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Creating How-To Videos for Stream: Part 2 – Recording

, Principal PM Manager, Monday, August 1, 2016

In part 1, we covered how to create a script for your How-To video and get ready for recording.  In today’s post we will be covering the best practices and guidance for the recording phase.

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Recording the screen casts

You have a script, now what? Time to move someplace quiet and capture some video.

If you are going to be the “voice” for your video and you do not plan to have anyone do the final professional quality ‘voice over’, then the most important piece of equipment you need is, of course, a good microphone. If you plan to to just record “scratch” quality audio and later re-voice the content with a professional, then you can go with a Bluetooth or USB headset or simply the microphone built into your laptop. 

In our case, we already had a very high quality USB microphone on the team that we use for podcasts. My favorite microphone for podcasting (and home recording of my acoustic guitar as well) is the Yeti from Blue Microphones. It records in high quality 16 bit audio and provides low-latency monitoring through a pair of headphones, so you can hear exactly what you are recording in the room.

To record your screen, there are a lot of tools out there that can get the job done. From open source tools, to commercial licensed tools like Camtasia, SnagIt, Skitch, Jing and more. I’ve been a long time user of TechSmith’s SnagIt. I can’t get through a day without it for sending screen captures in email to answer customer questions, or create new product ideas. SnagIt does a great job with images, but also fits most of my needs for recording video as well.

Setting up your software

When choosing a screen recoding software, it’s a good idea to make sure that you test drive it before recording your videos. Commercial products like SnagIt also provide great online tutorials to complement this blog post. Things to look out for include:

  1. Does it support high resolution capturing?  Most content you product today should be 1080p resolution.  If your laptop/desktop is not powerful enough to capture 1080p, your next best resolution would be 720p.
  2. Does the software support capturing at 30 frames per second?  A lot of products limit you to 10fps or a variable frame rate.  The frame rate may ramp up around screen motion or cursor movement.  The downside of this is that you can get some odd stuttering effects in your video that do not look smooth when uploaded to Microsoft Stream and played back at 30fps in our default encoding settings.  It’s highly recommended to record and output at 30fps.  Sometimes this setting is on the conservative side (15fps or lower), and can be difficult to discover in the commercial screen capture products. For example, Snagit has a menu that is difficult to locate that provides a “Video Quality” setting with 3 options – Low, Medium, and High.  Setting this to High Quality results in a much larger file, but at higher frame rate and quality as well.
  3. Make sure that the software can output an MP4 file.  This is a commonly used video file format that is supported by Microsoft Stream.
  4. Check to see if the software exports MP4 files using the H.264 video codec and AAC audio codec. These codecs are widely supported by most popular products on the market today, and are the preferred format for uploading content to Microsoft Stream.
  5. If your team is recording multiple videos, you may want to standardize on the resolution and machine that you are recording on. It’s a minor issue, but even in our final videos we ended up with different resolutions recorder by different users. Ideally they would all match in resolution and aspect ratio.

Pre-flight checklist

Once you have chosen the proper capture software, make sure to go through the following checklist before recording:

  1. Is your microphone detected by the software?
  2. Is the microphone enabled in the software?  Most software allows you to toggle the microphone, and may default to off.
  3. Do you want to capture the cursor movement? Most of the time you would want this for product demos, so it is recommended to enable that option. However, if you are just presenting a PowerPoint deck, you should turn this off to avoid the distracting movement.
  4. Do I want to capture the system sound effects and audio? This means the sounds your PC/Mac may be making directly. This could be email notifications, alerts, sound from playing back video content, etc. Most of the time you would not want this recorded in with your voice track.  It’s best to keep that set to off – unless you are demonstrating a product that uses sounds.
  5. Set your capture region to a “Fixed Region” to avoid having to reset the capture region multiple times on subsequent takes. By not locking your capture region, you may have to constantly re-draw or re-select the window that you want captured. If there is any slight shift in setting that capture region, you will not easily be able to edit your content later due to the shifting of the screen or window in your video captures. Leave yourself some freedom for editing later.

Recording your takes

Once you are all set up, do a test pass. Record a few rough walkthroughs of your script to get a feel for your capture tool’s short-cut keys and any delays of recording or startup. Check the output video quality to make sure it matches your expected resolution and frame rate. 

Another important pre-run check is to import the test video into your favorite editing software (if you plan to edit it later) just to be sure that it imports cleanly and that it works well with your application.

Now that your pre-flight checklist is complete, it is time for the final recording. Relax, take a few deep breaths and hit record.

When recording, take advantage of the following tips to make things a lot smoother in the final video.

  • Avoid moving the mouse around unnecessarily.  Don’t circle the mouse nervously, or move it to quickly from one location to the next.
  • Stay calm, speak normally and in a conversational tone.  if you are post editing, don’t forget you can pause, count to 5 and start the section again. 
  • When moving from one “row” of your script to the next, it is good to pause your mouse movement in case you need to make an edit later.
  • Some people are able to record their entire script in one take…good for them, but that’s not me!  If your content is long, you may find it easier to record a few rows of your script at a time and pause.  Some of the recording products on the market have a hot-key that allows you to pause and restart the recording, simplifying the process of editing.  If not, you may need to bring your “takes” into a proper editing tool (Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, Final Cut, iMovie) to build your final video.  Personally, I recorded a few rows of my script at a time as separate clips and then imported them into Sony Vegas for my final editing.

In part 3, I’ll cover how to edit down your How-To video and post it to Microsoft Stream with captions.

Join the Stream Community!

Join our community and send us ideas on new features or scenarios that you would be interested in having enabled in future updates to the Microsoft Stream service.  We have two locations for collaboration on the Stream Community site, one for asking questions and one for posting new ideas. Or follow us and send us a message on Twitter at @microsoftstream.