Sunday, February 4, 2018

StarTech USB3HDCAP Review - A Jack of All Trades?

The StarTech USB3HDCAP (courtesy of
Capturing real hardware has always been something of a challenge, especially when it comes to retro video game consoles and computers.  I have been seeking an affordable "all-in-one" capturing solution for some time.  Recently I read about the StarTech USB3HDCAP and remarked that it could handle odd inputs like 15KHz RGB, 240p Component video and even 320x200 70Hz VGA.  I also read that the StarTech uses the same hardware as the more expensive Micomsoft X-CAPTURE 1 and the less-featured Elgato HD60 S.  I purchased a card recently and found that getting the best out of it is not quite as straightforward as I expected.  Here let me discuss what I have tried and how well it works.

The Thrillness Drivers

A gentleman that goes by the handle "The Thrillness" created a custom driver package for the USB3HDCAP.  The Thrillness drivers are Micomsoft drivers with modified installation inf files.  The Micomsoft drivers will allow you to use 240p over component, the StarTech ones will refuse to display any signal.  The official StarTech drivers are much more unfriendly to a standard VGA signal.  These drivers will not work with the official StarTech StreamCatcher recording and streaming application.  He hosted his driver on his blog but it is hard to find.  For the rest of this article, I will be limiting my discussion to using the USB3HDCAP with these drivers.  Grab them from here :

Windows 10 Test Mode

The Thrillness drivers are unsigned, so in order to use them with the USB3HDCAP with Windows 7, 8 or 10 you will need to force Windows to allow unsigned drivers to be installed.  I had a terrible time getting Windows 10 to accept the drivers but here is what worked for me.

First, I created a System Restore point before installing the drivers.  That way, if anything goes wrong you can reset back and try again.  Do not plug in the USB3HDCAP until you have successfully installed the drivers.

Second, I found that the only way to truly install these drivers successfully was to put Windows 10 into Test Mode.  First, open up a Command Prompt in Admin Mode (right click on the Windows 10 Start Button) and enter the following :

bcdedit.exe -set loadoptions DISABLE_INTEGRITY_CHECKS
bcdedit.exe -set TESTSIGNING ON

Reboot and you will see the Windows 10 Test Mode watermark on your desktop.  Once you have that, then run the DPInst.exe in The Thrillness Driver package.  You must run the version of the drivers (32-bit or 64-bit) appropriate for your version of Windows.

USB 3.0

The manual indicates that a USB 3.0 port is required.  It is not compatible with certain USB 3.0 controller manufacturers like Etron or ASMedia.  If you are using the official StreamCatcher application, the application will warn you if you are using the capture device in a USB 2.0 port.  Unfortunately, other programs will not warn you and you will likely suffer unfixable audio sync issues if you use the device in a USB 2.0 port.


I had no further issues with HDMI capture once I used the USB 3.0 port on my 2014-era PC.  On my 2011-era PC, I could not get 1080p to display.  The USB3HDCAP's settings would report the right resolution but give only a black screen.  I knocked down the resolution of my Nt Mini and my Switch to 720p and it worked just fine.  My 2011 PC has early USB 3.0 ports implemented by a third party, so there may be a compatibility issue there.  I have no difficulty using the older PC merely as a streaming box, 720p is a fair resolution for streaming.  If you want to use this device to stream PS3 content, you will need to find a way to strip the HDCP protection from the HDMI signal.  Otherwise you are stuck with component video, which only goes up to 720p/1080i.   Here is a 1080p capture I did :


Standard VGA modes are very difficult for capture cards to handle.  The issue is that VGA uses a 70Hz refresh rate for all but two of its standard modes, including those which emulate CGA and EGA and MDA.  Most capture cards refuse to accept refresh rates that are significantly greater than 60Hz.

The USB3HDCAP can accept a 70Hz signal, but it was clearly not designed for it.  When I start up my 486, the screen will be partially cut off at the bottom by the time AUTOEXEC.BAT finishes loading all the drivers.  Changing the DVI-A/VGA Advanced Property in the Video Configuration window gets the rest of the text.  Even with the Thrillness drivers, there will typically be a band of graphics about 10 pixels wide down the left side of the image which will be significantly darker than the rest of the screen, regardless of what is being shown on it.  Sometimes games will have horizontal banding.

70Hz VGA (the stripe on the left is not a border, it should be as bright as the rest of the image)

The best way to get video output that is faithful to the games is by using a program called VGA240.  This is a DOS TSR program that will tell standard VGA modes to display in 60Hz instead of 70Hz.  The result is that standard 320x200 games are double-scanned to 640x400 and extra top and bottom bars are added to the image for a 640x480 image.  The graphics are not stretched in an ugly nearest neighbor or fuzzy bilinear fashion.  With this raw image, you can crop out the bars and resize the image first to 320x200 and then to 1600x1200 for a perfect pixel aspect ratio.  Add the following lines to your AUTOEXEC.BAT :


Additionally, you may wish to add the line C:\VGA240\VGA240.EXE /SET /8 afterward to get crisper text.  You can get this utility by following the directions and the link in this thread :

There are a few downsides to using VGA240.  The first is that if you are looking at a CRT computer monitor, you may notice flicker from the 60Hz refresh rate.  The second is that text modes may be screwy when you exit a game, and the CLS DOS command does not work properly.  The USB3HDCAP can handle most "Mode X" VGA modes.  I tried Lemmings (640x350x"32"), Pinball Fantasies (640x480x"32", 320x350), Pinball Illusions (many), Epic Pinball (320x240).  I do not recall issues with any except for Pinball Fantasies.  The table select screen had flickering in the top portion of the screen (before the palette change), but after playing a game the menu looked fine.  The tables in the 320x350 mode were stretched 2x wide, but an aspect correction filter can fix that.  You may get better results in odd modes without VGA240.

60Hz VGA
You may observe that 60Hz is not 70Hz and some frame dropping must occur.  Fortunately 70Hz is a refresh rate, not a frame rate.  Most DOS games rarely push more than 30fps and many active frames in the teens.  Youtube and other streaming video sites do not yet support more than 60fps, so this is a good card for using real hardware in your videos.  A more robust solution like the Epiphan DVI2PCIe has been confirmed to handle 70Hz VGA modes without issue, but it is discontinued and sold for high prices back in the day.

When you first capture a video in 640x400, you may remark on how close the captures with the USB3HDCAP are to DOSBox.  But DOSBox's output is a pure digital signal while VGA is output through analog, which makes it susceptible to noise.  Once you upscale the signal to a resolution high enough to allow Youtube to give a 60fps option to your viewer, it solid areas of color may look like there is a lot of mosquito noise in them.  Resolutions such as 640x350 and 640x480 may appear to be a bit fuzzier in color than in black and white.

60Hz VGA after Aspect Ratio Correction
Thrill recommends setting the brightness, contrast and saturation levels to 140 each in the Video Settings menu.

I may revisit this portion of the article when I obtain a card with DVI output.  DVI was not common until the Geforce3 cards.  Still, the Geforce 3 has very good VGA compatibility.  DVI should give digital output at 60Hz, so it would eliminate the need for VGA240.  Digital output will not have the noise of analog output and I can give a cleaner resized signal.

Component & RGB

You should have no issue capturing 480i and 480p Component Video, but 240p Component Video is very difficult for capture cards.  Most refuse to accept the signal.  The USB3HDCAP' will accept and display it, but it may only display it in 720x240.  This results in a very squashed image, but the whole image is present.  Using any video editing program to stretch the image vertically by 200% using the nearest neighbor algorithm will fix the image.  OBS can avoid this issue without post-processing by checking the box "Auto Resolution Scaling & RGB24/32 Output ( Pls Reboot )" in the Configure Video window.

Nt Mini Component Video 240p
The StarTech will All the caveats above apply equally to RGB, but you must have a cable that will connect the appropriate R, G & B signals to an HD-15 connector.  Additionally, the StarTech requires separate H & V sync, most RGB consoles and many RGB computers only supported composite sync.

I was able to test my USB3HDCAP's component and RGB capturing capabilities with the Nt Mini.  The Nt Mini uses an HD-15 connector for all its analog signals.  Fortunately its use for RGB uses the same pins that the VGA connector does for R, G, B, H-sync and V-Sync.  I was able to use a standard VGA extension cable to get the picture signal from the Nt Mini to the USB3HDCAP.  However, the Nt Mini will require you to set the Analog RGB Mode in its Video menu to have the Nt Mini output Separate Sync.

Nt Mini RGB Video 15KHz (240p)
If there is a downside to capturing over Component or RGB, it is that the the USB3HDCAP only captures 720 horizontal pixels.  If your device is outputting a pixel count that is not an even multiple of 720 or 640, you will see horizontal pixels of uneven size, such as in this example :

There does not seem to be any way to force the USB3HDCAP to change its pixel sampling rate, so you are stuck with this.  The Open Source Scan Converter can adjust the sampling so that every horizontal pixel is of the same size, but it outputs DVI or HDMI at the device's native scan rate.  Various consoles and computers output scan rates that may not be particularly close to the HDMI standards 59.94 or 60Hz, so it may not work with every capture card.  I do not yet have an OSSC, but it was reported here that the OSSC does seem to be compatible with the USBHDCAP for most modes :

I hope to be able to use this functionality to get good captures from IBM CGA and the PCjr. Graphics Adapter as well as the Tandy Graphics Adapter.  I should only need the GGLABS CGA2RGB converter.  Since these adapters always use some integer divider of 640 (320, 160), I should be able to avoid the uneven horizontal pixel issue with systems that use 256 pixel modes.  Again, revisiting this blog post may be called for when I acquire one.

Composite & S-Video

These signals work just like any other capture card, you will see combing artifacts unless you recover the true 240/60p signal using Avisynth or OBS's "Retro" deinterlacing option.  If you find that you are only seeing half the image in your USB3HDCAP's preview, uncheck the box "Auto Resolution Scaling & RGB24/32 Output ( Pls Reboot )" in the Configure Video window and restart your capturing program.

Nt Mini Composite
Open Broadcaster Software (OBS)

When I got my first capture card last year, VirtualDub was my capturing program of choice.  However, VirtualDub's capture mode generates sync issues between the video and audio more often than not, and these can sometimes cannot be fixed.  I have found that OBS generates a much more consistently trouble-free capture than VirtualDub.  If video and audio become out of sync, deactivating and reactivating the card can fix that issue.


I paid approximately $190 for this card on Amazon and overall I am reasonably content with it.  The software and configuration are a bit fiddly, but the ability to capture 240p over component and 15KHz over RGB and basic VGA signals in addition to 1080/60p HDMImake it a great value over similarly priced capture cards.  It is not a perfect solution, but for retro game consoles and computers, it is over all the best solution for anything near its price range.


Anonymous said...

Nice write up. I will follow your YouTube progress. I’ve been reading this site for years and just ran across your channel today.

Unknown said...

That's really odd, as unless they are older ones, the latest drivers for the capture devices from both StarTech and Micomsoft refuse to work with anything below 480p for RGB. Even then, 480p and up have issues.

Great Hierophant said...

Those Thrillness drivers hail from 2015 and I do not advise using anything later, or kiss Component/RGB 240p goodbye.