When you write a tech blog, you’re going to do screen capture at some point. Whether you’re showing a particular website, doing a how to video, or walking through a specific feature, screen capture is part of the process. As long as you’re working inside an operating system, you have numerous free or cheap options to capture what you’re seeing on the screen.
But sometimes you need to capture outside of the operating system. Recently I wanted to record myself walking through some features in BIOS, and that presented a problem. Without an operating system running, I didn’t have a program to use for screen capture. I tried pointing a webcam at the screen (stop laughing at me), but the results were…well, let’s just say not good.
So I started researching various screen capture devices. I found a generic USB capture device on Ebay for under $15. It was advertised as 1080p capable (60fps, no less), so I decided to give it a try:
The idea with devices like this is simple; instead of connecting your PC to a monitor, you connect it to the HDMI port on the device, then connect the USB connector to another computer. Then you use their software to view and record what they computer is displaying.
My thinking was that even if it didn’t get to 1080p, I could live with 720p. For my purposes, I didn’t need incredibly high resolution, just “good enough”. As it was coming from China, I had to wait a few weeks. When it finally arrived, I tried it out immediately. To say I was disappointed is a massive understatement. Not only did it not record at 1080p, it didn’t come close to 720p. The included software maxed out at 480p. This made no sense to me. Surely the seller couldn’t advertise this as a 1080p device when their own software wasn’t even capable of that. What’s worse, even at 480p, the video was blurry, normal-sized text wasn’t even readable.
I tried the device with Debut, and with some tweaking was able to improve the blurriness a little, but still wasn’t able to record anything approaching useful video.
I emailed the seller, thinking there was something I was missing. I asked how I could get my device to record at a higher resolution, with clearer video. Their response? “Sorry, we’ll issue you a refund.” Yep, that’s all. No attempt to improve the video, no explanation, no suggested settings. Obviously they knew their product was no good.
Now, I’m not new to buying cheap items shipped from China. You take a chance when you do, and I’m ok with the risk. We’re talking about $15 here, so I wasn’t expecting much. But I was surprised they were able to do this on Ebay; sell a bunch of falsely advertised products, knowing full well they wouldn’t work as claimed, then refunding buyers who bothered to complain. It’s a numbers game, because at that low price point, most people would just toss it and move on.
So I got my money back. I also reported the product as “not as advertised”. Did my part. That was a few weeks ago, and as of today, you can still buy this little gem on Ebay. Oh well, can’t say I didn’t do my part.
I was back to square one. I reached out to the NUC team. In my days on the team we had to do capture, and we used a slick “inline” device. I asked what they recommended. Naturally, being the uber geeks they are, they recommended an awesome 4k recorder. Trouble was, it was $500. Hey, I do this stuff for free, and $500 is nothing to sneeze at. I’m not dropping that kind of cash on something I’ll use infrequently for my hobby. Besides, 4k was a bit of overkill for my purposes.
They recommended a couple of cheaper ones, and with a bit of research, I settled on The EZCap 280:
The EZCap was one of the best reviewed screen capture devices out there, and at only $50 it was well within my budget. Like the USB capture stick, it was advertised as 1080p-capable. Unlike the USB device, this one was an in line recorder. You connect your PC to the EZCap, then the EZCap to your monitor. You hit record and then use the PC as you normally would, while the EZCap records video to a USB stick.
When the EZCap arrived, I was again hoping for at least 720p. I connected it, plugged in a USB stick, hit record, then played around on the PC.
When I connected the USB stick to my other PC and looked at the results, I was pleasantly surprised. It recorded clear, crisp 1080p video. The difference between the generic device and the EZCap was amazing.
To give you an idea, here’s a side-by-side comparison.
Quite a difference, right?
I’ve been using the EZCap for a couple of weeks now and I love it. It is 100% consistent with video quality, and I don’t have to disconnect it when I’m not using it. I can just leave it connected, do whatever I’m doing, then hit record when I’m ready. Couldn’t be happier.
I guess the moral of this story is you get what you pay for, and you don’t get what you don’t pay for. I’m a frugal guy, but I believe more in getting the best value for my money, rather than the cheapest thing. I broke my own rule, and in trying to go super-cheap, I got a useless device. By reading reviews and spending a little more, I got a solid, reliable device that actually does what it claims to do.