How to Eliminate USB HDMI Capture Devices like the Elgato Camlink From a Laptop Streaming Rig

If you’ve streamed using a laptop, chances are that you’ve got at least one USB HDMI capture device like an Elgato Camlink or something similar (if not 3 or 4).

And if you’ve used an Elgato Camlink (or multiple Camlinks), you’ve probably run into issues like the rest of us like:

  • USB bandwidth exceeded
  • Being forced to unplug one of these devices and plug it back in before OBS can see the device
  • The captured image freezes mid-stream and you have to go into OBS and deactivate/activate to bring it back online
  • Turning on/off the camera/device being captured kills the feed and requires effort to being it back online

What if you didn’t need to use USB HDMI Capture Devices like this and the replacement wasn’t plagued with ANY of these issues?

Welcome to the Future

Let’s talk about Thunderbolt and external PCIe bays like this:

I picked up this new streaming toy after my laptop was stolen shortly after Texas Pinball Festival and I found myself in a weird position because the replacement laptop turned out to be SIGNIFICANTLY more powerful than my desktop and switching to it represented efficiencies all over the place! It even enabled a much more mobile approach to streaming again but I didn’t want to go back to USB HDMI capture cards after seeing how consistently wonderful streaming could be on my desktop with a PCIe capture card like the Elgato Camlink PRO:

I moved to home streaming only with COVID but I was already heading down that road because it was such a pain to move the desktop and gear around. With the no-mobile decision made, I made the jump to a dedicated Alienware desktop and the above mentioned Camlink Pro PCIe card.

Years later, I’ve found myself day-dreaming about how great would it be to become mobile again. With so many amazing locations in Colorado for pinball popping up I’d love to re-join the post-COVID pinball community.

And then I remembered a conversation I had with Jordan from Fliptronic about eliminating bandwidth issues using Thunderbolt instead of USB and then another conversation with PinballPrincessJillian at Expo 2021 where she recommended moving to an external PCIe enclosure using Thunderbolt to add mobility back into my streaming rig with a laptop but not lose out on the reliability of the CamLink Pro.

Note: I was…. somewhat intoxicated at Expo 2021 (for almost the entire event) and remember being excited about what she was describing and logged it away for future use (mental notes mixed with copious amounts of Aviation gin rarely go well together).

Lesson Learned? I should be better about taking good advice like this and running with it rather than waiting for catastrophe to force my hand 😛

With the upgraded laptop I decided, “There is no time like the present to make a mobile rig happen again” and picked this up:

Installing the Cam Link PRO was simple. There were a few thumb screws on the enclosure and then the bay slides out completely making it VERY easy to physically install the card.

Then I slid it back in, tightened the thumbscrews and I was ready to go!

SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE: The cable for Thunderbolt 3/4 is not a standard USB C cable. Definitely use the one that comes with the enclosure. Standard USB C cables will not work!

ANOTHER SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE: You may have to enable Thunderbolt in your laptop’s BIOS settings before it will work. I’m not sure why it’s often disabled by default but now you know.

What is so different now?

I’ve now connected my external enclosure to my computer and plugged in 4 HDMI inputs… what does that mean?

It means I get the benefits of a PCIe card on my laptop!

But what if you don’t know what that means? It means you haven’t experienced the AMAZING WONDERFUL AWESOMENESS that is not having to deal with USB devices. No more issues with the computer not being able to find a USB device. No more issues with an HDMI device being disconnected and needing to activate/deactivate to bring it back online.

Want proof? Check out this live swap of 2 HDMI inputs ON STREAM!

Everything just works. You plug it in and it shows up.

Imagine that. Imagine a streaming world with no live hiccups or extra time spent getting your cameras to work as they should before a stream starts…

This is my world now. I’m mobile (well, more mobile) AND have the benefits of a desktop system in a laptop package! Now I just need to finish up building my IEPinball (Karl Deangelo) mobile streaming rig.

Happy streaming y’all!

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