Performance

AVerMedia GC553 Live Gamer Ultra Review

Are you ready to take your USB game capture to the level of ULTRA? Are you looking for the very best in USB-based capture capabilities with high refresh and HDR passthrough, 4K capture, in a small form factor? AVerMedia’s new USB capture card can take you to the power of ULTRA with the Live Gamer Ultra – Maybe. If you HAVE to have a USB capture card or are just capturing game consoles, the Live Gamer Ultra might be the best you can go with as of the time of release – but it has some quirks, driver issues, and some nuances that have caused a couple reviews I have watched to actually contain factual misinformation.
I’ve recently reviewed two of AVerMedia’s three new 4K-adjacent capture cards – the Live Gamer 4K and Live Gamer Extreme 2. This one, the Live Gamer Ultra, sits between the two at around $250 to $260. For this small amount cheaper than the Live Gamer 4K, I’d definitely only recommend it if you specifically NEED a USB capture card or something with UVC drivers.

Otherwise, it just makes more sense to pay the $40 to 50 more for the more capable – and likely more stable over time – Live Gamer 4K. Physical Overview The Live Gamer Ultra is a small – smaller than a smartphone, though thicker – USB Gen 1 capture device. It has a plastic casing with rubber feet, and inside you can see some metal grilling and a fan. The fan definitely kicks up and has a slight high-pitched hum to it, but it’s quiet. Quieter than my PC and I can’t hear it under my desk at all and have to bring it up close to me in order to hear it. On one end you have the USB Gen 1 Type C connector – which we will address in a moment – and on the other end, there is HDMI input and output for lag-free passthrough.

Avermedia GC553

This capture card can PASS THROUGH 4K 60FPS signals in HDR or SDR, 1440p 144hz, and 1080p 240hz signals, much like the Live Gamer 4K, and some Ultrawide modes. BUT it can only capture 4K 30FPS SDR, 1080p up to 120FPS and 1440p up to 60FPS. HDR can be captured in 1080p 60FPS. Ultrawide works, but due to the weird scaler in this capture card, it might get processed as 4K 30fps mode or 1080p 60fps mode, such as is the case with 3440×1440. Due to some weird limitation of the hardware of this card, some high refresh rate modes, such as 1080p 240fps won’t show up without plugging in a monitor capable of such modes into the HDMI output of the device. Then it will detect the EDID of the monitor and enable that mode.

Weird that the 4K can handle this fine but the Ultra cannot. This may be a problem for those of you running display cloning instead of display passthrough. There’s also a weird scaler issue with this card for the 1440p mode. This may also be driver-related as I’ll discuss later. Frequently – more on my first Ultra unit than my replacement – if I pass through a 1440p 144hz signal, it will sometimes give “Signal not supported for resizing” errors. This can happen in both OBS and RECentral. It was so pervasive that I initially thought you couldn’t scale it at all until like 2 weeks later when I was doing laptop testing and suddenly scaling to 1080p and 720p works. It seems to work more often with my replacement unit, but I do still get the error sometimes. Originally I blamed the internal scaler – between maxing out at 4K30 capture and 1440p not scaling, I was thinking that maybe it was using last-gen tech and the scaler couldn’t do it – but since it DOES work sometimes, I’m thinking it might be a driver issue, one of many.

Game Consoles For the most part, other than general driver quirks, this card had no problem capturing console gameplay at 4K30, 1080p60, and HDR at 1080p60. And it still captures tone-mapped SDR from HDR sources like the Live Gamer 4K. If that’s all you need it for, avoid USB Type C ports and you should be OK. This could also be used as a webcam replacer capture card for your 4K camera. It played well with my Panasonic G7 – but at over 2x the cost of the Elgato Cam Link just to go from 1080p60 to 4K30 – not sure if the cost is worth it. UVC The Live Gamer Ultra also supports UVC drivers – meaning it can work plug and play on any operating system and without manual driver install.

That means it works with the Windows Camera app and other video chatting apps – AND it actually works in USB Type C ports with a C to C cable or Gen 2 type A ports – BUT there’s a caveat. When using the UVC-only driver via a type C to C connection, it can only seem to process 46.67FPS at 1440p. This was one of the major issues that had me swap units with AVerMedia and delay my review, but this still happens with the new unit.

GC553

I didn’t notice this at first – had run everything through OBS and captured an hour worth of recordings, looked at them and noticed a lot of duplicate frames. Even got the TrDrop framerate analyzer to line up and show it bouncing between 46 and 47FPS. Very bizarre. My new unit won’t even show more than a black screen in my desktop’s USB Gen 2 Type A port. Instead of doing this on my laptop via the Thunderbolt 3 port, it simply flashes green to indicate it’s in USB mode. cool. Driver Issues & Replacement Unit As mentioned for these reasons, the capture card seems to have driver issues, present enough to cause me to request a replacement unit, as I thought mine was defective. The “size mode not available for scaling” error, the 46.67FPS limit via Type C connection, and a couple other things. On my previous unit, the signal kept dropping out when using 15 FT HDMI cables for 1440 p144 passthrough.

30ft HDMI cables for my 4K60 and HDR passthrough never had an issue, but after an hour’s worth of capture, I kept having issues with the 15 ft cables cutting out. This has not happened thus far on my replacement unit but was bizarre. Another big issue I had is that randomly when plugging the device in, the light will blink green to indicate it’s in USB mode and the computer doesn’t detect this. This is completely inconsistent and difficult to replicate. Happens on all ports on my desktop and laptop. Quite frustrating. That was one of the big things that made me think I broke the first unit they sent me. The new one does it, too! This also happens when connecting to the Thunderbolt 3 port on my laptop. Linux & Mac Since the Live Gamer Ultra has a UVC driver, it does support running on Linux and Mac with programs like OBS Studio.

Keep in mind, however, that OBS on Linux at the time of producing this review does NOT support Intel Quick Sync encoding. So if you’re on a laptop with no discrete GPU, you might have a hard time. There will, of course, be no HDR support on Linux without the RECentral software. Linux OBS can utilize Nvidia Nvenc encoding, however, so that’s there at least. Buuut, my experience running on Linux wasn’t great.

1440p 144hz got stuck in the “Resolution not supported for resizing” screen or a no signal screen and anything over 60hz just said no signal. I did get 1080p60hz working and even 1440p 60hz by restarting OBS to deactivate and reactivate the device, but it wasn’t a smooth experience. And on a 6500U with no GPU, frame rates weren’t good. At all. Similar resolution and compatibility issues happened in a live environment of Ubuntu on my EVGA SC-15 gaming laptop, as well. I’d say the UVC drivers aren’t the most Linux-friendly. The card is detected and sort-of works on Mac OS, testing my 2013 MacBook Pro running High Sierra – but again, “Resolution not supported for scaling” errors and total freakouts in OBS.

I had 3 test scenarios – two using my System76 Lemur, a Linux-focused laptop with an Intel Core i7-6500U with Quick Sync but no discrete GPU in Linux and Windows (Tux Gods forgive me), and then my EVGA SC-15 gaming laptop with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ and Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card for Nvenc support. Results are… interesting. I genuinely don’t know how people do broadcasts with laptops most of the time. First up, Windows on the 6500U. RECentral utilizes Quick Sync Video to get the best performance possible, of course, but it struggled to capture 1440p60 or 1080p60. Frame rates were very low. Switching things around I did eventually manage to get it to hold 60FPS at 720p, however. This was the case with both Quick Sync and software H264, H264 performing even worse. This also seemed to be unaffected by switching between HEVC and H264 modes.

GC553 5

I found this weird, then, because when recording in OBS using Quick Sync Video, OBS seemed to have no trouble recording 1080p 60FPS, but 1440p 60FPS seemed to prove too much. I also double-checked that this applied with both a 1440p144hz and 4K60hz passthrough. Both struggled evenly for the most part. Returning to the holy ground of Linux, performance was abysmal without any sort of hardware encoding or discrete GPU, plus I had a lot of driver issues and scaling errors, as mentioned in the previous section. Not the best recommendation here. I couldn’t even measure performance in Mac OS due to the issues I had run it on my 2013 MacBook Pro in the previous section.

Moving onto a laptop with an actual GPU, we have my EVGA SC15. With the GTX 1060 in there, it had no problem recording full 1440px60fps in RECentral or OBS with Nvenc. Easy. That dedicated 10 series GPU makes a huge difference. Color Modes As far as color mode support, for 4K30 and 1080p60, the Ultra supports full RGB, YUY2, NV12, and P010 for HDR in 1080p mode. 1440p mode gives you no choice and is locked to NV12 or YV12, with the latter only being selectable in OBS. Quality Overall, the quality is what I’d expect from this capture card. It looks great, competent enough for most uses. Only allowing 30fps capture in 4K is a tad odd, but otherwise, it’s fine. You’ve been seeing samples and I will have direct upload links in the description. RECentral As covered better in my Live Gamer 4K review, RECentral 4 is a great capture and streaming software that allows for the direct capture, screenshotting, and also live streaming with multiple scenes and sources and even multi-streaming. I’ll hopefully have a deeper dive on the software coming in its own video later in the year.

Conclusion Overall, the Live Gamer Ultra from AVerMedia is quite the unique little capture card. It’s capable of a lot, but it has quite a bit of quirk that makes it difficult to give a blank recommendation. I’d say unless you specifically NEED a USB 3 (not Type C or Thunderbolt 3) capture card, spend the extra bucks on the PCIe Live Gamer 4K. It’s just more well-rounded in general. Seems like this was kinda rushed out and there are many issues to be addressed.

That being said, it’s probably the most competent USB capture card for the price – next to Epiphan’s AV.io 4K for 500 dollars, which can’t do 1440p, and Madewell’s USB Capture HDMI 4K Plus for $460, which is a bit more stable than AVerMedia’s model. If it seems to meet your needs and you’re not in a hyper-mission-critical professional environment, it might be worth a shot. Also, it could be used as a more expensive 4K30 cam link, if you’re willing to foot the bill.

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