Tech Talk: Diving into Game Recording

Recording Tools

I know in the past I’ve talked about recording and streaming games (from your PC), but this is an ever-evolving discussion and not something that can be talked about once and then never brought up again. I’ve only been involved in this area since early 2012, so while I have some good knowledge and experience, I’m not certain that I’ve got all the know-how and experience some long-term veterans from the very early days of YouTube have. Yet, I approach everything with an open mind and willingness to learn, and because of that I’ve been willing to experiment with different recording tools and am willing to share some of my lessons with you.

So, I’d like to get this mini-series on recording, streaming, and encoding started with a discussion of some of the best offline video recording programs that I’ve used. I don’t want to get into a discussion of programs I’m not at all familiar with – I know there are many, many other great programs out there, but let’s get to some of the ones that I work with currently and then round it out with other “runner-up” programs I’ve used in the past.

OPEN BROADCASTER (MULTIPLATFORM):

Open Broadcaster has come a long way over the years. Many people think of the program strictly in its capacity to do live-streaming of videos to Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and other similar services, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a pretty heavy-duty and versatile local video recording tool as well. Not too long ago, the developers released a new version of the program known as Open Broadcaster Multiplatform, which has many features built into it that were only available in “branches” of the previous version (such as hardware-based encoding).

What I love about OBS MP is that you have full control over your “scene” and can keep it as simple or make it as flashy as you like. You can resize and drag pretty much any type of input, alter the microphone and video volumes, capture your screen, a particular window, or a game source and have most all of that be automated for you as opposed to the source selection that was required in the normal OBS.

Additionally, the encoding seems a bit easier on the system for the most part. While the original OBS would sometimes experience CPU spikes that would temporarily drop the framerate for a couple of seconds, OBS MP seems far more stable in this regard. Its implementation of X264 (CPU-driven encoding) is very high quality, and I’ve been able to get it to push resolutions beyond 1920×1080 while still maintaining 60 FPS.

There are tons of guides out there on how to use the software, but in the future it’s possible I’ll revisit some of these softwares and give guides for them (or at least give a general guide on settings to shoot for depending on the resolution and framerate you want to record at).

BANDICAM:

Bandicam is a program I picked up back in 2012 while working on my Let’s Play series on the original Witcher game, and I picked it up because at the time it was much more flexible than FRAPS in terms of capture sources. Over time, it’s evolved to include some pretty nifty features, such as GPU-based H.264 video recording, which takes some of the stress off the CPU and allows your graphics card to do a bit of the heavy lifting. It also has a wide variety of other codecs to look at as recording choices, such as MPEG-4 (version 2), XVID, several lossless codecs, and now a CPU-based H.264.

Bandicam is pretty lightweight on your system, and even if the video encoding itself lags a little, you almost never see any visible performance impact on your games while playing. It does, however, lack a bit of the flexibility you’d see in OBS though, as you can’t really alter your scene all that much. It does support the ability to toggle in a webcam if you wish, and you can pick a resolution scale to set it to, but for now it seems limited to 4:3 for your cam feed, and as such part of your picture gets cropped.

Bandicam will allow you to capture via hooking into DirectX applications or capture a specific region of the screen, but it doesn’t have compatibility with all games, and it doesn’t offer any kind of window capture, so be warned that screen capturing will likely result in choppier video than you’d like.

Beyond that, though, it’s a good secondary program to have in addition to OBS MP if you’re wanting a solid, paid-for program. You might find it easier on your system, depending on your goals, than OBS anyway, so since it might be a bit more pick-up-and-go, it’s possible you’ll like this one a bit more.

Though it does cost $39 for a full license, you can test out the software (with some limitations, including a watermark) for free from their site, so you’ll get to play with it a bit before you commit to buying it.

raptr-app-645x295

AMD GAMING EVOLVED (RAPTR):

The Gaming Evolved application is designed specifically for Radeon-based graphics cards and was created from a partnership between AMD and Raptr in the hopes of competing with Nvidia’s GPU-based recording software. It’s a free software that can handle a lot more than just recording, though. The software looks at your available library of games and allows you to do some tweaks to the graphical appearance and performance of the games (though this is also somewhat possible within Crimson these days), has all the social chat features of the normal Raptr, and offers both recording and streaming options on a simplistic level.

This software makes specific use of AMD’s VCE (Video Coding Engine) codec, which uses the GPU exclusively to handle the encoding of the video frames. The settings are pretty entry-tier and keep things simple, allowing basic resolution and bitrate options via a drop-down menu system. Essentially, you’ll be bound to keep your videos no greater than 1920×1080 at 60 FPS with a bitrate of 50,000 kbps, but for most users, that’ll be more than acceptable. Since it operates specifically by hooking into DirectX or OpenGL/CL based applications, you can only capture certain games. This won’t be something that can record/stream everything, and it’ll specifically run into problems recording software from windowed-mode or older programs (emulators, old DOS games, etc) that don’t run at least in DirectX 9.

This is a decent, free, and easy-to-use tool for capturing good quality video, but be aware that your options for adding scenes in are very limited (it does support webcam), and you won’t be able to record beyond 1920×1080. This also means no odd resolutions either, such as 1680×1050 or any ultra-wide ratios.

D3D GEAR (Honorable Mention):

D3D Gear gets an honorable mention from me, because it’s generally a pretty powerful recording tool along the lines of Bandicam. This software also relies nearly-exclusively on DirectX and OpenGL/CL capturing and does keep your options a bit more limited. On the positive side, you can actually manually enter your webcam resolution to keep a 16:9 ratio (which you can’t do in Bandicam), but there aren’t any options to capture windowed applications or screen regions and as a result, you won’t be able to capture certain types of sources.

One of the things D3D Gear has going for it is its very low system impact. You can record at 1920×1080 on a moderate system and maintain 60 FPS while recording some very nice footage. It also can support very high resolutions and for the most part keeps up very well.

For a while, it even broke the codec limitations of H.264 by allowing you to record above 1920×1080, so you could record at 2560×1080 or anything else beyond it and still have good quality at 60 FPS.

I gave this software a good review on Steam, but right now it’s not getting a full recommendation from me because the most recent updates seem to have crippled its performance a bit in a couple places. The H.264 performance as well as MPEG-4 encoding both seem to have taken a bit of a hit, and as a result I can’t give it the glowing recommendation I might have given to Bandicam.

Still, it’s worth keeping on your radar, and if you can get it on sale on Steam, it may well be worth it.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

Two more programs that are worth at least looking at in the future if you want to get into game recording on your PC (or you are looking to change things up) are FRAPS and XSplit.

I didn’t give XSplit a major consideration in this article because it contains most of the features that OBS has to offer for you, but costs $39.99 for a year-long license. That’s really steep in my book. The thing is, back in the early days of live-streaming, XSplit was the only option and was the most versatile of the few that cropped up soon after. It did outshine OBS when OBS was new, and offered some things like hardware encoding before most other programs ever thought about it. However, now the argument could be made that OBS MP has far more to offer, and its free price can’t be beat. Still, for those wanting to check it out, it does do both offline and live-stream videos at whatever settings you want to attempt them at.

FRAPS is a program that’s been around for a very long time. It’s super simple to use because it doesn’t really have any of the more advanced options that others do (no bit-rate selection, no specific resolution options, limited/no overlay choices), but what it has going for it is that it’s essentially lossless video recording which has very minimal performance impact and produces huge (but stunning) video. Even an 854×480 FRAPS video could look crisper than a 1080p one from another paid-for tool.

FRAPS does cost $37 for a license, but I think it could meet the needs of quite a few folks. Again, though, just don’t expect it to capture windowed applications or anything like that.

OBS

For me, the clear winner here is Open Broadcaster Multiplatform. It’s a very powerful tool considering the fact that it’s free, and it has many more options than programs that cost $40 or so do. It’ll be excellent for most any user both for offline recordings and live web-streams, and while it might take a little bit of time to figure out what’s going on, once you get the basics of it, you should really enjoy it.

However, it’s always worth having another program to use in addition to your main one. I recommend picking up a second one (say, Bandicam, for example) though, because as I’ve found in the past, sometimes an update to one program might render it a bit less usable in the short term (messing up one of the settings that works best for your system), so having a viable alternative so that you aren’t dead in the water is likely a good decision.

Of course, be reasonable about what you should be able to expect in terms of video quality and performance impact, because the software itself isn’t always to blame. That, though, will be a topic for a future discussion when I get down into some of the settings and codecs and things of that nature.

Anyway, I hope you found this post interesting. Stay tuned – there’ll be more discussions like this in the near future!

Advertisements

Tell us what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s