Mac users have essentially been left behind; yet another big mistake. There's a handy TimeShift feature that caches video onto your PC when you aren't actively capturing footage, affording you the ability to go back in time to save moments you would have missed otherwise. It's a useful feature, but one that's unfortunately held back by RECentral's inability to configure exactly how much hard drive space to allocate for the task.
The primary feature that makes the Live Gamer Portable stand out among the competition is its ability to capture video directly to an SD memory card. Of course, without the help from a PC to process the video, the quality of the encoded file takes a hit, coming in at 720p with a 16mbps bit rate. The resulting footage is adequate, but the presence of unmistakable compression artifacts doesn't paint games in the best light. It still counts as a useful feature, and one that AverMedia's competitors don't currently offer. For the moment, every file captured this way ends up as a TS file. If you want to convert that into the more useful MP4 format, you currently need to find a third party solution to get the job done.
Despite the caveats, the Live Gamer Portable is worth considering. While it doesn't have great software, OS X support, or legacy SD inputs, the ability to function independent of a PC makes it the most portable capture device in its price range. For the stationary user, it isn't the best choice; that honor still goes to Elgato's Game Capture HD. When portability is paramount, however, AverMedia's $179.99 Live Gamer Portable is a decent solution to fall back on.