Trial and error: recording computer audio and video

I’ve played video games on computers for a long time, but I was always discouraged from recording interesting gameplay moments because of the complexity of recording, converting, editing, and uploading the footage and files. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so the numerous quirks and errors that come from this process wouldn’t suit me; nothing would go up until all were resolved.

Yesterday I thought I’d take some time to solve these issues and record the solutions and methods so I would never have to work through figuring it out again. My requirements were the following:

  • Record video from computer activities (video games especially)
  • Best quality possible for reasonable file size
  • No watermarks, good frame rate
  • Record system sound (optionally microphone)
  • Minimal video-specific post-processing, simple process
  • Be entirely free

After looking at FRAPS and CamStudio, and them not filling all of these requirements (watermarks, maybe other frustrations I can’t recall), I landed on HyperCam 2. This program doesn’t have a watermark, records specific windows easily, and allows for different codecs. I worked through a lot of problems, as well, that I feel are best suited to a problem/solution format. Do note, though, that what I don’t include are the hours between each problem and solution!

Problem: HyperCam 2 records lossless AVI, but it creates very large files that are hard to preview and confirm proper recording.

Solution: Download other codecs that could give good quality while not eating up gigabytes.

Problem: The codecs you downloaded don’t show up in HyperCam 2.

Solution: Re-download and install the 32-bit version

Problem: Not recording audio.

Solution: Set default recording device to “What U Hear” (for my sound card). Also set default playback device to Speakers, as my usual headset did not also trigger sending sound through “What U Hear”.

Problem: The best codec, concerning quality and file size, has a noticeable audio and video desynchronization problem.

Solution: Back to AVI, deal with lengthy editing/conversion/uploading process another time.

Problem: After recording a lengthy video, frames may be lost and audio gets out of sync.

Solution: No good, repeatable answer. The audio gets progressively more out of sync as the video goes on. (Because of frame stuttering/loss during recording, I presume?) It also may be out of sync from the start. So simply stretching the audio, shortening the video, or clipping either does not fix this.

I had previously used VirtualDub for some TF2 videos, and tried loading the AVI file in that program. From there, I could extract the audio, which was 13 seconds shorter than the ~12 minute video. That is an extremely problematic difference. But one of the nice qualities of VirtualDub is the ability to set an option in Video>Frame Rate called “Change so video and audio duration match”. The description of this field has a slightly higher fps, which is what I would mathematically expect.

VirtualDub

I saved new files. Sadly, on a shorter video, it was close, but still off. On the longer video, the resulting video was completely black. This was yet another problem I remembered from years ago with TF2 videos. And it was one that I, after a full day of troubleshooting, no longer had the motivation to solve.

Luckily, by this point, I had posted about my efforts on Facebook, and a friend pointed me to Open Broadcaster Software. (Despite the name, it’s easy to record to a file on your own computer.) OBS does everything I wanted and more, with the only downside that the video quality is slightly less than I really wanted. But it’s easily in an acceptable range, especially considering that it solves all my other problems. The format’s also a great file size that I could use to record for hours. This video was an excellent tutorial on how to use it.

Additionally, for the first time, I really feel like this is an open source project I could contribute to. I see little tasks that could improve the program, and I see its grand potential in the gaming community.

I look at the motivation of this post in two ways. One is to vent and share my frustration with trying to get great-quality, recorded computer video online. The other is to detail my problem-solving for anyone else searching for solutions to some of the problems I faced. Answers for many of my questions were not easily attainable.

At the end of this, I’m extremely happy I was shown a better solution. I’m grateful to Grogster and feel more inclined to ask for help earlier in a process in the future. I also feel empowered to create now! With the logistics so much more easily established, the many possibilities of doing what I want to do seem much more attainable. Now to decide… what to make!

Edit: Just a bit after posting this, I looked more into the video quality. Turns out there are multiple ways to improve it, and I may have settled on my personal balance of complexity, overhead, and quality. Time may tell. I got this information from scanning the OBS forums and specifically from this video.

In OBS, under Settings, I changed the following things (from what I recall being the defaults) based on what the person in the video describes compared to my hardware ($2k computer) and needs (high quality):

Encoding

  • Use CBR: unchecked
  • Quality Balance: 10
  • Max Bitrate: 10000

Broadcast Settings

  • File Path: changed to FLV file type, because if recording ever fails, the file won’t be corrupted like with mp4. (There may be disadvantages I’m not aware of yet.)

Advanced

  • Custom x264 Encoder Settings: checked, added “crf=18”, which is another measure of quality. I read a bit of the excellent explanation here to confirm what I changed wasn’t ludicrous.

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