Thursday, January 11, 2007

Capturing video on your PC or Mac for editing and posting to YouTube

Since this class is about Environment and the Psychology of Behavior, and so much of our understanding of our environments comes from visual stimuli, we can use the media sharing opportunities of the on-line environment to let others in the class see representations of the real-life environments we are exploring (or screen and video captures of any artificial environments we explore).

To help get you started if you are not already well versed in these techniques, I will share what I have done (along with my frustrations) to become media savvy.

First off, the very simplest way to do a static screen capture off of your computer is to follow the instructions given here.

For video capture on your PC or Mac, the simplest solution that I have discovered, particularly if you work with laptops and try to carry your world with you around the world in a backpack, is to get a little analog to digital converter such as the Typhoon DVD Maker converter that I picked up in Germany (at Conrad Electronics for 51 Euro (see here for techical specs) but you can also find it at Saturn) . It is lightweight and fits in your pocket, plugs into your USB 2.0 port, and you can plug an SVHS or composite signal (Video yellow jack and Audio Left and Right red and white jacks) into it from a VCR or non-fire-wire camcorder. It comes with software to digitize and record and edit. The U.S. equivalent is probably the KWorld Xpert DVD Maker USB 2.0 Video Capture Device which can be purchased for about 40 bucks (everything is cheaper in the U.S.!) Of course you aren't going to get super high resolution from a composite or SVHS signal, but it is great for converting old VHS tapes to DVDs, and for using old video cameras that don't have fire wire. Since many of you may have computers that don't have firewire, it is also the ideal solution there. Keep in mind, however, that if you are using a PC laptop THE AUDIO WILL NOT WORK WELL IN THE MICROPHONE PORT OF YOUR LAPTOP! It will distort horribly. To get audio into the PC laptop, you will need to use some other audio input device, such as a Fast Track USB recording device from M-Audio (I bought mine at Guitar Center) for about $130 that has line in and microphone jacks and plugs into your second USB port. You will need an adaptor to either go from your dual RCA jacks into the stereo quarter inch line-in jack or from the video capture devices 1/8 jack into the M-Audio quarter inch line-in jack. These audio adaptors can all be found at Radio Shack. Here is an article on audio capture.

I decided to switch over to using my MacBook Pro laptop with its Intel Chip for everything, and installed Bootcamp so that I could put Windows XP on the system and take advantage of doing everything on one laptop. But I had problems with the MacDrivers for Bootcamp (they caused the mouse cursor to disappear when running Windows), so I now run Windows XP on my Mac without the mac drivers. It works fine for programs like Microsoft Office, but as a result I can't get on-line with the wireless airport, nor use bluetooth, and Typhoon DVD makers software will not work with the USB ports.

Consequently I found I had to use my Video capture device with Mac OSX. The problem is that Typhoon and KWorld Expert Video capture devices (and all the others I have seen) have no Mac Drivers. That meant hunting around for a good Mac driver that would support the input device. The one I settled on was Videoglide from EchoFX. The Videoglide software can be downloaded quickly and demoed. It works with my Typhoon videocapture unit from Germany, and is known to work with the KWorld and many others. For USB 1.1 devices EchoFX sells USBVision. Both sell for $30. When you demo them they put the words "EchoFX" in white letters across the top of the screen and they limit you to 10 minutes of capture. When you purchase the software on-line they send you an email within 10 minutes containing the serial number you can use with one device. Then it all works fine.

The advantage of using a Mac laptop, even if you have invested in a PC based USB video capture device, is that you CAN record audio directly from the 1/8th microphone/line-in jack. Then you don't need to buy a separate audio capture device.

Once you have captured your video, you can edit your stuff together, then save as an MP4 file and post it to your Youtube account. You can embed your youtube videos in your blog and we can all see the environments you are discussing.


Second Life has its own easy video capture function. Under "File" you slect "Start/Stop Movie to Disk" (or hit Cmd-Shift-S), set the compression quality you want (for web stuff Mpeg-4 is probably the most parsimonious), and then walk or fly around until you have captured enough, then hit cmd-shift-s again to stop capturing. You will find the file stored on your computer. Second life also has a "Take Snapshot" feature under "File" (command-shift-s) and a "snapshot to disk" command (command-'). The art of making movies from virtual reality game engines is called "Machinima" and there is a good website with tutorials on how to do so here.

For capturing movies from your PC computer screen the program of choice is FRAPS. It is available for free download. Unfortunately is not Mac compatible.

For the Mac I've tried Citrus Software's Screentool 2.0 and found it always turns on my isight camera while it is doing screen capture, so I have video of me looking at my screen while capturing the screen! Annoying and impossible to work with. It has no way to change the preferences, and it doesn't record at a good frame rate, suffering from lots of distortion.

I also tried Movie Grab, but it didn't create smooth clear video. It also doesn't support audio capture.

A MUCH BETTER Mac OSX option seems to be SnapZ Pro from . You can try it out for 30 days. After that it costs $69. It has a nice ability to resize or customize the area for screen capture, it records audio, it runs in the background and can be called up whenever you want by clicking on command-shift-3 (this is customizable to whatever keystrokes you want) and you can save in many formats. The hardest thing is controlling the avatar (I use a logitech game controller with USB overdrive and am still figuring out how to program the buttons! Below is my first attempt to capture a movie with it in Second Life and save as an MP4.

By combining SnapZ Pro and the VideoGlide software with the USB video capture device I can now hook up my Sony Playstation 2 or my XBox video and audio outputs to my laptop and capture motion video of my explorations in those environments. In a future post I will show you around the undersea world environment of Ecco the dolphin -- you can decide for yourself if Bell's statements in chapter 4 of our text "We can also show that viewing scenes of natural environments reduces disturbingly high levels of physiological arousal" (p. 105) holds water (so to speak!). Our text says, "The notion of overload is particularly germane to the study of leisure environments and other settings we have called restorative environments" (P. 107). We can now share simulations of these environments and see what their effect is!

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