Peripherals, Reviews

Review: Live Gamer Portable

The AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable is a device intended to be a cost-effective and efficient way to allow more gamers to capture and stream their gameplay. While gaining popularity among streamers in general, there has been a very large rate of adoption by the fighting game community; nearly 40% of the players I’ve talked to own one, or are planning to purchase one soon. This is for several reasons, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Live Gamer Portable
Device: Portable Capture Card
Manufacturer: AVerMedia
Release Date: April 12, 2013
MSRP: $179.99

To give a little bit of my own background, let me start out by saying I’m a pretty hardcore streamer. I’ve been streaming for about a year and a half, but I’ve put hundreds and hundreds of dollars into my equipment, totaling a couple grand or so. One of the first close friends I made when I joined the fighting game community got me into it, and I’ve been going strong ever since. Most recently I streamed and ran a BlazBlue: Chronophantasma tournament for Aksys Games at Anime Expo, and the week after helped stream the side tournaments for Guilty Gear XX Λ Core Plus and BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend at Evolution Championship Series 2013. In addition to these, I also help run and stream our local airdasher tournaments in the Greater Los Angeles Area.

Up close and personal with the LGP.

Because I stream so much, I have experience with several capture cards. Among these include the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro and Intensity Shuttle. The former was the first card I settled for when I started desktop streaming. The latter is what I had been using on my laptop until the Live Gamer Portable came out. Since the Live Gamer Portable (LGP) is intended to be a portable capture card, I bought it with the hope that it could replace the Intensity Shuttle, a very problematic and unstable capture device, as my primary capture device when using my portable stream setup.

I got the LGP on release and when it was first available it could not be easily used for streaming at all. Thankfully, there was a closed beta for the new LGP Stream Engine application, which allowed easy addition of the capture device to a program like XSplit or OBS for streaming. I got access to this and, after a bit of trouble and getting an engineering build of the application from the folks at AVerMedia, was able to stream using the LGP. Since then, the Stream Engine has gone to open beta and is far more reliable.

All that’s needed to capture a non-HDCP encrypted device.

There are a few key things to note about streaming with the LGP. First: unlike the Intensity Shuttle, the LGP is a hardware encoding capture device. The Intensity Shuttle, as well as most desktop capture cards, captures lossless video frame-by-frame. This requires quite a large bit of bandwidth, thus the USB 3.0 requirement and resulting driver difficulties the Shuttle suffers from. The LGP uses a hardware-based H.264 encoder to create very high-quality, but compressed, video captures. The benefit of the video being encoded is that it allows the LGP to be a USB 2.0 device, able to run on a lot more laptops than the Shuttle. Since USB 2.0 adoption is so widespread and universal by now, the LGP also doesn’t experience the terrible driver issues that the Intensity Shuttle does. USB 3.0 is still relatively new and not all USB 3.0 controllers are created equal.

Second: the encoded nature of the LGP’s captured media makes compatibility with streaming software such as XSplit, OBS, or Flash Media Encoder more difficult. This is because the software is required to decode the video/audio stream first, before finally displaying, re-encoding, and streaming it. XSplit has done relatively well with doing this natively, but other software such as OBS absolutely require the Stream Engine to do this for them. Using the Stream Engine with XSplit is still preferred due to some color issues that AVerMedia has not been able to track down yet, but is not technically necessary. It ends up watering down to an extra step and program needed to stream, so it’s not as big of a deal for setup from the streamer’s perspective.

PC-Free Mode switch.

Lastly, the need to decode the video does introduce some delay for the stream, but this is invisible to those only watching the broadcast. It also creates a small bug where if you don’t have the capture device added to every overlay you use, switching back to an overlay with it added will have a small delay before the video and audio are actually displayed. Software like OBS gets around this issue by allowing the addition of global sources, which allow you to always have the capture device enabled and being fed into the software. XSplit does not, so you have to add it to each overlay and cover it with a background or something similar if you do not wish to show the video.

In addition to these, it’s also important to note that the LGP can record captures in high-quality while streaming. This feature is incredibly useful to those that, like myself, enjoy uploading high-quality captures of tournaments later, instead of having to rely on stream archives. The downside is that there are a few bugs with this feature at the moment. First, switching overlays in XSplit causes the video capture to cease and must be manually restarted. Second, the captures are done in the TS container format, which can’t be easily utilized in Sony Vegas and causes issues in Adobe Premiere Pro at larger filesizes. There is a TS-to-MP4 conversion utility that AVerMedia provides, but it does not always work properly. Certain files it causes framerate and video stagger isues with, meaning the only real way to utlize these files is to try and demux them with a few programs before importing the retrieved files into Vegas or Premiere Pro.

The available inputs and outputs for the LGP. The leftmost input is for the AVerMedia provided component adapters.

So far, I’ve only really touched on the LGP as a capture device for streaming. Arguably the most important feature of the LGP is its ability to capture gameplay without the use of a computer. While the RECentral software included with the LGP to capture while attached to a computer is exceptionally good, the LGP is also able to be configured to use an SD card and record gameplay independently of any other hardware. All that is required when doing this is 2-3 of the cables included in the box and an SD card. The box includes an HDMI cable, an LGP to PS3 component cable, a component breakout cable, a 3.5mm audio cable, and a Mini-B USB cable. For a PC-free setup, all that needs to be used is the HDMI cable and USB cable (attached to 5V power) or, in the case of the PS3, both of these and the PS3 cable. The LGP supports component to HDMI pass-through and the USB cable can be attached to either a USB port on the console or a 5V transformer to plug into an outlet.

This feature is the primary reason that the adoption rate among the fighting game community has been so high for the Live Gamer Portable. It’s relatively easy to set up beforehand and, once it has been configured, is extremely easy to swap in-between the console and the monitor to record your matches. Sadly, not all tournaments organizers are open to this, but there are a good number that have had positive reactions to players wanting to record their own matches.

Overall, the AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable is a super-solid capture device, only slightly less so when used for streaming. While there are a multitude of small bugs here and there, AVerMedia has been diligently working to iron out issues whenever possible and has been pretty receptive to end-user feedback. The LGP’s suite of software and firmware is still in open beta, but is solid enough to replace my Intensity Shuttle as my primary portable streaming device. The stability offered by the LGP is priceless, especially when doing a large tournament event; I’ve been able to stream more than 12 hours straight using the LGP without a hiccup. I think that alone speaks for the device.

PROS
* Stable
* Easy to use once configured
* Extremely portable
* PC-free capture mode
* Support for several livestreaming programs
* Good customer support
* High quality captures
* Ability to capture and stream at the same time
* Provides capture software
* Comes with a free 3-month XSplit broadcaster license
* Includes cables needed to capture all current-generation consoles

CONS
* Can be tricky to configure if the user is unfamiliar with video capture
* Bugs with the Stream Engine video capture feature
* Stream Engine records TS files, which are difficult to work with
* Bugs with the TS-to-MP4 conversion utility

FINAL SCORE: A-

Disclaimer: This device was purchased by the reviewer and not provided by AVerMedia.