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How to Make Your Own Videos

We put together this guide to show you what kind of equipment and software you need to get started on making videos for the Internet.

By Craig Beers || Design: Collin Oguro - posted May 2, 2006

We've put together a quick guide on what you need to start making your own videos at home. This feature won't explain how to shoot or light a video, but it will give you an introduction to what you need to capture and edit a movie. Basically, you'll need a camera, a PC, a way to get that audio and video onto your PC, and some video editing software.

Capturing Live Action

You won't need a camera if you only plan on only making gameplay movies like a game walkthrough or a game highlight reel, but we can't deny the value in taping a game scene reenactment, catching your buddies shredding in Guitar Hero, or documenting all that cosplay action. Capturing video isn't too expensive thanks to low-cost handheld camcorders and the proliferation of integrated cameras in portable electronics. You can use a camcorder, webcam, digital camera, or even a cell phone to record video.

Camcorders provide the highest-quality video since they're designed to capture live video, but they're also the most expensive option. Still, there are some affordable models available. Entry-level consumer camcorders can be bought for under $200, but you can expect to pay hundreds or thousands more for mid-range and high-end units. Check out CNET's Camcorder Buying Guide for more information on choosing a camcorder that's right for you.

We recommend getting a camcorder that has the right ports or storage media for easy data transfer. Having a camcorder with the ability to record onto flash memory will make your life easier when transferring video to your computer. Barring this option, a Firewire or USB port is the most important feature you'll need in order to move captured video to your PC.

If a camcorder is out of the picture, then a webcam can be a makeshift option. Webcams are relatively inexpensive, and the video is recorded onto your computer, so you won't need to transfer video from one device to another. Webcams are designed for PC teleconferencing, where the camera records the subject matter from a fixed position. Many webcams feature built-in microphones, but you might need an external mic if you have an older model with fewer features. The webcam is best suited for video blogging, but there's room for creative experimentation. Be aware that for anything you record, you'll be limited to the camera's position and ability to focus. Frame rates and image quality are also nowhere near camcorder levels, so shell out the extra bucks for a camcorder if production value is a concern.

Webcams are great for video blogging, but capturing fast-moving action might require a camcorder.
Webcams are great for video blogging, but capturing fast-moving action might require a camcorder.

Digital Camera
Some digital cameras have an option to record video. The quality won't be as high as a camcorder's video, but it is perfectly acceptable for video streamed on the Internet. You'll also be able to easily transfer the video to your computer from a flash memory unit or USB cable. However, you'll be limited to the camera's built-in microphone for audio.

Cell Phone
If you can record video on your phone, all you need to do is send the video to your computer, and you're set. You'll likely have your cell phone with you at all times, which makes it great for spur-of-the-moment recording. However, don't expect too much from the video and audio quality.

Getting the right camera is only the beginning. You also need to know all of your camera's features, how to set up shots, and some lighting equipment to record quality footage. You can find several online guides that can walk you through the basics.

Capturing PC Footage

You'll need to record some footage from your console or PC if you want to show off your gaming skills or capture a really funny moment in a game to include in your videos. Aiming a camera at the screen is one option, but you'll get much better results by recording through a direct AV feed.

Getting footage of PC games is tricky because you have to capture a video signal while you're playing the game you wish to record. You can use video-capture software that records the video to your PC while you're playing, or you can output the AV signal to an external recording deck.

Video-Capture Software
The advantage to using software is that you won't need external devices to record your footage; it's all stored on your computer and ready to edit. The downside to using video-capture software is that the program does use system resources, which can affect gameplay, although the hit isn't too noticeable on modern, high-end systems. These types of programs have different features and limitations, so you'll want to try out a demo before buying the full version. Fraps is currently the best known video-capture software for gaming.

Recording Devices
You can use external recording devices to capture PC footage as well. If your video card has S-Video output, you can run an S-Video cable out to a recording device such as a VCR or a camcorder. Otherwise, you'll need to buy a scan converter to convert your VGA signal into a composite or S-Video signal that your recorder can accept

Use a scan converter to record PC gameplay on an external recording device.
Use a scan converter to record PC gameplay on an external recording device.

Consumer-level scan converters can be found for under $100 and provide good video quality. If you're planning to purchase a scan converter, take note of the maximum resolution it can handle and its maximum refresh rate. A scan converter that can handle 1600x1200 at any refresh rate will cover most situations, but it will also be more expensive. We've had success with the AverKey iMicro. It has a maximum resolution of 1280x1024, can handle high refresh rates, and is fairly affordable at less than $100.

If none of these options work for you, you can simply record your monitor using a camcorder. With the right lighting conditions and angles, you can get a fairly decent video this way. Be sure to adjust your monitor's refresh rate to get rid of the scan lines. Generally, you'll want to set your monitor to 60 hertz if you're using an NTSC camera.

Capturing Console Footage

There are a couple of ways to record your gameplay footage from video game consoles. The easiest way is to connect the game console to the PC, but you'll need a video card with video inputs, a dedicated capture card, or a Firewire/USB converter.

You can buy PC capture cards that will accept composite, S-Video, or component video signals. They can cost several hundred dollars, though, and aren't significantly different from a device that converts video into Firewire or USB. So unless you want to use your PC monitor as a TV, you should go with a more affordable analog-to-digital video converter that converts your console's video signals into a Firewire or USB connection that can be read by your PC. Firewire converters can be somewhat pricey, but they work well. If you're on a tight budget, a USB converter would be the best choice. Assuming your computer already has a USB 2.0 port, all you would need is the converter. You can find basic kits that include a converter and video-editing software, like the Dazzle Video Creator 85, for around $50.

You can also hook up your console to a recording deck first before capturing to a computer. You would do this if you wanted to save a physical tape of your footage or if your console isn't close to your computer. You can use a variety of equipment for this method.

You can record footage on a standard VHS tape using a VCR. Just pass the game console's AV output through the VCR The footage will have mediocre quality, but it's a cheap method for those on a tight budget.

DVD Recorder
Not too many people own one, but you can use a DVD recorder (not to be confused with a DVD-R drive in a computer) to record audio and video from a console system. The quality will be high, and transferring footage is easy. Connect your console to the DVD recorder, record your footage, and then plop the DVD into your computer and rip the video to the hard disk for editing. DVD recorders can cost a few hundred dollars, though, so you may want to seek a less-expensive option.

Some camcorders have AV inputs that can connect to a game console system for simple recording. If your camcorder has this option, you can record your footage onto a tape and transfer it to your computer. Note that most cameras have one set of AV connectors that function as inputs or outputs. If they're being used as inputs, you won't be able to use them to output at the same time. In this situation, you'll have to use the little screen on the camera as your playing monitor. If your camcorder doesn't have video input, you can just point the camera at your television and record the game being played. You can get fairly decent video this way with the right lighting conditions and camera angle.

Other Recording Devices
If you have access to other types of recording decks (such as mini-DV or Beta SP), then use them by all means. These types of decks can costs thousands of dollars, but the image-capture quality is excellent.

Transferring and Editing Files

Once you have your footage, your next step is to get the video onto a computer for editing. If your capture device has a simple file-transfer method, like removable flash memory in the case of digital cameras, you can just move the files over to your PC and get straight to editing. The transfer process will be more involved if your footage is captured on tape or on another medium that must be played back while your editing software captures the video on the PC.

Almost all video cameras and professional recording decks released in the past few years have a Firewire port. There are two types of ports: 4-pin and 6-pin. An important thing to note is that both ports can connect to each other if you have the right cable. Camcorders will almost always have the 4-pin port. This port looks like a small rectangle with one of its long edges bent slightly inward. It can be identified by the words DV, Firewire, or IEEE-1394 near the port. A lot of modern motherboards have a Firewire connector, but if your computer doesn't have one, you'll need to buy a Firewire capture card. You can pick up basic cards for under $30 at your local computer hardware store or on the Internet. If you don't have any video-editing software, you may want to consider buying a card that includes a software bundle.

Firewire on the camcorder connects to...
Firewire on the camcorder connects to...
Firewire on the PC. Yes, it's a workstation, but you get the idea.
Firewire on the PC. Yes, it's a workstation, but you get the idea.

Some camcorders have a USB video output. You'll want to make sure that your computer has USB 2.0 and not USB 1.0 or 1.1. The latter standards are too slow to handle video transfer, but fortunately anything released in the past few years will have USB 2.0. If your computer doesn't, you can pick up a USB 2.0 card from a computer hardware store (or online) for around $20. There are a variety of USB connector types, so make sure you have the proper cable to link up your device to the computer.

Once you have your devices connected, launch your capturing software. You'll most likely want to use the software that came with your camcorder or video adapter. The software should have a manual with instructions on how to capture and edit your video. Bundled editing software can be anywhere from really basic to fairly complex, so take your time with learning the tools.

If you want more-advanced editing software, you'll need to throw down some serious cash. Products like Adobe Premiere Pro or Apple's Final Cut Pro will cost you hundreds of dollars. Alternatively, you can purchase older versions of the software for a discount. Or, if you're a student, try to pick up a student copy through your school. If you don't have software with your device, you can use free software to capture and edit your video. Microsoft has Windows Movie Maker bundled with Windows XP, and we've used VirtualDub in the past with success. Once you have your completed video, you can shrink it down to a manageable file size using a variety of free applications.

And don't forget to upload your videos once you're done. Good luck and have fun!

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