Deliverance from Streaming Hell – Editor’s Comments on the Elgato HD60
I’ve gained some new battle scars as of late. All due to my somewhat misguided effort to experiment in this streaming phenomenon. While I do not really have any interest in putting on a spectacle as a gamer for the benefit of others, I am interested in archiving my gaming history and having artifacts to review in later years. For all of my gaming life, I’ve regretted trying to tell people about my gaming experiences and not just being able to show them. Streaming alleviates a lot of that anxiety. The problem is that many of the software-based solutions are ridden with bugs and the simple difficulty in achieving interoperability that comes with modern day PCs. Admittedly, the PlayStation 4, XBox One, and nVidia Shield Pro Android Game Console have solved a lot of this with their integrated solutions, but not all.
And so at the outset I struggled with Open Broadcaster Software or OBS. A nice solution in that it is free, but configuring it correctly across multiple PCs is a chore, and prone to a lot of rework. I do not stream every time I game, and so getting it right on one PC, and then needing to replicate it on another (I game on multiple PCs) without a high revisit ratio was laborious and the software itself is not very intuitive. The formula changes too when you have multiple monitors, seemingly. I next tried XSplit which was world’s more intuitive. The problem with XSplit is that it confined me to streaming at 720p resolution unless I paid, and the pay structure was subscription-based. No one-time fee. There might be a lifetime subscription tier, but I never dug enough to find it. The major problem with both of these was that I never found a good way to easily control my audio mix and get to a point where the balance between in-game audio and my commentary was reliable. The in-game audio was too loud, or my commentary was too loud, and all sorts of scenarios in-between.
The Elgato HD60 fixes a lot of that. There are other hardware based solutions out there, but I decided to go with a minimal amount of research and to place my faith in the trend of Amazon user reviews around the device. It’s an elegantly simple piece of hardware. Essentially a pebble-like ebony breakout box with one HDMI input, one HDMI out, and USB out. But the real power comes from using the device in a dual-PC setup, combined with the HD60 and Elgato’s GameCapture Software.
You can find diagrams for this setup and more technical descriptions out there on the web. For this discussion, I use one PC, the one that I am playing the game on, which we’ll refer to as the Gaming PC. The other PC is the Streaming PC, and is where GameCapture is installed. Basically, I route the HDMI output of the Gaming PC to the HD60, then take the HDMI out of the HD60 to the gaming PC’s monitor. I route the USB out of the HD60 to the streaming PC. On the Gaming PC, I set the audio output to the Elgato HD60. This setup will pass the video accelerator’s output and the game audio to my monitor. If you use external speakers, you’ll need to come up with a way to make the game audio available to you. In my current setup, I send audio out over HDMI, and then use my monitor’s 2.5 mm out to send the game audio to my Logitech LS21 speakers.
Tip: One of the little things about the HD60. In order for the video to get to your monitor, the HD60 needs power (it’s not an unpowered pass-through), which it draws from the Streaming PC’s USB port. So if you are rigging your gaming PC first, remember that you won’t see video out on the monitor until the HD60 is connected to the streaming PC. Conversely, your ability to configure the GameCapture software is limited until it can see the HD60 hardware, so don’t spend a lot of time configuring the software before you make the hardware connection. Finally, GameCapture stops seeing the HD60 whenever the gaming PC’s monitor goes to standby, so you need to keep the monitor on or wake it up during setup if you have a Power scheme that kills it.
The streaming PC gets the USB out of the HD60. It also gets the microphone input that you’ll use for commentary. In my current setup, I use a Logitech G330 headset, and send that to the Streaming PC using the USB connection and a USB extender.
Tip: Whenever you turn on commentary in GameCapture, the in-game audio signal will go away. Do not worry, the in-game audio is still going to your Twitch stream, it’s just that Windows can only grant control of the audio output to one device unless you virtualize an audio input to route multiples, which is a bit of overkill for this effort.
In the GameCapture software, you need to do a few things. You need to connect it to your Twitch account. Other services are accommodated, including YouTube Game Streaming, but I
have only fooled around with Twitch. You need to set your audio levels and mix. I set my in-game audio to just past the midway point, and my commentary to about 3/4’s of the max. One thing I love about the HD60 is that it has an auto-duck feature that you can enable via GameCapture, so that you whenever you start talking, the in-game audio is subordinated to the commentary, and your voice should come through pretty clearly even if your audio mix is not set perfectly. This feature is a life-saver and one of the main reasons I went with the HD60. I was struggling and spent a lot of very late nights trying to get my mix down right with other solutions. The HD60 nailed it after just a couple of test events.
Tips: This is the major gotcha with this setup – if you do not tune the bit-rate output of your stream you are in for major troubles. The combination of the HD60 and the GameCapture software do not handle faults associated with this setting gracefully. When I had mine set too high, it flooded my available bandwidth, yielding a stream full of shredding and halting video. Worse, the software locked up, my stream would be killed (although the software indicated my stream was still live, with only the “Low Bandwidth” warning light blinking), and I had no control through the UI. When I would kill the app and try and restart it, it would say that GameCapture was still running, even though I couldn’t see the process running or any associated services running in the Windows Task Manager. After a few minutes I could restart it. You basically want to set the Output Bitrate at the minimum rate needed to stream at 1080p, which for me is 5.0 Mbps. I experienced the lockups when I had it maxed at 8.0 Mbps. 5.0 Mbps yielded great video and clear audio with no worries, but figuring that out required troubleshooting and was not intuitive.
With this setup I am getting superb streams. Audio mix is perfect; any voice trail-offs you hear is because I am speaking too quietly while I am concentrating on the game . 1080p resolution works like a charm, and, here’s the biggie, ZERO PERFORMANCE IMPACT on the gaming PC. That latter plus justified the cost for me by itself. I can also use the HD60 to just archive the video to an external hard drive if I want for my own needs or just for capturing and uploading to a different service if I so desire.
The HD60 also supports consoles, if you’d like more granular control than Microsoft, Sony, or nVidia provide with their integrated solutions.
Unfortunately, the HD60 does not compensate by giving me incredible commentary. I guess I’ll still have to work on that.
There’s probably a ton of stuff that I am missing, so please fire away with any questions. The Elgato HD60 is going for $156.99 on Amazon.