For demos, promotional videos, user support calls and assessing graphical performance....
Updated 26/05/2020 to add info on Green Screens, lighting, headsets and a few more products plus some specific hints for teachers looking to record lessons
How to Record Graphics?
There are lots of scenarios where it is useful to record graphics:
- To make a support call – a quick video can save a tonne of words and confusion
- To assess performance and quality
- To make instructional videos to demonstrate configurations and set-up steps
- To make promotional videos just showing off the pretty responsive graphics
With the advice from colleagues in the VFX, Cloud/VDI and CAD/AEC/CAE industries we’ve put together a few suggestions including many for the budget conscious of solutions you might want to explore. The products are listed in absolutely no meaningful order with no implied rating. It’s a product space with a lot of competition and many of the products recommended were new to especially me. However, in a space with 1000s of products some personal recommendation helped me limit my search.
Pricing and Licensing
There are many free products available as well as free trials. Typically, these come with no support and often limitations such as 30-days once only trial or watermarks added to the end results. Licensing can also depend on whether you are an individual, education business, student or commercial business. You must ensure that you are using an appropriately licensed product when producing content.
Justifying the use of videos and the cost of software to your boss
If you are thinking about making videos and spending money on software to do so. It’s worth a good long think about whether it adds value to your product. While researching this article I found an excellent blog in favour of using video content that has some interesting links to statistics that may help argue your case to use video.
Software Recording Products
These are great for set-up videos and demos. You install a piece of software that captures your screen and then can edit it, some recording products include quite sophisticated editing suites and even libraries of copyright free music/graphics etc. However, you should be aware that the load from the recording software can affect the actual performance/image quality seen because it uses CPU/GPU resource that would normally be available to the application.
- Powerpoint includes the functionality to publish your presentations as a video. This can be a great free way to ensure your presentations are interpreted correctly along with what you want to “say”. There’s plenty of information on the Microsoft Support Site. The output can be standalone videos that don’t require PowerPoint itself to be installed so are suitable for viewing on mobile smartphones or tablets. It’s very likely you may want to use PowerPoint to record transition slides for sections of another video.
- Camtasia from TechSmith – around £230 one off, with annual maintenance options ontop for upgrades.
- SnagIt from TechSmith. Camtasia’s little sibling, fewer features but low cost (£46 one time purchase). A simple and popular choice for many.
- Adobe Creative Cloud. Adobe’s products are at the high-end in terms of enterprise features, easy of use and price. Although not the cheapest option, if you are doing significant video work they are widely regarded to offer excellent value and their users love the products. Sophisticated recording and editorial products including Adobe Premiere Pro. Subscriptions available for all apps or a select few. Typically for a small/medium business for commercial use rates are around £60 pcm for the whole suite or £25 for a single app. Personal options are slightly cheaper but not significantly.
- OBS Studio. Open Broadcaster software, an open source and free option for recording. Popular and easy to use with active community for self-support. Windows, MacOS and Linux versions available.
- FRAPS. $37 for perpetual usage. Benchmarking software that offers a windowed overlay to monitor and record frame rates, resource usage and similar. Also offers screen capture and video recording so can be useful for showing performance data and comparative benchmarking.
- For Apple Mac: QuickTime Screen Recorder. Nice and simple built-in offering with Apple OSs. Basic recording and editing (trimming/cutting) included.
- Screencast-o-matic. Free basic recording with watermarks; watermark free editing and hosting available $1.65-$4 a month
- ActivePresenter from Atomi, a vendor focused on eLearning uses. Commercial versions $200-400 but there’s a free personal use version. Used by a lot of very large enterprise organisations. Includes editing suite and tools particularly focused on making nice demos and tutorials.
- TinyTake; A free version is available for personal use and prices range from $30 to $100 for the highest SKU annual business options. Includes hosting and YouTube integration. Interestingly, commercial licensing is available on a weekly basis at under $10, so this might be suitable for short-term projects.
- For MAC users: ScreenFlow by Telestream for screen recording / editing. Some iPhone integrations; options for a perpetual license range around $130-$230. Options available include graphics and transition libraries.
- Cyberlink Screen Recorder 4. £45 RRP one off.
- Skype 4 Business Recording Manager; free build in facility that allows you to record meetings and turn them into video you can edit later. Most unified communication software (Jabber, Zoom, Google Hangouts etc) has such a facility as do webinar/meeting tools such as Webex, GoTomeeting etc.
- Zoom – local or cloud recording options.
- For Linux: Kazam ScreenCaster was recommended on my original post as a good quality and free of charge solution and the user also recommended Linux users should read this list of the best linux screen recorders.
Hardware recording avoids the problems of software recording where the software you are trying to record a video of uses a lot of CPU/GPU itself so affects the recorded results e.g. gaming, 3D CAD software, VFX / CGI or high-res video. Frequently used for benchmarking and test in the graphics industry there are a lot of low-cost options owing to its popularity with gamers wanting to record and share their experience with zero impact on performance.
Typically, a secondary device (“black-box”) is inserted somewhere into the system with its own resources. Hauppauge and Black Magic are vendors to consider in this space.
Citrix HDX performance team wrote a very good guide for choosing hardware recording devices for cloud/VDI and in-depth set-up instructions. Although now a bit dated such that the models used are not current the basic explanation and guide still holds for newer models of the products mentioned and is still a must read if considering hardware recording.
Recording via your GPU
Recording the screen directly from the GPU is an efficient way of recording which avoids the overhead issues of software video capture; as such it has proved highly popular with gamers
- AMD ReLive, if you are using an AMD Radeon or Radeon Pro GPU, you have Radeon ReLive built into the driver software. It’s a very flexible and low overhead option for capturing high quality screen footage in formats that can be edited with any other software that you choose.
- NVIDIA ShadowPlay part of the GEForce product range of consumer graphics products, targeted at gamers who want to share their exploits.
Many of these products also include some recording facility, although editing is their primary focus.
- Apple iMovie, for MacOS and iOS.
- Apple Mac users may also want to look at Apple Final Cut Pro X. There’s a 90 free trial and it costs around £300.
- Lightworks from EditShare. Free and popular with a paid for Pro version (£14.99 a month, £99 annual, £249 perpetual). Not to be confused with Lightworks Design in the UK, a key component and consultancy supplier in 3D rendering for VFX/CAD.
- Filmora; $13-£60 pcm for various business licences, $40-100 per year for personal use.
- VEGAS Movie Studio 16 (previously Sony Vegas Movie Studio, Sony sold the software in 2014); with three SKUs ranging from £70-100 (currently on discount at around 30% of list prices) a choice many recommended.
- Sony Creative Software Catalyst Edit. Many recommended Sony Movie Studio (a product that doesn’t actually exist any more and they probably meant Vegas, see above). Sony do have some high-end production suites focused on film, VFX and high-resolution cases from Sony cameras. Some functionality including transcoding available free but the commercial versions that are really useful are $140-$200 per year with monthly options also available.
- Magix. A great website which allows you to filter products by tasks and also by level of experience; a vast range of products with a lot of feature variation to research. Prices for their Magix Movie Edit Pro range from £60-110 on initial offer (I’ve seen a few list retail prices go up to over £300). This is one of the products the HDX team at Citrix were fond of when I worked there. Their site also covers other products such as VEGUS.
- Pinnacle Studio. Another past favourite of the HDX team. A low cost supported solution with simple to understand SKUs and features with prices ranging from around £55 to £100.
- EasiestSoft Movie Editor; A low cost (around $40) solution.
- Adobe Premiere Pro https://www.adobe.com/uk/products/catalog.html
- Cyberlink PowerDirector 365. Perpetual licenses range £60-£100 depending on options but monthly subscription also available which may suit shorter projects. Probably not the simplest option but includes functionality for 360 video and collage editing. An additional AI plugin is available that can turn your videos into Van Gogh / Monet like masterpieces.
- BlackMagicDesign – Da Vinci Resolve 16. Popular with VFX/Design types and including hand trackers, color grading and good time remapping for slowdowns. A Free version and a collaborative paid for fully featured professional studio version $299 .
If looking to transfer your videos from one format to another you may need to investigate transcoders. A few to investigate:
- Handbrake; when I started looking into making videos I focussed on the recording and editing and hadn’t even thought of transcoding (turning video from one format to another). Big thanks to CAD Claire for correcting the omission! Handbrake is an open source and free solution available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
- When I first started writing this article a few recommended smallvideosoft.com, who distributed their range of freeware “Freez” products to enable porting videos to other formats including 3GP and 3G2 (see more on gotchas in the next section). However, the domain name is up for sale and not sure what happened – I’ve included this as a caveat on the risks of choosing freeware or open source unsupported options. The software seems to still be on tucows though.
- EasiestSoft offer a range of video and audio format converters for Windows; to convert formats including 3GP, 3G2, AMV, ASF, AVI, DAT, DivX, DV, F4V, FLV, H264, M1V, M2T, M2TS, M2P, M2V, M4V, MKV, MOD, MOV, MP2V, MP4, MPE, MPG, MPEG, MPV, MPV2, MTS, MTV, NSV, OGG, OGM, OGV, QT, RM, RMVB, SWF, TOD, TP, TRP, TS, VOB, VP6, WEBM, WM, WMV.
There are a lot of free tools in this space and whilst investigating options came across a fair few that didn’t pass my worm/virus checker on download. SECURITY WARNING: Format conversion tools are notorious for being targeted by the bad guys so do be careful when sourcing and downloading.
A Green Screen is basically a piece of green cloth that is used as a background which can be replaced by a video or image, many common UC products such as Go To Meeting, Teams and Zoom include this feature. It is a common technique in films for many years (often Blue was used). Green is used as it’s not a common colour to wear and is very different to skin tones.
Although often done for fun there are significant professional and business as to why you may want to use a Green Screen. Prior to the Corona virus webinars by work from home companies never featured shots of people’s living rooms, laundry or bookshelves; the rise in civilian Zoom usage and TV companies trying to make do has normalised this but really it makes no sense. Your employees’ random varied homes and decor are not a consistent brand look, it also risks infringing on their privacy (pictures of kids etc) and can raise issues if their choice of literature features “Mein Kampf” or similar with your customers. Additionally, especially if recording webinars and publishing them or broadcasting/streaming you may well encounter copyright issues with art, books, products in their home. A Green screen can hide all this.
Personally I chose a Green Screen Kit that came with a Green screen but also a plain black and a plain white one; this can be useful for taking passport photos too or just a neutral background to hide your home, a plain white “wall”.
Things to consider:
- Size – a lot of Green Screen kits are full size photographic studio ones – so be careful to find one small enough for a home environment – I chose a fairly cheap £42.99 kit (3×1.6m) off Amazon but there are 1000s online to choose from. I might have chosen smaller with hindsight as it does get in the way a bit.
- Portability – a carrying bag and robustness are features to look at and check amazon or similar reviews if you are planning to use out and about or at multiple locations
- Don’t wear green
- The green screen can leave artifacts especially if wearing patterns so consider assessing video quality and no artefacts with what you plan to wear. A plain white screen with a physical company pop up logo may work.
On a budget you can buy a few yards/metres of Green Screen fabric on amazon for pocket-money.
Consider getting a ring light or other decent lighting – ring lights are a trick popular with beauty instagrammers – they basically tend to have a few tones to warm or cool and even your skin tone and are great at removing a chin or two or help hide any bags under your eyes. Many come with a mobile stand so you may want to look at those if likely to record on your phone.
SAD therapy lights can be very effective for lighting recordings as the light usually both natural and diffuse avoiding hard reflections on glasses. If you do wear glasses putting the light to one side can minimise unwanted reflects too (you may also want to avoid green frames too if ever planning to use a green screen).
For anyone working from home or doing webinars, recording audio. A decent headset is a must. At the top end noise-cancelling headphones are common amongst those recording and editing especially if mixing and adding a lot of audio. For normal office or webinar use, personally I’ve always had a good experience with entry level lightweight Sennheiser sets. Gaming headsets can be surprisingly good if often a little bulky for many uses. Features to consider include: robustness / weight if you travel a lot; wireless / wired – it’s usually the wire near the laptop socket which fails and many like to be able to walk around whilst on conference calls or even doing presentations as a stand-up presenter weather girl style. Wireless charging stations and headphone stands/carry cases may be something to look at. Make sure you choose a connector type suitable to your needs or else you may need adaptors, many brands come in USB, Jack or even double Jack varieties.
If you want to avoid wearing a headset then a standalone microphone might suit. You should aim to record somewhere nice and quiet and may need some sound lab insulation (the odd duvet) to absorb echos. You also will want to avoid speakers to avoid feedback so for interactive webinars headsets tend to be the way to go.
Sound lab techniques
Hard surfaces in the home can cause sound waves to bounce of walls and affect the quality of recorded audio. Making yourself a tent out of duvets/sleeping bags (out of shot of the camera) can actually significantly improve home recordings.
Drawing / Signature Tablets
It can be particularly useful to be able to write on the presentation/webinar and do whiteboard presentations or brainstorming. This is particularly true for teachers in subjects such as maths where typing and preparing symbols is just a real pain! Many modern devices come with styllus like functionality or screens which you can write on e.g. Microsoft surface and many Apple devices. For those with legacy PCs or low end laptops without such functionality a drawing tablet such as a Veikk can be useful – generally the bigger the better and a similar size to your own screen helps – however after a bit of practice a Veikk s640 at £20-25 (normal price – at the moment in high demand and they aren’t worth £40 if that’s all you can find go for a £40 with a better specification) entry level Veikk s640 is perfectly useful for annotating presentations, whiteboarding. Products like bitpaper.io are popular in the online tutor market for one-to-one and small group teaching especially if the child/children have access to similar stylus functionality. Stylus functionality also can help with the marking and annotation of scanned or photographed homework.
Recently it’s become quite popular to use a “Lightboard” vs a Whiteboard, essentially a piece of glass behind which the presenter stands and rather than turn their back to the camera – writes on the glass in coloured pen which shows up brightly.
You can buy them of the shelf – https://www.learning.glass/ should give you an idea of what’s available.
For those looking for a challenge though, many through economy or because they can choose to DIY build, there are plenty of examples on YouTube such as this one, and projects such as “How to make a Lightboard for less than $100”.
For those wanting written instructions though I’d recommend reading Rob Beekmans’ blog detailing how he built his own Lightboard.
Once you have your lightboard working, you record your video writing as normal and then use the recording tool (built-in functionality with most) or an editor to flip the image 180 degrees (mirror image) so the writing is the write way round. This does mean if you want company logos in the background you will need to use a mirrored-image of the logos and use something like Teams Greenscreen. It also means you have a teeny issue if you have your kids’ or mum’s names tattooed across your arms or neck (see kids… tattoos can be a problem in the workplace!), there are usually ways to reverse the entire video though in editting or via an intermediate application.
Gotchas – Playing your videos on YouTube, GoToMeeting, Webex, Zoom, Mobile etc
- Is the video experience good for the user? There’s nothing more annoying on mobile than an unwanted or irrelevant video consuming your data, videos that shudder or display badly create a bad first impression and a video can slow your web pages so that users abandon them. So be selective and make sure you QA the experience not just on PCs or laptops but mobile devices. I’ve written before about tools from google to help check your content loads nicely as well as form factor considerations (the size and dimensions of your device screen).
- There are dedicated video formats for mobile devices including 3GP and 3G2, targeted at the older 3G standard. Consider if your users may be on older devices or in areas with awful mobile coverage. You may consider converting your videos to mobile optimised formats, see transcoders above.
- Whilst hardware capture and some software can record very high resolutions it’s worth remembering that most end up compressed anyway for use YouTube or viewing over the internet. You may want to consider if you might as well record in a compressed format or whether you need a very high-resolution master (many people don’t).
- Playing videos within a WebEx, GoToMeeting e.g. within a PowerPoint presentation can look great on your screen but terrible to the remote viewer. If doing a webinar be aware, sometimes presenters send out a link during their presentations to YouTube etc to work around this.
To make a video to raise a support ticket
If you are experiencing a software issue the easiest way is to take screenshots if you can (some bugs prevent this) and record a short video on a mobile phone camera. It’s also essential you follow the VDI / protocol vendor advice for capturing logs, so that they know what configuration this happened under. In Cloud and VDI many issues are nothing to do with the GPU or VDI solution but network issues or graphic protocol misconfiguration so that’s a key factor to check.
Making your first video – tips for novices
One way to help you assemble your footage that can also give your video a corporate and identifiable brand, is to use corporate branded PowerPoint templates to help map out the video. It can help to set up slides as an introduction and then insert slides in between video segments and at the end with contact information. You can then capture your PowerPoint slides as video. Then using whatever video editing software you have chosen; you can insert those slides, slow them down, cut them short – cut back and forth between your captured video and slides explaining what’s going on; add a voice-over.
To evergreen or not? Evergreen content is material you can reuse long term as it is designed not to date and can be easily recycled e.g. a magazine article “Top 10 holiday packing tips” versus a one that has a context of time “Top 10 new holiday products for 2018”. Do you want your material to be generically reusable or do you want to make it clear by dating it or similar that it is old when someone sees it two years later?
Scripts / Teleprompters
If recording a lesson, marketing video or tutorial it can be a good idea to have a script prepared. This may be as basic as cue cards stuck to the wall or your power point up on a device so you know what’s coming. Many use a tablet or mobile phone teleprompter app if following a script there are plenty available for iPad/iPhone or Android.
Staying Legal: COPYRIGHT and similar
When working with video, you should always be very mindful of the copyright terms and conditions of any material you are capturing. Especially when handling any content which you haven’t made yourself; for example a movie trailer – that you may be showing running on a VM or GPU. If you are demonstrating software running content you need to sure that you are appropriately licensed to show that content publicly. You also need to be sure you are licensed to show the software product in action, many VDI and application vendors include clauses that state their software can’t be used or recorded in benchmarks against competitors. Also, if you want to add music to your video you can’t just add your Spotify list to the video track; your company becomes responsible for the redistribution and public performance of any copyrighted material, infringement of which can result in fines, lawsuits or worse. Always contact the appropriate legal expert in your company for guidance if you want or need to include music in your video presentations. Many (particularly the paid for) products that can record and edit videos include or have add-ons that provide access to libraries of copyright free material.
Choosing video making software – questions to ask yourself
- How often will be using the software and how much is your hourly rate for your labour? Whilst there are plenty of free and very low-cost options, if you plan to do a significant amount of work would the time saved by some features of more expensive packages save you time?
- How will you get trained up on this software?
Whilst I found most products I tried I could do something, I compromised a bit on intent versus results as I didn’t know how to do a few things. To really get the most out of these products you need to look at the level of self-tutorial, community forum support, formal training and documentation available. Choosing a popular mainstream product might be wise if you want to recruit people with skills or train up others.
- How many people will be using this software?
If you go for a more expensive option and buy a single license or maybe two or get tied into a per user cloud model, how are you going to cover tasks for vacations or avoid having a single expert (and point of failure)?
- How will the costs scale long term?
Think about numbers of users, training costs, data storage costs, migration costs if you ever needed to change product. Once you’ve produced videos how are you going to maintain and manage them, who is going to respond to comments on YouTube?
- How much will re-licensing cost?
Some products offer very attractive first purchase offers because of course they’d like your business – once you have lots of your content tied up with their product changing product becomes harder so do research renewal costs.
- Do you need long term availability and support?
Imagine you tie all your content up in a cloud or product and it disappears or is discontinued. What do you do if a software bug blocks a vital product or content. Whilst there are very many freeware options do consider how you can retrieve your data and who will be responsible if it all goes wrong – yes! Allocate someone with explicit responsibility!
- Mobile app availability. If you are planning on doing on-location out-and-about video blogs you may wish to consider a product that offers a mobile app and in particular mobile editing functionality; whilst live streaming is fun, if your material is representing your business you may well need the functionality to cut out bloopers or being face-bombed by a random stranger.
Learn from children and gamers! Work experience students and interns
Snapchat, Apps, Instagram, vBloggers and WhatsApp mean the younger generations are incredibly technically and graphically knowledge. Growing up on bunny selfies, I found that some of the most interesting advice I received came from colleagues’/friends’ teenage kids, who were often making far more sophisticated videos than some of the senior marketing managers I spoke to!
I can really see the value in marketing organisations offering internships to younger folks to build up their video content.
Recording their performance and adventures is very popular amongst gamers and there are plenty of gurus in this area too!
Other users’ reviews
There are plenty of review websites where you can read users’ opinions of the various products mentioned. I found plenty of forums, review sites and blogs.
- G2crowd.com has some nice in-depth reviews
- Steam User Forums; Steam is a digital distribution platform developed by Valve Corporation, which offers digital rights management, multiplayer gaming, video streaming and social networking services. The community is full of gamers and digital artists who like to record their work so it’s a good place to ask questions.
Complying with data security and safeguarding standards
If you are going to record videos containing confidential commercial IP, are in a regulated industry or personal data is involved you must ensure you store videos and any associated chatlog/minute records or attendee lists in a way that complies with your industry’s/sectors GDPR and similar regulations. A secure corporate shared drive or private cloud may be appropriate and you should consider a proper written policy and allocating a dedicated data controller. This is particularly important for teachers recording live lessons where children are involved and you may want to consider editing videos to remove identifiable interactions before publishing them.
Specific Advice/Pointers for Teachers
A few things to consider:
- Choice of broadcast media, use of Zoom is banned in many parts of the UK and by many regulated education providers – enterprise alternatives include Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Amazon Chime and Go To Meeting/Webinar. Please do not use a product to do live lessons or similar without explicit guidance from senior managmeent and a clear understanding of their written safeguarding processes around such products.
- If you are looking to make recorded lessons with no interaction do you really need to? There are already numerous websites stocked with tutorial type videos online in most subjects. If you do want to make bespoke content these sites may well inspire. Chatterpack have an #edutwitter sources list of resources of educational materials for the COVID-19 situation covering 1) older self-isolators 2) Special needs educators 3) Schools and parents homeschooling; these lists have links to numerous online education resources including recorded videos.
- There are a number of free (and paid for) interactive online lessons from homeschooling community. If unfamiliar with live online lessons you might want to join a lesson or two from groups such as “FREE Live Lessons 11+ KS2 KS3 GCSE home school and home education” or check out their recordings including use of a Veikk like device.
- Consider the use of Green Screens if you aren’t keen on sharing too much personal information with the kids or parents.
Final thought: Making videos is not managing videos!
Content dates, especially videos. Once a video is on YouTube it collects views that help its google ranking, this means older content is very prominent via search engines. Whilst search rankings can be a very strong tool for attracting customers you may end up highlighting your past rather than your current message. How are you going to manage?:
- responding to enquiries and comments made on videos especially old ones
- redirect folks from older material to newer material
- storing and indexing your increasing volume of material
- optimise your video for SEO (search engine optimisation) – there are lots of tips on how to do that in articles such as this one or this one, on how google ranks video
Of course, this is just a collection of some of the products and factors so many helpful members of the CAD, Cloud and VFX communities suggested. I have now tried a few of the suggestions but I’m a novice user and it’s worth asking around your own industry for expertise and experience.
Over the years a LOT of people contributed to this and I’m sorry if I haven’t mentioned you where I should have attributed credit (shout and I’ll sort it).
Now, WHAT HAVE WE MISSED?
Why we wrote this article
A long while ago I inquired about advice to choose video editing software and the best ways to record VDI / CAD / VFX Graphics and my original post on LinkedIn collected a large number of excellent suggestions. At the time I was wanting to teach myself how to record cloud/vdi graphics but also present them in my own training videos/video how-to-guides or demos. Over the last couple of years this has been on the back-burner as a project bouncing ideas off Adam Glick (@glixelcorp) a former colleague from VFX company foundry.com, who now is a technical marketing manager on AMD’s cloud/VDI and sharing GPU technologies and CAD/3D developer/Technical Marketing Manager Claire Pollard (@thetuftii) now of Imagen (was ModMyPi and ITI) .
Given a lot of people are suddenly working at home and not just IT folks but university and high school teachers I felt it was a useful time to share this community thing we’ve been working on.
This is something independent of our work lives / affiliations so is vendor agnostic/whole of market just stuff us or friends have recommended, used or tried. It’s a bit off a mess with a mixture of USA/UK pricings depending on who looked them up and has been gathered over time so there may be the odd out of date suggestions and prices may change – but we thought at this time better to throw it out there and ask the community for ideas and corrections! Please comment and help!
Disclaimers: It may be necessary to create accounts or register to download various of the tools and demos collected here. All third-party tools and download locations are not officially endorsed by any company nor this blog and should be sourced, downloaded and used at the user’s discretion. Prices are only indicative of the public information at the time of writing and do not cover all options or discounts for educational, government users. Products and pricing evolve so readers should do their own research.