Now and then, someone will email me or contact me some other way and ask me what programs I use to record and how most all of my videos are pretty high quality. Recently, someone in my guild in “Guild Wars 2” brought up this topic, talking about how they were getting choppy output videos and wanted to know how to fix this. So, I sat down recently and wrote up a guide to help them on our guild forums, but then I figured that this mini-guide might be of help to some of you out there that had similar questions.
As always, keep in mind that I am by no means an expert here, and anything I know is only because I have tinkered with settings and spent hours worrying about quality, frame-rate, and bitrates, etc. So, others may have far more real, technical answers they can provide you with!
There are tons of recording programs out there, and trying to list all of them would take far too long and not necessarily serve any function for us here. You can easily research them on Google and get an idea of what is out there, including which ones are free and which ones you need to pay for. But, I am going to list some of the big ones here, and talk about the pluses and minuses of each.
FRAPS: FRAPS for a good while was the standard in recording. Honestly, it really can be even today. The program is fairly simple and mainly just does a DirectX/Open GL pull of whatever applications you have running and gives you the ability to make a lossless recording of them. Now, when I say “lossless,” I mean that for a video beyond 720p, you are looking at something like 660,000kbps for the bitrate, which will be more than 1GB per minute of video. The video quality is generally outstanding, but the files will be huge and may bog down the computer when you get to the editing process. Also, depending on where you are writing the file to and what CPU/GPU you have, you may experience some performance hitting. But, this can be solved in several ways discussed later, although within FRAPS itself you could record at half-resolution (so, 1080p becomes 540p, which is still going to look great because of the lossless quality) and upscale later if you need to for YouTube.
Keep in mind that FRAPS is a program you need to buy, though if you wish I could share a license I have access to with you so you can test it before you purchase your own legal copy.
BANDICAM: A lot of people don’t know about this one, but it is another paid-for program, although this one is driven mainly by H.264 encoding, which allows the program to compress the video as it records. This one has tons of options regarding your bitrate, target resolution, audio quality, and overall performance quality, and it can record in pretty much whatever resolution you want. However, it can become CPU or GPU intensive depending on the settings you use or the codec you select, and I have seen in the past with lesser systems that even though the video looks smooth while recording, the output may encounter some frame-dropping and look choppy. So, on a high end system you can probably do HD recording with no issue on high settings, but others may need to drop the resolution or the overall quality control a bit to avoid frame dropping. Still, overall, this is a good program.
XSPLIT: XSplit in my opinion is the standard for live-streamers who want to put videos up on Twitch. However, it also has a pretty high quality recorder built into it. The options inside the local recording settings are pretty straight forward but will result in good video once you get the hang of it. Also, it gives you the ability to pick whether you want to use X.264 (CPU driven for the purpose of recording and compression) or H.264 (which will record/compress right off the GPU itself). So, if you notice that one setting is lagging you out, you can use the other and hopefully solve this. XSplit isn’t the cheapest program and will require a yearly license, but if you want good video and the ability to stream, it is worth considering.
OBS: Open Broadcaster is a good free-ware alternative to XSplit. It is a bit less user-friendly, requiring some set-up and knowledge of the settings within the program, but it will do a good job. Once you figure this one out you will have a free ability to stream or record video, though I have found with my personal system that the quality just wasn’t quite on par with XSplit. The output was a bit choppy at times no matter what because I did not have the options. Or, it could be that OBS uses subpar codecs for certain types of games. Regardless, it is free, and it isn’t bad, so it might be a good program to try if you are thinking you may want to live-stream too, but don’t know that you want to buy XSplit just yet.
Video bitrate is a tricky thing. Ultimately, bitrate is what results in the overall file size and video quality of the media that you produce. In short, this translates to the amount of data that is put into a second of video. So, in theory, an 854×480 video encoded with 2000kbps may very well look better than a 1920×1080 video at 1800kbps.
Obviously, this means that the higher the bitrate, the larger the output file. And obviously, there can finally be a point beyond which a greater bitrate is almost not noticeable. So, usually the goal is to find a bitrate that puts out a level of quality you find acceptable or great for what you are doing, a file-size that won’t eat up your computer or system resources upon streaming/recording, and something that will not be so large as to make uploading to YouTube take hours upon hours.
I’ve done tons of research on this topic before, and I think this page right here, straight from Google, will answer your questions pretty well: Advanced Encoding Settings from Google
So, let’s say that you want to record a video at 1080p and put it on YouTube. For this, a bitrate of 8000kbps is more than acceptable and should result in very nice quality. On my end, I usually set the bitrate closer to 10000kbps to avoid quality loss, but this is a personal choice.
For you live-streamers or those interested in that, Twitch itself caps your bitrate at 3500kbps. 3500kbps is obviously lower than what YouTube would recommend for 1080p, but with the way they reencode before displaying (all video gets output as FLV), it will still look very nice. This artificial limit is put in place with the interest of their ingestion servers in mind, but also because the end-user may not have the absolute best internet connection, so streaming at 10,000kbps may really limit your audience because of stream-buffering and other things that generally upset viewers.
As has already been brought up, recording to a Solid State Drive is a great option. If you don’t want to do that or cannot do that right now, the other good thing you could (and really should) do is to set your video output directory to a drive other than the one that has your games and stuff on it. This way, your computer isn’t trying to read in the game, play the game, and then record it all to one drive. This will cause a ton of read/write activity to a single drive, and naturally this can result in performance loss and dropped frames.
Another good thing to do if you want to both live-stream a game and then later edit the video and upload a cleaner version to YouTube is not use XSplit (or whatever program) to stream and record the video at the same time. There are actually ways to log into your Twitch account and then download the video into a set of 30-minute FLV files, and you can then take them and edit them with the movie program of your choice.
If you download your video from Twitch or use a program that chooses to encode into an FLV, I recommend you get Handbrake. It is a freeware program that will allow you to edit a video (crop if needed, clean up the bitrate, etc) and output into an MP4 format. Also, since sometimes a video may corrupt or get a messed up index file associated with it, Handbrake can usually recover most videos in the reencoding process.
This is another freeware program, and the main reason I keep it on my computer is because it can read in most any media file that exists. It can also re-encode, but that’s another matter. So, if I have a video that for some reason I cannot get to open in Windows Media Player or another common application, I try in VLC. If it opens in VLC, then the file is recoverable, and I can use either Handbrake or the VLC encoder to try and repair the file.
So, those are my initial thoughts and suggestions. I hope this helps you in some way!