HOWTO: Capture Game Console Footage

What you’ll need:
  • S-Video or composite cable for your home video came console
  • DVR equipment, such as a set-top DVR, a multimedia center computer, or an external DVR computer device
  • MPlayer, Avidemux, MediaInfo

GameBridge, the exception to the rule.

If you’re going for a computer-based solution, be forewarned: The problem with most most computer-based DVRs is that there is no way to watch “live” TV — that is to say, you’re always one or two seconds behind because of all the buffering and processing going on. It depends on both the device that handles video signal input and the DVR software that you use. The only way to find out if your gaming session is going to be playable is to hook everything up and try it out. It might work, you might have to fiddle with some settings, or it may never work. Keep in mind that video gaming is unique in that it’s the only video source that you interact with, and most computer-based solutions are built around the fact that (otherwise) video is not interactive. The only device that I know of for sure that outputs video live is the GameBridge, but with a $50 price tag, proprietary cables, and no support outside of Windows, you might be better going with a full-fledged set-top DVR.

Component Video Splitter
I can’t even find an RCA composite A/V adapter. Wanna gamble that this $11 component cable splitter might work? Othewise you’re stuck paying almost $50 for the device below.
Monster Composite Video Splitter

You could also split the video signal but, but resulting video quality varies greatly. You can pick up a cheap cable splitter and it may work like a charm or it could have the worst video output you’ve ever seen. You can pick up an expensive cable splitter and the same two results are possible. In theory, save HDMI, the video quality will never be as good when you split. A split results in a weaker signal, and boosting the signal results in greater noise. HDMI is digital, but HDMI encumbered by HDCP. If you want to try this route, be sure you buy from a location with a good return policy.

If you decide to go the set-top DVR route, be sure to pick up one that can write to both DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW to avoid the hell that might arise from not being able to find one particular format. Also, a TV Tuner is nice but not a necessity here. And while component-out connections are common on DVD players nowadays, don’t expect to find a set-top DVR with component-in. Why? DVDs have a resolution of 720×480, and therefore it doesn’t make sense to process incoming video at resolutions any higher EDTV (720×480 progressive). Component cables can carry 1080p HDTV (1920×1080). The only reason to carry component-out is that the next-best outbound connection, S-Video, only carries SDTV resolutions (720×480 interlaced).

Step 1: Hooking up your DVR Device.

Dot Crawl In Composite VideoHooking everything up is the simplest part. The only hard part is deciding whether you want to stick with the composite cables that came with your system or splurge a bit for an S-Video cable. S-Video really does look better than composite, but you’ll need and HDTV or computer monitor to see the difference. And seeing as how computer screens are our target viewing apparatus here, it might be worth while to pick up an S-Video cable.

After deciding upon S-Video or composite, you’re either going to:

  • hook up your console to a set-top DVR, hook up your set-top DVR to your TV, and then configure your DVR if need be
  • hook up your console to a computer DVR device, and if it’s an external device, hook that device into the computer and configure it if need be
  • hook up your console to a video splitter and split the video between a DVR and a television, setting up the DVR as appropriate

With the advent of wide screen HDTVs and monitors, it’s important to note that you might be dealing with up to three different aspect ratio settings.

  • Console Output: Most prominent for the XBox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles, you’ll be able to set the aspect ratio of the console’s video output when using composite, s-video, or component cables. When using composite or S-Video connections, this is accomplished through anamorphing (squishing) the video, which can then be stretched back out by a wide screen TV. Some older consoles can use the wide-screen format as well, but the game itself has to support it (like Star Fox Adventures for the GameCube or Resident Evil 4 for the PS2).
  • TV setting: Even though most allow you to choose 4:3 or 16:9, all the setting really does is squish or stretch the video signal accordingly.
  • The last aspect ratio to set is the set-top DVR. Although it will have absolutely no effect on the video you see through the inputs, it will have an effect on the on-screen display, the title menus it creates, and most likely set the aspect ratio information on the DVD you create, letting software media players know to stretch the 720×480 video to 854×480.
Step 2: Capture Your Video.

Hit Record, stupid. 🙂

OK, Actually you’re going to have to consider the time frame it’s going to take you to record your video. If you’re using a set-top DVD DVR, the highest quality setting is only going to give you one hour to accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish. If you’re using a computer to record, the remaining space on your hard drive is the limit. When using a computer try to use the least-lossy, if not lossless, format to retain image quality.

Step 3: Simple Edit Your Video.

Whether you just want to trim some fat from the begging and end of you recording, or you want to extract that 3-minute footage of a high score from 2 hours of footage, AVIDemux is your ticket home. It only does two things — drop frames and transcode — but it does them well.

DVD users, you’re going to have to get that video into a format usable by AVIDemux. That’s where MPlayer comes into play. The non-GUI version of this media player software comes with mencoder — a handy-dandy command-line application that can convert video. Since DVDs already use MPEG video and AC3 audio in a VOB container, all we have to do is dump these into an MPEG container instead.

mencoder dvd://1 -dvd-device [device] -oac copy -ovc copy -of mpeg -o gamefootage.mpeg

[device] is usually /dev/cdrom for Linux and D: for Windows. If your OS is set up that way, you can leave out the -dvd-device [device] option. If mencoder complains that it can’t find the dvd-device, specify it.

If you are using Windows, please be sure you have already installed your DVD playing software. If you have no DVD playing software, you will have to download AC3Filter to hear the audio in Windows Media Player. Media players like MPlayer and VLC have their own codecs and can play the AC3 audio stream just fine.

If you’re using MPlayer to play videos and the aspect ratio seems a bit off, you may have to set the monitor aspect ratio in ./.mplayer/mplayer.conf or C:Documents and Setting[username]MyDocumentsmplayerconfig.

monitoraspect=[your aspect]

Believe it or not, my monitor is actually 16:10. Makes for much fun when using my monitor to play XBox 360, which only has video outputs of 16:9. But I digress. Be sure to set this value if you have a 1280×1024 monitor, as your aspect ratio is actually 5:4, not 4:3.

AVIDemux’s interface is pretty much self-explanatory. You can play; skip or rewind by frame, keyframe, or black frame; and set A and B points for a cut.

Once you have your video pared down, you can export the video. To avoid any loss in quality, you can try to use Copy for audio and video and use the same container, but this doesn’t always work. (Example: Your source’s video used the FFV1 codec.) If your video comes out garbled, especially around your cuts, you may have to re-encode. At this point, your only option for retaining full quality is the FFV1 or HuffYUV codecs.

Once again, Windows Media Player ends up on the short end of the stick and will not have the codecs for FFV1- or HuffYUV-encoded video streams. You’ll have to download FFDShow.

Step 3: Advance Edit Your Video.
Because Microsoft thinks all the video we’ll deal with comes in one format, the aspect setting becomes a global option in Tools > Options instead of a per-video setting.

If you want to advanced stuff like titles, credits, and video overlays and effects, you’re going to have to use a video editing app like PiTiVi (Linux Gnome), kdenline (Linux KDE), Cinelerra (Linux X11), Windows Movie Maker (Windows), or iMovie (Mac). Use of these programs is beyond the scope of this article, mostly because they all drive me up a damn wall. Seriously.

  • PiTiVi has an advance view that mimics Windows Movie Maker, but it’s only in version 0.11.1. For some reason, only version 0.10.3 is available for Ubuntu 7.10 x86-64.
  • Kdenlive kept crashing, which prevented the app from working until the computer was rebooted. Then I remembered that my laptop had trouble with video playback when the OpenGL desktop was enabled, so I disabled it. Kdenlive became stable, but the video played fast and the audio was out of sync. Not to mention that I couldn’t specify my own aspect ratios no matter what.
  • Cinelerra just crashes under Ubuntu 7.10 x86-64 no matter what.
  • Windows Movie Maker actually works, save for the aspect ratio setting being a global option for all projects instead of a being a per-project option. I’ve also come to find out how extensible Movie Maker is. The level of which makes my brain hurt when I realize how cool some of the stuff people come up with really is, and people had to discover this for themselves with no official word or support from Microsoft.
  • iMovie looks really slick. Too bad its import support of video is limited to DV, HDV, and MPEG-4, and it’s audio support is limited to AIFF and MP3.

When you save your video, be sure to use the least lossy, if not lossless output.

Bonus: Upload High-Quality Video To YouTube.

Here’s something YouTube doesn’t want you to know: If you can make your own Flash Video file and keep the average bitrate under 350kb/s, YouTube won’t touch your video! In fact, for a while, hackers discovered that you could hex-edit the resulting file and fool YouTube into thinking the file was lower-quality than it was. While YouTube shored up that little exploit, the original fact remains that Flash Videos under 350kb/s remain untouched.

The secret to making high-quality video is to make your video pixel-perfect with YouTube’s player’s display of 480×360. When you upload videos normally, the video gets compressed to 320×240 at approximately 320kb/s. So not only does your video take a hit in the bitrate department, detail gets lost as the player stretches your video as well.

Once again, mencoder comes to the rescue.

mencoder [input video file] -o [output video name].flv -af resample=22050:0:0 -sws 9 -of lavf -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=flv:vbitrate=297:trell:v4mv:mv0:m bd=2:cbp:aic:cmp=3:subcmp=3 -oac mp3lame -lameopts abr:br=48:mode=3

For 4:3 standard videos, add
-vf scale:480:360

For 16:9 widescreen videos, add
-vf scale=480:270,expand=480:360

When mencoder finishes up, you’ll want to use MediaInfo to make sure your files weigh in under 350kb/s. If it doesn’t, scale back the vbitrate setting until it does. The settings above give mencoder 5kb/s of wiggle-room but sometimes that isn’t enough.

And in case you’re wondering if this’ll screw with YouTube’s roll-out of high-quality videos, consider this comparison table of YouTube formats:

  Standard FLV High Quality FLV MP4
Video Format 320×240@272kb/s Flash H.263 448×336@864kb/s Flash H.263 480×360@512kb/s MPEG-4 H.264
Audio Format 22KHz 48kb/s
Mono MP3
44KHz 96kb/s
Mono MP3
44KHz 128kb/s
Stereo AAC

As you can see, the only format not subject to stretching is MP4. But the question is, is 512kb/s video any better than 272kb/s video? At resolutions of 480×360, probably not. So feel free to use this trick to upload high-quality stuff to YouTube until the high-quality roll-out is complete.