Desktop Recording Methods

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Capturing your desktop (or laptop) screen is an easy task once you have a system in place. Before that system is in place you can expect your day or week to be ruined trying to find the best method. Hopefully I can help make that process a lot shorter and stressful.

The thing you have to know about recording your desktop is, what is your goal? Do you want to record video game footage, clip of a movie, a video online, software applications, or something else? Although most software and hardware used for recording can work for all of the above methods, picking the right one can make all the difference. For instance, recording video game footage requires high FPS, resolution and bitrate while having the game run smoothly. Recording your desktop is a lot different. Your desktop you need about 15fps to 30fps, high resolution, but a low bitrate.

If you do plan on recording video off of websites or your computer, recording isn’t the best option. Most of the time you can just crop the video file to a specific length and time if you want a segment from it by using Video Editing Software. For websites, you can look at the network data and find where the video file is getting pulled from. Now, downloads videos from the internet can be cause for copyright issues if you end up uploading them to another location and do not own the rights to do so.

Difference between Software and Hardware Recording

When picking how you want to record, you also need a budget. Software solutions are a lot cheaper, from being completely free to an average of $50. Some software for recording can range up to the hundreds. Hardware recording doesn’t start until around $100 and can jump to the thousands.

If you need the best performance on your computer while recording resource heavy applications (such as video games), you probably want to opt into getting a hardware based solution. Hardware based solutions mean your video card will output to your computer monitor and also a capture device. The capture device will encode the video and save it off to a disk on the same computer or another computer. Some capture devices are standalone and don’t require to be attached to a computer since they have a hard drive built in.

Hardware solutions are also a good idea for recording parts of your computer while software isn’t able to run. For instance, recording the boot sequence or parts of the bios will require you to use a hardware device for the recording.

Software solutions are usually slower unless you have a beast for a computer. The reason is, the video has to be encoded while recording which requires a lot of CPU usage, taking it away from the applications that also need it such as video games or other resource heavy applications. You can quickly get bottlenecked by your CPU and sometimes by your hard drive and RAM, causing the recording to be choppy or your computer to start slowing down.

If you have a powerful multiple core CPU and a hard drive other than the one with the operating system on it (hopefully a solid state drive), recording using software can be smooth. A lot of YouTubers who record computer video game footage use a software called “Fraps” which captures the DirectX foreground surface and saves it to the video file. The reason for a second hard drive is that the main hard drive is being used for running the video game, getting operating system files, and just keeping your computer running as normal. Writing video files can be very large, and having it write to a second hard drive will put less of a toll on the computer.

Software Solutions

Below is a list of some software I’ve used in the past to record desktops along with some of the more well known and supported methods. This list includes software for Windows and/or linux.

  • Fraps: A well known video game capture software. Works in getting the DirectX surface and writing that. Windows that popup over the recording screen will not be shown in the final recording, along with your mouse. This can also record the DWM in Windows Vista and 7 allowing you to record your desktop screen, but will not work in other operating systems for desktop recording.
  • CamStudio: A free, open source, and popular capture program. There are a few drawbacks such as a 2gb limit in recording size, and the settings are somewhat lacking along with the performance. CamStudio essentially takes many screenshots of your computer and then saves them in a AVI container using any codec you wish. If you are recording your desktop to show something off quick though, you can’t go wrong with this application.
  • VLC Media Player: Yup, VLC can record your desktop and even stream it if you so desire. It has many encoding and container options and also shows you a preview of what you are recording. It may take some time to get this setup properly to record how you wish, but I use it for a few of my videos and love it.
  • XSplit: Another game recording application similar to Fraps but has options to stream your footage instead of recording it. This software also has options to overlap images, text, and other screen regions all in the same video. It can record your desktop or video games by using the “Game Source” method or “Scree Region” methods.
  • GTKRecordMyDesktop: This linux application records your desktop at top notch speeds. You click record, and then you are all set. There are very few settings but you can record audio and microphone.
  • Gnome Desktop Record: Gnome now has built in a recording method similar to GTKRecordMyDesktop. Using the shortcut key of Ctrl+Shift+Alt+R you start and stop the screen capture. A red dot will appear on the bottom left when recording, but won’t show up in the video.

Hardware Recording Devices

Recording using hardware is a lot different than software recording. Just listing a set of products won’t do you much good. Although, if you do want a list of products, I suggest look at AverMedia, Roxio and BlackMagicDesign.

There are a few methods in which you can record using hardware.You can use 1 PC with a video card that has at least two output ports. Using the capture card on the same PC you are recording and having your video card duplicate the display to both outputs. This will still be an improvement over recording with software since the encoding happens most capture cards.

Another method is the same as above, but instead of using 1 computer, you have your capture card on another computer to record. Although this requires a few more parts to get working, this is one of the best ways to get the top performance.

The last method is using an external standalone capture device. These devices have hard drives built into them and record whatever you input. They are very similar to DVR’s, but are more expensive. DVR’s usually only record at 720p at 30fps at most. You will most likely want 1080p at 60fps.

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