How to use capture card

on Sunday, June 29, 2008

The best quality in analog video capture is available if you use a special video-capture card. Analog-capture cards are available at many computer and electronics retailers. A capture card actually connects to the motherboard inside your computer — so installation will require some expertise in working with computer hardware. Also, make sure that your computer actually has room to add an expansion card. I briefly discuss how to identify empty expansion slots and install a FireWire card in a Windows PC. Installing an analog capture card is very similar. If you buy a capture card, make sure it can capture analog video. Many FireWire cards are marketed as digital-video capture cards, but if you don’t read the packaging carefully, you might be confused about the card’s capabilities. If a FireWire card doesn’t specifically say that it can also capture analog video, assume that it can’t.

I use a capture card made by Pinnacle Systems ( called the Pinnacle AVDV Capture Card. This card has FireWire ports for capturing digital video, as well as an external breakout box with analog connectors for capturing analog video. Most analog capture cards have breakout boxes because there usually isn’t enough room on the back of a narrow comes the Pinnacle Studio Deluxe package, which retails for $300. If your PC already has a FireWire port, look into Pinnacle Studio AV ($130), which comes with an analog-capture card.

If you decide to buy and install an analog-capture card in your computer, I strongly recommend that you use the software that came with the card when you’re ready to capture. A capture card normally comes with software that is optimized for that card.
After you have a capture card installed in your computer, all you need to do is connect your VCR or analog camcorder to the appropriate ports. Usually those ports are located on an external breakout box because there probably isn’t room on the back of the actual card. You will probably have to choose from among several different kinds of connectors:
  • Composite: Composite connectors — the most common type — are often used to connect video components in a home entertainment system. Composite connectors are also sometimes called RCA jacks and use only one connector for the video signal. A composite video connector is usually color-coded yellow. Red and white composite connectors are for audio. Make sure you connect all three.
  • S-Video: S-video connectors are found on many higher-quality analog camcorders as well as S-VHS VCRs. S-Video provides a higher-quality picture, so use it if it’s available as an option. The S-Video connector only carries video, so you’ll still need to use the red and white audio connectors for sound.
  • Component: Component video connectors often look like composite connectors, but the video image is broken up over three separate connectors color-coded red, green, and blue. The red cable is sometimes also labeled R-Y and carries the red portion of the video image, minus brightness information.
The green cable — sometimes labeled Y —carries brightness information. Video geeks like to say luminance instead of brightness, but it means the same thing. The blue wire — sometimes labeled B-Y — carried the blue portion of the image, minus brightness. Component video provides a higher quality video image, but it’s usually only found on the most expensive, professional-grade video capture cards. Like S-Video, component connectors don’t carry audio, so you’ll still need to hook up the red and white audio cables. When you’re done hooking everything up, you’ll probably have quite a rat’s nest of cables going everywhere. Your capture software won’t be able to control your VCR or camcorder through the analog cables, so you’ll have to manually press Play on the device before you can start capturing in the software.