Recording PC Monitor output??

markrad wrote on 6/26/2002, 11:31 PM
I am trying to use the monitor output signal of my Dell Latitude laptop (s-video out connector) and record it as I'm demonstrating various tasks. The application is a training video which will be burned to CD to be played back on other similar laptop computers.

The problem is that the resulting recordings of spreadsheets for example are quite blurry and difficult to read. I have tried compensating by adding contrast and sharpness but its really not addressing the root problem. This laptop also has a 1394 port but I'm not sure that would provide an output of what I'm seeing on the laptop screen. Has anyone out there been able to use the video outputs on their laptops in this way or is this method just flawed from the start? I'm guessing the final project would be 20-30min in length. Is mpg1 the most appropriate format to work in? Suggestions/comments appreciated. MR


Chienworks wrote on 6/26/2002, 11:41 PM
You didn't specify how you were recording the output, but keep in mind that video is low resolution, even DV is only 480 pixels high. If you're recording on VHS, then effectively you've only got about half of that or less. S-video may be a bit clearer, but not much higher resolution. Any details finer than this (which is most everything in the spreadsheet) simply can't be shown sharply in video.

If you're recording directly to digital (say, your S-Video output -> A/D converter -> 1394 -> video capture), then you'll still be limited to 480 lines, and the conversion to S-Video and back will blurr it. If you have your laptop's resolution any higher than 640x480 it will just be worse.

Ideally you should look for software that generates .AVI files directly from the display on your monitor. The resulting files can be huge, but you can use pan/crop to focus on just a small important part of the screen and show more detail more clearly.
markrad wrote on 6/27/2002, 12:02 AM
I took the laptop S-Video out directly into my Digital8 camera (as a DV converter0 and recorded directly to .AVI format in VV3. I did try various resolutions on the laptop including 640x480. I also recorded to directly to Digital8 tape and played that back on the TV monitor with the same problem of blurring. I'm having serious doubts about my origial "bright" idea to capture the screen display in the first place. <sigh> Sounds more and more like a concept doomed to fail.

>Ideally you should look for software that generates .AVI files directly from the display on your monitor.>

Never heard of this type of program.....Anybody?
jport wrote on 6/27/2002, 1:32 AM
There are 2 ways to go with this.

1. Get a Video Scan converter [Hardware]. It takes your computer screen display and converts it to video. Just go into "properties" and change the "apperance" to a larger font/window display. Only problem is the hardware is a little pricey.

2. There's a new peice of software that can do screen captures to video. The program is called "SnagIt" by a company called TechSmith. It's about $40.

I haven't tried the software so I don't know what kind of resolution you will get, but I do know that using a scan converter works beautifully.
SonyDennis wrote on 6/27/2002, 9:38 AM
You might also need to increase the font size ("Display" control panel) to make video out more readable. Don't expect 1024x768 digital quality in a 640x480 (equiv) analog technoloy <g>.
HeeHee wrote on 6/27/2002, 10:10 AM
jport is on the right track. The correct product from TechSmith you need is Camtasia. You can check it out here. It costs $149.95 US for one user license. I do not have it nor have tried it, but I am interested in it for the same reasons you have.
ronaldf wrote on 6/27/2002, 10:36 AM
There is no good solution to your problem as far as I know. All the software "screen grabbing" programs that I have tried have too slow of a frame rate to make them very useful. Converting the video output of any computer to NTSC so it can be used in an editing program, will cause the degading that you experienced. I have used my TV out port on my video card to record a few Corel "Presentations" (same as MS Powerpoint) slide shows to DV. These are then edited and exported to tape and MPEG files for CDs. They are very good but do have the fuzzy blurred look. Not of the quality to read text on a spreadsheet. There may be some high quality VGA to NTSC converters out there that may do an excellent job, but they will be expensive.

I just checked out Camtasia, and it looks real good. As long as you keep your videos computer based and don't output to tape, then Camtasia may do the job. The frame rate worries me a little. Any motion on the screen that you want to capture may get jerky if it is too fast. For doing software tutorials of static screens, it looks as though Camtasia may be the solution.
earthrisers wrote on 6/27/2002, 11:58 AM
Another product (in addition to Camtasia) that produces .avi files from captures of screen-motion sequences is Cybercam (find 'em through Google). Costs about $100.

The quality is decent, as these applications go... but so far my experience is that I CANNOT take the resulting avi file and edit in in Vegas (or any other video editor, as far as I know), without the resulting video getting quite blurry. I haven't figured out why that is, or whether there's anything that can be done about it. Provisional bottom-line is that I can make screen-based tutorials and burn them to CD, but I have to have my talking & motions pretty well-rehearsed first.
A different, more expensive ($399 currently) approach is RoboDemo. The files it produces are Flash, as opposed to avi. The screen-quality is just about perfect, and you definitely can do editing (of video and/or sound) within RoboDemo itself. I haven't purchased it because I don't currently have a client who needs especially high-quality tutorials, but if I did, I'd "graduate" from Cybercam to RoboDemo.
Good luck!
MarkWWWW wrote on 6/28/2002, 7:53 AM
Alternatively, youmay find that the free CamStudio ( will do all you need.

I haven't compared it to any commercial apps but for the small amount of screen capturing I've needed to do it has been fine.
Chienworks wrote on 6/28/2002, 8:44 AM
earthrisers, what resolution is your screen set for when you do the capture? If it's any higher than 640x480, it will be resized down to 640x480 when you import it into your Vegas project. That could account for the fuzziness you are seeing.
markrad wrote on 6/28/2002, 11:11 AM
Because of all the inherent limitations of trying to record PC monitor output directly I have begun experimenting with another approach. Expecting very little I tried shooting footage with my camera aimed directly at the PC monitor. (appalling ain't it?)but much to my surprise it actually works! This LCD is a very good looking dislay, 12x9 inches. Admittedly I still need to play with font size and camera settings but the end result still seems superior to using the monitor out signal directly. I have looked into some of the software suggestions some of you have made(thanks) but I just can't justify purchasing them at this time. If I wind up needing screen footage on a more regular basis I may need to revisit a software type solution though. Any suggestions out there for camera settings that would work best when shooting my LCD screen??
HeeHee wrote on 6/28/2002, 11:22 AM
I tried this approach with video taping a LCD Display too with mixed results. It was nice that there is no flicker, but I couldn't get a crisp image. The Fonts were blurry. I tried many settings with marginal success. The main thing was to adjust the brightness and remove auto focus.

With Camtasia I have been able to capture exactly what the desktop is displaying. The Raw footage, which uses the Techsmith avi codec, looks great when played back as long as you view in 100% or full screen in WMP. If you view in lower resolution, the fonts look distorted. I need to figure out the best file format and settings when rendering after editing the footage in VV or VF.
Cheesehole wrote on 6/28/2002, 9:52 PM

lot's of good advice here... here is my 2 cents. you got 2 usable options and you are already discovering the first one which is to shoot the screen. this is useful when you aren't running Windows, or don't have a fast PC.

the second option is much much better but it only works if you are running Windows, and you have some control over the PC, and it is a decent speed. this is the Camtasia method. it is an excellent program and has some advantages over shooting the screen:

1 - no refresh rate worries, and frame rate should be liquid smooth. the problem people have is they don't disable windows display acceleration. disabling Windows display acceleration allows Camtasia to capture just about anything at 30fps. there is even an option in the program to automatically turn off Windows display acceleration while recording. then you don't have to worry about it yourself. there is one other option in the latest version of Camtasia that also optimizes the capture process. using both should give you perfectly smooth video.

2 - looks much better than shooting the screen. the screen is recorded exactly as you see it. the results make any "shoot the screen" method look cruddy.

3 - mouse clicks can be highlit. this is one of the coolest features. you can make it so every time you right or left click the mouse while recording your demo, Camtasia records an animated circle which indicates the click. it looks slick and helps your viewer to know when and where you click the mouse button. you can have different colors for right and left clicking. also there is a "John Madden style" pen feature which allows you to draw on the screen to circle things or point to them.

plus the recorded Camtasia video is losslessly compressed and works perfectly in Vegas, just as good as DV.

there are advantages to both, but Camtasia will deliver a nicer looking end product.

I think there is a need for the ability to record the monitor output somehow, like you were trying to do in the beginning. sometimes you want to get great looking screen video, but the computer isn't running windows. so what can we do in this situation? as far as I know, there is no way to just record the output of a non-windows computer at a decent resolution.

scan converters were suggested, but these are actually surprisingly useless. a 1024x768 screen squeezed down to video resolution just looks terrible and can't be read most of the time. some scan converters have zoom/pan capability, but the controls are not fluid enough to move around and follow the action. plus they are big heavy expensive machines. we've tried them. now we don't consider them an option.

there is a need to be filled for sure.
Cheesehole wrote on 6/28/2002, 9:56 PM
hee hee:

you should be using Windows Media 7 Screen Video. it is optimized for "GIF" like compression, like screen captures. I've watched 800x600 videos in WM7 Screen format over the web and they worked great. have you messed with that?
markrad wrote on 7/2/2002, 12:21 AM
Thanks to everyone for their contribution to this thread (currently at #45 on the charts). I am now testing CamStudio at the suggestion of MarkWWWW. Price <free> is good, small program size, and best of all it seems to work well for my purpose.
HeeHee wrote on 7/2/2002, 9:53 AM

I haven't had a chance to mess with the settings much. I did import the avi files created at 800x600 at 5fps into Vegas and rendered to both wmv, with the standard 128K template, and MPEG1, based on the VCD NTSC template but changing the resolution to 720x480. Not sure if I'm doing things right, but the MPEG1 file came out perfect in WMP even at less than 100%. The wmv file sucked, could not make out any of the text. The only problem with the MPEG file was that it was a lot larger than the wmv file.

If you have any more settings to share for caturing with camtasia and for rendering the final movie in wmv format, I would appreciate it. Would capturing at 640x480 at 30fps work better for my purposes?

earthrisers wrote on 7/2/2002, 11:29 AM
Pardon the delayed response...

Yes, my screen-size is 1024 x whatever.
I'll try going to 640x480 when I capture, then see what happens in Vegas.

Thanks for the tip!

Cheesehole wrote on 7/3/2002, 4:03 AM
I don't think there is a standard template for screen video. you'll have to change the settings to Windows Media 7 Screen or your results will be very blurry as you discovered. with the Screen codec the video will look almost exactly like the uncompressed version with text just as sharp. depending on what you are capturing, framerate shouldn't have too much effect on your bandwidth, so go for 15 or 30fps.
HeeHee wrote on 7/3/2002, 10:29 AM

Forgive my ingnorance, but when you say to use the Windows Media 7 Screen Viewer, are you talking about the compression setting in Camtasia, the rendering format in Vegas, or what to use for viewing the final product?

For what its worth, I don't find a compression setting in Camtasia for WM7. It only creates AVI files. If it is a rendering format in Vegas, is this different than creating a WMV file? I would hate to think that you have to use a special "viewer" program to watch these captures, I would have no control over what the client would use.

Anyway, I have checked other sites for programs that do the same thing as Camtasia. They all say that that you should view in full screen and to make sure the screen resolution you are viewing on is equal or higher to that which the capture was done on. So, if you capture in 800x600, you should watch the movie in 800x600, 1024x768, or higher. Otherwise, you get fonts that look, what I would call, out of phase. You should also render the file to as close to the same resolution as what it was captured in. So, reducing the resolution of a 800x600 captured file to 352x240 would result in the "out of phase" font no matter how you view it.

Thanks for your help.
Chienworks wrote on 7/3/2002, 10:56 AM
It's even simpler than the "out of phase" concept. When the resolution is reduced, neighboring pixels are blended together or some of them are actually eliminated, simply because the reduced image doesn't contain as many pixels. Screen fonts, buttons, lines, icons, etc. are generally very small and usually require all the pixels they are displayed with to be visible, sharp, and recognizable. When you reduce them, there just isn't enough left over.

It doesn't matter whether the reduction is done during the rendering step or during the viewing step, the result is the same. If you capture 800x600, render to 800x600, and then someone watches it on a 640x480 screen (worse yet if they don't go to full screen mode then media player's borders will reduce the image even further) then it will be fuzzy.

It seems to me that most videos that show screen shots usually crop down to just a small part of the screen illustrating the current function rather than showing the full screen.
Cheesehole wrote on 7/3/2002, 1:23 PM
sorry I wasn't clear. I was talking about the compression format you use to compress the final file for viewing.

load up your project and go:
File | Render As
Choose Windows Media (WMV) as your "save as type"
Then hit "Custom"
Switch to the "Video" tab and choose Windows Media Screen V7 from the Format drop-down menu.

that is a special codec designed to compress screen captured material. for the "Image Size" choose "keep original size". you will have to experiment with bitrates to see how low you can go before there is image degradation. I would start with 128K and see what it looks like and go up or down from there.

remember not to resize your original capture in any way or you'll get that blurry font resizing problem and it won't compress well with the screen codec. the codec is designed to compress sharp lines and wide open spaces with no visual quality loss, just like a GIF. (Windows Media Screen V7 is like GIFs and MPEG video is like JPEGs)
HeeHee wrote on 7/3/2002, 2:01 PM
Thanks Chienworks for the simple explaination and thanks Cheesehole for the render settings.

One more question, can I still Pan and Crop and not effect the WM7 output in a negative way?
Cheesehole wrote on 7/3/2002, 6:46 PM
yes, but there are some things to remember.

1. you should definitely pan/crop if your captured footage is larger than your output format to avoid resizing the source footage. in the pan/crop settings, enter your output size in the Position | Size fields (at the top). you may have to disable the 'lock aspect ratio' button on the left side to do this step. this zooms the pan/crop frame so you may have to animate the panning to follow the action. the purpose of that step is to prevent Vegas from resizing your source footage to fit the output size.

2. if you *do* decide to resize the footage somehow via panning, cropping or zooming, keep an eye on the blurriness of the fonts and consider increasing your bitrate to account for the blur. the WM Screen v7 codec will still probably work okay depending on how complex your source material is, but it will be much less efficient if the footage is blurred in any way.

shawnm wrote on 7/3/2002, 8:34 PM
Hi Producer,

I've found a very good way of doing this is to capture using Camtasia at 800x600, edit in Vegas, and output to Windows Media using these settings:

Audio: 16 Kbps, 1600 Hz, Mono.
Video: 150 Kbps, 30 fps, 800x600, WMV V7 Screen CODEC, 100% quality

Hope this helps,


shawnm wrote on 7/3/2002, 8:38 PM
One other thing - ALWAYS capture at the size you will output to, and NEVER make your demos larger than 800x600.