Direct-to-camcorder screen recording

For several of my screencasts I used an unusual method which I mentioned here. I made my camcorder be the computer’s display, and dubbed the output to tape1. My reasons were twofold. First, I wanted to capture a lot of raw footage without having to wait for the captured data to get written to a file, which can be slow. Second, I wanted to be able to edit in iMovie. Although I have Camtasia and use it often, I reach for iMovie when I need precise frame-by-frame control, and when I’m laying down audio narration in a precise way. Camtasia isn’t good at those things, and neither is Windows Movie Maker. I’ve tried Adobe Premier but it does way more than I need and the learning curve intimidated me. (It also ain’t cheap.) If there is a basic Windows movie editor that meets my requirements, I’d love to hear about it, and so would my screencasting colleagues at MSDN Channel 9. Meanwhile I’ll continue to reach for iMovie. But moving files from a Windows-based capture tool over to iMovie on the Mac, and then back to Windows where I continue to rely on Camtasia for final production, is a huge hassle. Hence the notion of using the camcorder as a bridge between the two worlds.

For the screencasts mentioned above, I connected my Mac to the camcorder with an S-Video cable, detected the camcorder as a display, and captured at 720×480. It’s a challenge to arrange a presentation in that small rectangle, but — particularly when you’re demonstrating a single application window — it can be done.

Today when I updated the Vista video driver for my Compaq nc8340, which has an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600, I repeated the experiment in Vista. This 20-second screencast shows the results for two different capture resolutions: 1024×768 and 800×600. (With this Windows-based setup, talking to the same camcorder, 720×480 doesn’t seem to be an option.) Both captures get squashed down to the standard digital video resolution of 720×480, and neither is crystal clear, but I think both are usable, though you should judge for yourself. I’d lean toward the 800×600 resolution which I’ve found to be ideal for two reasons. First, it minimizes the amount of video data you have to ship over the wire to your viewers, and that still matters. Second, it forces the demo to focus on where the action is, rather than displaying the full panoply of the modern GUI which can often be overwhelming.

1 One of my goals in writing that post was to assure that a future search for ‘udell pv-gs400 s-video’ would find the reminder to myself, embedded in that post, about how to dub to tape. And now, sure enough, it does.

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7 thoughts on “Direct-to-camcorder screen recording

  1. I find Camtasia -> Pinnacle Studio near perfect for screencasting. It’s essentially a drag-and-drop editor, but if you switch to “Timeline view” and zoom in, you can do frame-precise razoring and edits trivially, simple sound editing (volume, normalizing, etc.). If you’re doing significant sound editing, you probably should turn to an external editor, but aligning / synchronizing an external soundtrack is easy. Plus, it has star wipes! (Why have hamburger when you can have caviar?)

  2. “Pinnacle Studio”

    Good tip, thanks.

    “If you’re doing significant sound editing, you probably should turn to an external editor”

    It’s the narration that’s trickiest. I often want to narrate in tight segments that are precisely aligned to the onscreen action. With iMovie I can do that in a very direct and iterative way. In other editors it’s possible, but tedious: record a fragment, move it into the video editor, keep or toss, rinse/lather/repeat.

  3. Just wondering whether it’s possible to capture raw digital video from my Sony camcorder to the screen using my S-Video Out port through my USB port (I have a S-Video to USB cable) to my XP box. I have a firewire port on my new 6 month old HP Pavillion PC however, I don’t have a firewire out port on my camcorder. I can capture the video using the 5 pin mini output port from camcorder to USB, however, the video isn’t that great (drops some frames and isn’t very clear because of shooting track meet video with lots of motion) I’d say it borderline reasonable, but I’d like to improve it if possible.
    I’ve heard that S-Video provides much better resolution than USB. I’ve also heard that USB should never be used for capturing video but I can do it in 320 x 240 (too small to be worthwhile) If I could somehow get 640 x 480 with better resolution, I’d be REAL happy.

    The only other option I could think of would be to take the digital 8mm tape to a camera shop or professional photographer and see if they had acess to another 8mm camcorder with a firewire output and have them burn a CD or DVD for me from my 8mm tape.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    I’ll check back daily for any responses.

    Best Regards & God Bless…

    1. I have a Mac with iMovie installed. I am able to connect my video camera to the Mac using the cable that comes with the camera and download all of the info into iMovie.

  4. Well, it was late last night when I made the above post and after re-reading the article, I have evidently misunderstood the concept as it was presented…my bad.

    Back to the drawing board…

  5. I am recording a movie, using a digital camcorder Canon ZR 200.
    The movie is 16 mm film size & on a 12 inch reel and Im recording via the movie projection screen.

    The movie is OK quality on the screen ( family info about 50-60 years ago). But when I look through the view finder & on on the camcorder screen the images are flashing as if I’m recording the space between each frame.

    I’m baffled since I did not have this problem with 8mm. Help!

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