AVerMedia Live Gamer ULTRA GC553 Review: 4K HDR recording in the palm of your hand

Finally, affordable HDR game capture is a reality and Avermedia's new USB capture box has you covered.

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Video game capture equipment is a big business now. What used to be the a niche market limited to games press and hobbyists has become commonplace thanks to the rise of streaming and social networking. In the case of the PS4 and Xbox One, players can capture limited-quality video and screenshots of their games directly from the consoles. Users looking to take their streaming to the next level or using hardware without built-in capture support will definitely need external equipment to get the job done. A variety of companies off products to handle the job, but up until this summer, none of them were capable of capturing the 4K or HDR images that are now commonplace thanks to the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. AVerMedia is now offering the Live Gamer Ultra GC553, an external USB 3.0 capture box that can give you professional looking streaming capture as well as archival quality local recordings.

The GC553 unit is pretty simple. It is a small black box with three ports: HDMI In, HDMI Out, and USB 3.0 Type C. The GC553 receives power and transmits capture via a Type C plug that connects to your PC or laptop with a Type A USB 3.0 plug. While the unit does offer the option for game capture on the go, it contains no internal encoding hardware, so it must be connected to a computer to use. It supports recording in the following formats: 2160p30, 1440p60, 1080p120, and 1080p60. It can pass through up to a 2160p60 signal to your display while recording to any of the previously listed formats. HDR passthrough is also supported and can be recorded at 2160p30 when using the included AVerMedia RECentral 4 software suite.

RECentral 4 is Avermedia’s all-in-one recording and streaming solution. It offers a simple interface that allows for easy capture from your HDMI devices. Once you have the GC553 hooked up and your source is ready to record, making high-quality recordings is as simple as hitting the big red record button in RECentral. You have options for various quality settings and resolutions for fine tuning your output.

Additionally, RECentral 4 can serve as your command center for Twitch, Youtube, and other live streaming services. The Multi-Capture Mode lets you build a professional-looking stream with multiple sources, graphic overlays, and audio source mixing/monitoring. It also supports your webcam feed and other external video sources. All of these sources can be resized and repositioned to make you stream look exactly how you want it. It is not as full featured as OBS Studio or XSplit, but you can unbox the GC553 and be streaming to your Twitch Channel with RECentral in minutes, which cannot be said for those other software suites. RECentral 4 also supports Multi-Streaming, which lets you dump high-quality capture to multiple stream ingestion servers at once, if your bandwidth permits. This means you can send a 1440p60 stream to Youtube while sending a 720p60 stream to Twitch, to better match with its lower bitrate limitations.

The GC553 can also be used as a video device in applications like OBS Studio. This is how I used the device for the majority of my time with it. Getting OBS to work with the GC553 can be flaky, but once you are up and running, you can get professional results. I noticed a good chunk of additional delay when using the device through OBS, which made playing the games I stream via the OBS preview window very difficult. The latency is reduced when using RECentral, but is still noticeable for first-person shooters or games like Rocket League, where any latency is easily noticed. I also had issues with getting all parts of the audio output from my PS4 Pro to be captured by the GC553, but I could never figure out if it was a problem with the capture card or a software configuration on my PS4. The passthrough audio always worked perfectly, though.

Because the Live Gamer Ultra GC553 is capable of cutting edge capture capability, you are going to need some beefy hardware on your capture PC to get the most out of your recordings. By default, 4K HDR recording modes make use of NVIDIA’s NVENC encoder, which requires that you use a strong NVIDIA GPU. The recommended GPU listed by AVerMedia is a GeForce GTX 1060 3GB. This is now a fairly common GPU on desktop gaming rigs, but is less so on laptops, which is where the GC553 is most commonly used. Without a strong NVIDIA GPU to offload encoding duty to, the software-based x264 encoder must be used, which requires enormous amounts of CPU power to keep from dropping frames. If you have plans to make high-quality 4K recordings from a PC or console, make sure your capture PC is up to snuff.

I also recommend updating the device firmware and RECentral 4 as soon as you begin with the GC553. I received the unit around the time it first became available on the market and had major issues with capture until a new firmware was made available that alleviated most of my problems. This is not uncommon for early adopters with new technology. While I can’t knock the GC553 for failing to do something it was never advertised for, I was disappointed that it could not capture 2160p60 footage (I just purchased AVerMedia’s PCI-E-based GC573 to try and achieve this). AVerMedia boasts that this capture device comes with CyberLink PwerDirector 15 to edit your footage, but it is a trial version and is not able to open or make use of any HDR capture. As of this writing, even users who opt into the full version at additional expense will be unable to edit HDR capture. I edited my footage using BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve. I also noticed that my particular GC553 emits a high-pitched whine any time it’s plugged in that begins to drive me insane after a few minutes. I’m not sure if they all do this or I got a bad one, but I felt the need to mention it for those who prefer silence or need it for recording purposes.

If you have the need to record HDR gameplay or would like a portable option for high-framerate 1080p capture, the AVerMedia Live Gamer Ultra GC553 is strong option. For HDR, it is the only game in town as of this writing (the competing Elgato 4K60 can only passthrough HDR, not capture). You will need a beefy capture PC to avoid complications with 4K HDR footage, but the results are impressive, especially for under $300.


This review is based on hardware provided by the vendor. The AVerMedia Live Gamer Ultra GC553 retails for $249.99.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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Pros
  • Portable 4K HDR capture
  • Very small footprint
  • RECentral 4 Multi-Streaming capability
  • Affordable for its capabilities
Cons
  • Needs very powerful laptop for quality capture
  • Review unit had audible whine
  • Flaky when used with 3rd party software
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