Doing Videos Right - A Guide for YouTubery

Discussion in 'Super MNC Gameplay Videos' started by sunnydove, January 30, 2012.

  1. sunnydove

    sunnydove Member

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    Many of you are doing videos wrong. If you want people to watch and enjoy your content, you need to to do it right. This guide should help you get going in the right direction. Continue reading, get good.

    Capturing Gameplay

    There are hardware and software solutions for capturing PC gameplay. Hardware solutions can range anywhere from $200-$2000+ for a capture card capable of recording high definition gameplay. You would also need to have two computers (one to play the game and another to capture the gameplay). Because of this, it's pretty rare for an average gamer to use a hardware solution. If you would still like to use a capture card, I'd recommend looking into a BlackMagic Intensity Pro. It is an affordable, fairly reliable card that is capable of 720p. If you can get this setup working properly, I'm told that it's a great way to go since you will have zero impact on in-game frame rate and the capture card can do plenty of compression on the fly as it can encode using h264 codec.

    Most PC gamers use software solutions to capture gameplay. The three main programs I see people using are Fraps, Dxtory, and PlayClaw. I own licenses for all three and have used each extensively.

    http://www.fraps.com/
    Fraps is the most popular, widest known recording software. Sometimes, things are popular because they are good. Other times, they are popular but aren't necessarily any good (read: every Call of Duty in the last 4 years). The program has been around a long time and is very easy to use with "out of the box" settings. With very little configuration, Fraps will work reasonably well for an average gamer wanting to record. However, it lacks many features that Dxtory and PlayClaw offer and the Fraps codec is behind the times. The codec's enormous drawback is the 3.9 GB limit per file. What does this mean? When recording for any length of time, Fraps breaks up your recording session into many 3.9 GB .avi files that must be recombined in your editing program. This makes the footage more difficult to work with and annoying to archive if you plan on keeping it around for any period of time. Additionally, Fraps can drop frame rate significantly for most modern games even if you have a reasonably decent PC. This is because the frame rate locking function does not work properly. Even if you "unlock" the frame rate (so it should not sync your in-game frame rate to the recording frame rate), you still get synced to your recording frame rate if you drop to anything below 54 FPS for a brief second. Thus, you'll likely be forced to play your games at 30 FPS while recording. If you are like me, this is unacceptable.

    With all of Fraps flaws, you'll still hear most PC gameplay video peoples claiming it to be the best software. But, I assure you, it is not. However, it does have its uses. Some rare games are not recognized by the other software that I'm about to discuss so you may be forced to use Frap. I still use Fraps if I should need to record my entire desktop screen since the other software lacks that capability. Bottom line: If you can't be arsed to do any configuration and want the cheapest solution, Fraps is your answer. It's a reasonable $30 and it will probably work okay~ish for you without much trouble.

    http://playclaw.com/
    PlayClaw comes in at the same $30 price as Fraps but offers more features. First and foremost, it takes advantage of multi-core processors. This allows the program to better utilize most modern systems and capture gameplay with a lesser effect on in-game performance. If your hardware is not old, PlayClaw should help you record and have a much nicer experience. You'll need to fiddle with how many cores you allot to compression and see what produces the best results. Unlike Fraps, PlayClaw will allow you to play your games at 60+ FPS and record at 30 FPS.

    There are a handful of features I didn't mention in PlayClaw but the most important ones are above. PlayClaw is an excellent alternative to Fraps at the same price.

    http://dxtory.com/v2-home-en.html
    Ah, Dxtory. The odd sounding, hardly ever used recording software. Half of their website is in Japanese and the English half is honestly a bit broken (and I'm not talking about their site being down). But don't let that distract you from how amazing this software is. After converting the price from yen to dollars, Dxtory is around $40. Pay about $10 extra and you can have the juggernaut of recording software. This is what I use for just about everything.

    So, why is it such a great program? It has every bell and whistle imaginable. Like PlayClaw, it allows you to allot any number of your CPU cores for compression. Thus, low impact on in-game frame rate. Dxtory has a wonderful video codec for capturing near lossless quality. But if you don't care to use Dxtory's codec, you can use any other video codec you have installed on your computer like xvid, lagarith, or even the Fraps codec (although I'm not sure why you would). You can also record up to 8 audio streams with complete customization of the audio codecs in one capture.

    Perhaps the greatest selling point to Dxtory is its ability to utilize multiple hard drives. You can split up the work of recording to a number of hard drives so that your write speed doesn't bottleneck capture. If you would ever want to record at some insane settings, Dxtory makes it possible. Pick yourself up 5 or 6 7200 RPM drives and flawlessly record 1920x1080 @ 60 frames per second (although I have no idea why you'd need to go for that much overkill). In addition to splitting up the work between multiple drives, Dxtory allows you to record at a custom resolution independent of the resolution of the game. This means that I can play at my native 1920x1080 and have the program scale the image down to 1280x720 on the fly for a smaller file size.

    If Dxtory is a flat out better program than Fraps, why isn't it more widespread? Because most people that try it have no clue what they are doing, do not alter any settings, and fall short of being able to record at default options because of their hard drive write speed bottlenecking. If you are willing to properly configure Dxtory and invest in a hard drive or two dedicated to recording, it is the ultimate software solution. If you are having difficulty deciding which to go with, all three programs have trials. Feel free to see which works best for you.

    General Tips for Capture

    - Capture at full size at the resolution you plan on uploading (in most cases, this should be 1280x720 because 1920x1080 will give minimal increase in quality unless viewers are fullscreening your video).

    - Always capture in 720p over 1080i. Interlaced footage just creates more work for you to deinterlace and it sucks. Progressive footage is better.

    - Capturing at 30 frames per second is just fine for YouTube as it does not support 60 frames per second. Do not record at 60 FPS unless you have the hard drives to support it. Otherwise, you'll end up recording somewhere inbetween 30 and 60 FPS. Then when you render out, you'll end up with frame interpolation.

    - It's important that both your in-game frame rate and the frame rate of the resulting footage is fluid. Otherwise, you'll end up with a choppy video. If you are losing frames in-game, your GPU or CPU is probably the bottleneck. If only your footage looks choppy, you are getting what is called skipped frames. This means that your hard drive is not able to write the images fast enough to keep up with what you are doing. To raise in-game FPS, lower your resolution, use less compression (fewer cores dedicated to your recording software), lower your in-game settings (nix the anti-aliasing and other effects if need be), or buy new hardware if you want. To avoid skipped frames, you'll want to have a dedicated hard drive(s) with a write speed of at least 7200 RPM.

    - It is always a bad idea to record to the same hard drive that your operating system and game are running on. This can cause issues with trying to access information on the hard drive while recording.

    - Don't record to an external hard drive if you can help it. The transfer speed on USB 2.0 is pretty slow and you won't be able to record 30 frames per second at 720p. A USB 3.0 drive will probably get you going strong at around 20 FPS though.

    - Be wary of what audio you are capturing. If you don't want your raw footage to have Gray Fox yelling at you in mumble the entire match, you'll need to either not be in Mumble or separate the audio streams. Example: set your default playback device as your speakers. Set Mumble to come through a headset or headphones in the audio settings. Have Dxtory set to record only the audio going to your speakers. Note: to my knowledge, this is impossible with Fraps and PlayClaw.

    Finding the NLE for you

    There are some free options and some not so free options for your NLE (non-linear editing system). Your Windows OS comes with Windows Movie Maker and may serve your needs just fine. If you want to use a stronger editor with more effects and better control, I'd recommend Sony Vegas Pro. It comes in at a steep price but I'm sure most of you are resourceful folks. If you want to edit on your Mac, Final Cut Pro is excellent editing software as well.

    Windows Movie Maker is just fine for reasonably good looking for YouTube videos. The major drawback is the lack of codecs Movie Maker can use. You're pretty much limited to encoding with the WMV codec. It's definitely not bad and looks nice on YouTube but it is not quite as good for web video as H264 (we are talking file size:quality ratio).

    Sony Vegas is a stronger editing tool and has many more encoding options. It has a couple H264 options in Sony AVC and Main Concept AVC. Unfortunately, Sony Vegas doesn't have the customization within the codec options to achieve top tier quality without some help from another program or two. If you really want to achieve maximum clarity, you'll need to follow a workflow similar to mine. I'll outline it later in this guide.

    I don't have much of any experience with Final Cut Pro so you'll have to excuse me here. I won't be much help. There are a few other editing options that might suit you as well. Lightworks is in public beta and is supposed to eventually be a great open source editor. If you are really heavy on messing with colors and effects, you could use the Adobe suite (Premiere and After Effects). Check them all out and see what you like best. Vegas works for me but it may not be what you want.

    Once you've edited your footage to your liking and are ready to render, there are a ton of ways to go about it. With many codecs and options to customize, you may be overwhelmed with choices. Let's first hit up some general tips before we go into any detailed methods.

    Which Codec Should I Use?

    The codec with the best architecture for the web is H264, which produces an .mp4 file. Many codecs use H264 such as Main Concept AVC, Sony AVC, x264vfw, etc. If you aren't a fan, I'd recommend going with WMV. It is a bit larger in file size but gets about the same quality and requires less fuss with color levels correction. We'll talk more on levels fixes later.

    General Tips for Editing and Rendering

    - Make sure you keep your resolution constant or at least in the same aspect ratio as you handle the footage. If you record at 1280x720, render at 1280x720. Do not try to upscale to 1920x1080. This will cause blurriness. It is okay to go from 1920x1080 to 1280x720 because they are both 16:9 and you are downscaling the image.

    - If at all possible, record in 16:9 or 16:10 ratios. 16:9 will fill the YouTube player and 16:10 will have very small black borders. If you end up with videos like this, people are likely to write your video off. HD is standard these days and you'll be overlooked by people with an eye for quality if you have a tiny video that hardly uses any of the flash player (or worse yet, you mismanaged the resolutions and ended up with footage rendered in the wrong aspect ratio).

    - Don't render more than once unless necessary. Rendering more than once to lossy formats will cause additional degradation of the original quality. One render, one product is best. If you must render twice, go to a near lossless format like a lossless .avi or .mov with JPEG compression.

    - Don't overkill it with the effects and color correction please. I enjoy seeing gameplay videos that actually resemble the game when I'm playing it. Frag videos and montages are probably going to use some but don't overdo it.

    - High bit rates are nice but you'll get diminishing returns past 10 Mbps. YouTube re-encodes the video you give it to around 2.5~3.5 Mbps. It's important to give YouTube plenty of information to create a nice encode for the flash player. It's all about balancing your file size, upload time, and return on quality. If you are trying to achieve good quality (not necessarily maximum quality), go for an average rate of 6 Mbps for 720p / 8 Mbps for 1080p.

    - Come up with a reasonable workflow. You will need to render and upload your videos in times you are comfortable with.

    - Getting the best quality on YouTube is not necessarily a science. YouTube doesn't share the best settings for us to use explicitly and it requires a lot of testing each time they change how they handle their re-encodes. Try not to get too frustrated (I know I do :evil:). I suppose if you really want to control your quality for web video, you'll need to host your own .f4v's/.flv's on your own website.

    So now that we've talked about some general guidelines, let's get into an actual method. Since Sony Vegas is my NLE of choice, I'll provide examples of workflows that may be used for it. If you would prefer a video tutorial, this video is a solid guide for "good" quality.

    The "Good" Method

    * Set project properties properly - keep resolution and frame rate constant. Render quality to best.
    * Render as Main Concept AVC/AAC (.mp4)
    * 2-Pass Variable Bit Rate = 12 Mbps max / 8 Mbps average
    * Audio can be to your liking. I figure if you're going strong on the video, you may as well get the most out of your audio. I recommend 192 Kbps at either 48,000 Hz or 41,400 Hz.

    My Method

    Like the "better" method described in the tutorial I linked above, I use a front-end program to have greater control of my finished product to attempt to get maximum quality possible. This sounds complicated but it's actually not to bad and it's still only one render thanks to another nifty little program.

    Sony Vegas -> Debugmode Frameserver -> MeGui

    Debugmode Frameserver is used to "serve" my project up to MeGUI which then uses an AviSynth script to encode with the x264 codec. For any power users, here are my settings:

    Preset: Fast
    Tuning: None
    Profile: Main
    Level: 4.1
    Fast decode: on
    Zero Latency: on
    Rate Control: CRF
    Ratefactor: 19
    Extras: program --level 4.1 --crf 19.0 --deblock -2:-1 --output "output" "input"

    Audio: Nero AAC constant bit rate 320 Kbps

    I don't have the time or teaching ability to write an extremely detailed tutorial on my render method but if you are curious, you can check out this guide to get a full understanding. I think it produces some pretty nice results. This video is an example using this method. I could still stand to improve the quality by getting a better GPU so I can run higher world detail and shadows.

    A Couple More Things

    Unfortunately, there is an issue with your color levels when rendering an .mp4 for the YouTube. It assumes all videos are TV range and expands them to
    full range (0-255). You will need to output Rec601 levels (luma range 16-235) to fix this, which is not possible within Sony Vegas. I do this by adding the following to my AviSynth script:

    ColorYUV(levels="PC->TV")

    There is somewhat of a fix you can apply within Sony Vegas if you use the "good" method described earlier. You can add a video effect -> Sony Levels -> Convert Computer RGB to Studio RGB. This will make the video look a bit too bright for my tastes but it will take counterbalance the added contrast due to this issue.

    For a detailed guide explaining this problem and how to deal with it, consult this guide.

    If you don't want to deal with this issue, I recommend sticking to WMV as it does not require any levels correction.

    In Closing

    I hope that many of you benefit from this guide and create some great content to help put Super Monday Night Combat on the map. The best advice I can give you is this: Create content that you would want to watch. Happy video-making and feel free to ask any related questions in this thread. I will do my best to help you out.
    Last edited: May 28, 2012
  2. twinsteele

    twinsteele New Member

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    Great information! I'm in process of building a new PC, so this comes at a great time. Thanks for the software information and little details for best quality.
  3. sunnydove

    sunnydove Member

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    Still working on the guide. Need to add tidbits here and there. It'll probably be done later this evening. If anyone has questions on video-making, feel free to use this thread as a Q&A. I'm reasonably knowledgeable on the subject.
  4. salomdi

    salomdi Active Member

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    USB 3.0 external drives are fine for recording gameplay onto, but you may need to drop your recording framerate to 20 @720p to get the footage on. still will work flawlessly though.
  5. Col_Jessep

    Col_Jessep Planetary Moderator

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    Let me sticky this. Great guide Sunny, thanks!
  6. zodiark1234

    zodiark1234 New Member

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    Thanks for the guide. I really need to try to get a desktop soon though. My laptop barely cuts it playing SMNC as it is.
  7. embox

    embox Planetary Moderator

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    Great guide. Finding the right Codec can often be painfully confusing and this guide can point you in the right direction for finding the perfect set up for you.
  8. sunnydove

    sunnydove Member

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    Amended to address 3.0 drives.

    Thanks for the sticky, Jessup!
  9. skeena

    skeena New Member

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    I use playclaw and it has awesome performance. I can record smnc maxed out at 30 fps while playing the game at 60 fps. Playclaw does not lock the playable fps like fraps
  10. HiipFire

    HiipFire Active Member

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    I remember when using dxtory was a hipster thing. NOW EVERYONE FCKIN USES IT THE FUUUU
  11. emb4

    emb4 Active Member

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    I run the game normally at 600x480, so i did a little test to get good quality

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWUFBpEhMZk

    What i did was use smnctv's slow motion feature, which slows down game-play by 10 times. My computer can handle game-play 10 times slower at max gfx, so I used editing software to speed it up by 10

    tedious yes, but it also looks really smooth imo
  12. sunnydove

    sunnydove Member

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    That is pretty cool. It'd definitely be nice for a montage or something.
  13. grayfox

    grayfox Active Member

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    Video quality. Isa good.

    Audio quality, Y U NO disable background noise?
  14. twinsteele

    twinsteele New Member

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    That was pretty nice quality. Can I ask what your PC specs are right now emb4?
  15. emb4

    emb4 Active Member

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    ati radeon hd 4200
    8 gigs ram
    amd athlon II 3.2 ghz

    its not a gaming pc, so it runs mnc at lowest settings at 30 fps...on 600x480

    but the card is decent enough to crank out video like that with my methoed

    I am doing a full game using it when i get home today, it was a 30 minute game normally, so it took hours to record in slow motion, and took up a couple of gigs
  16. twinsteele

    twinsteele New Member

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    Wow that's pretty smart doing the recording that way with your PC specs. I never would have thought to record in slow motion.

    I'm currently building a PC which will have:
    AMD FX-6100 Zambezi 3.3G
    8 Gigs of DDR3 2133
    GeForce GTX 550 Ti
    and an SDD which should really increase read/write capabilities.

    I'm hoping with that configuration I could play/record with great quality.

    Edit - Actually just click this and you'll see the part's I've picked out.
  17. salomdi

    salomdi Active Member

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  18. twinsteele

    twinsteele New Member

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  19. salomdi

    salomdi Active Member

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    simply cheaper to have 2 of them in raid than one ssd (three of those in raid would be cheaper than one of those ssd before the price reduction)
  20. twinsteele

    twinsteele New Member

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    True, the price difference is pretty large. I guess I could go HDD until SDD's get a bit cheaper. I definitely can't go for multiple SDD's at the start so maybe this would be a better option.

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