Mel Aclaro – My studio setup for screencasting production

My feature post in Telestream’s The Screening Room blog a couple of days ago generated a few questions about this image of me in one of my studios.

screencasting setup

“I like to say I have two studios: my office and my ‘office annex’ locations.  The latter being whatever regional park or coffee house I tend to find myself in…”  ~Mel Aclaro

The one above is obviously from my office studio.  I pulled it from the ScreenFlow article (ref: Meet the ScreenFlow-er: Screencasting Wizard, Mel Aclaro) and decided to visually index it with cross-linked details to help supplement answers I give about the gear I use.  Click any of the markers in the image to learn more.

Your Studio Setup Doesn’t Have to Be Costly

So here’s the thing, although some of the equipment I use in my office is a bit pricey for the home-based screencaster, you can definitely get by with less budget-heavy gear AND still be able to get professional quality production value for your online course or website video/screencast.  I cover some of those in Sections 3 and 4 of the Digital-Know-How course, but I also provide some alternate links above for some of the more cost-effective gear.

Another resource you might want to take a look at, as well, is my previous post on The Poor Man’s Home Video Studio: 3 Must-Watch Techniques.

Your turn: Your recommendations for studio equipment?

What microphones, video, lighting or other hardware/software have you used that is both cost effective and quality enhancing?

[Videos] The poor man’s home video studio: 3 must-watch techniques

So in my online courses I field questions periodically about what my studio setup is like.  (You might be surprised at how much low tech you can get away with!)  The good news, of course, is that you don’t have to spend thousands to produce your online video/screencast courses.

In a nutshell, my setup isn’t too far removed from those Gideon has setup (third video below).  But, with a few minor tweaks (see the first 2 videos) I’m confident that you could easily produce at even higher quality video/screencasts than those you’ll see in my coursework.  So, please don’t use me as your baseline, check out the shoe-string budget creativity that some of our colleagues have put together… then do it!

wistia-lighting

Digital-Know-How Q&A – Video Settings, White Board Screencasts and More

Digital-Know-How.com Questions and Answers

  • What’s the best positioning for the webcam video when I conduct picture-in-picture effects in screencasts?
  • What video dimensions are best when uploading video to Vimeo or YouTube?
  • What software and hardware should I use to conduct a “white board” type screencast presentation?

I wanted to share these answers to some of the great questions we’ve been kicking around in the Digital-Know-How group from members of the Digital-Know-How course.

Here are some of the references I mentioned in the video

  • Vimeo School – Video Compression Basics.  This is a great blog post that I recommend reading if you want help understanding the rationale behind such mind-boggling terms as: frame rates, keyframe interval, data rate (bit rate), resolution and more.
  • Khan Academy.  Salman Khan and his team use white board type presentations quite extensively in most, if not all, of their online training videos.  
  • Camtasia Studio.  Techsmith’s screen recording software for windows (version 8) includes the Screendraw tool that allows you to “write” and draw on objects that appear on your computer screen during the screen recording session.
  • Snowmint Ultimate Pen.  For Mac users, I personally use Ultimate Pen for whiteboard writing effects on my desktop.  The ink motions are smooth which also includes a pressure sensitive tapering style to the drawing strokes.
  • Wacom.  Finally, if you’re shooting for a professional look in your white board screencast presentations, I can’t say enough how important a Wacom style tablet and stylus are for helping you achieve that professional look.    

What other recommendations would you make for the questions about webcam positioning, and white board screencasts? 

The poor man’s wireless microphone: How to use a digital voice recorder as a walkaround microphone

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By the way, while you’re here, download the free mini-course and other freebies.

Well, okay, maybe the title’s “poor man” reference is a bit of a misnomer.  I mean, to the extent that an iPhone can be considered a “poor man’s” tool is debatable, right?

But, when you consider replacing everywhere I say or use the word iPhone in the video above with the words digital voice recorder, then maybe it makes a bit more sense.  When you start comparing the cost of a digital voice recorder (about $50 to $200 for one with decent sound quality) with a wireless microphone system setup (which can range from a few hundred shells to several thousands), the case for a poor man’s wireless microphone starts sounding a little better.

But, even if you were to shell out for a wireless lavalier microphone system, it would still cost at least a few hundred bucks for just one such system.  Add another talking-head or two into your video and you can see where expenses start racking up.  Those can be tough expenses to justify, especially if all you want to do is record passably good quality audio / video for purposes of video-blogging and the occasional client interview.

4 Video-blogging Anti-Best Practices

The issue I’m addressing in this post relates to a discussion we had a couple of weeks ago during one of our SMMOC meetings (Social Media Mastermind, Orange County roundtable).  At that meeting the topic of blogging, video-blogging and web video came up.  Of course, I perked right up.

One of the points we bantered about were some of the best practices in video-blogging.  I mentioned some of my personal anti-favorites:

  • Recording with a computer-mounted webcam — especially when you get too close to the mounted camera (you’re bustin’ my personal space, man!)
  • Recording a video blog with a webcam while in your bedroom — and especially with your bed gracing the space in the background (hmm…too creepy)
  • Poor / dim / yellowish lighting (put me to sleep already)
  • Poor audio — especially having room echo, white noise, and so on (ugh, are you kidding me?)

During the audio portion of our SMMOC discussion, I made the suggestion — which I’ll make to you, as well — of using a microphone whenever you can.  Even if it’s a corded microphone, get one with a long cord so that you can benefit from allowing yourself some “walking around space” and a bit of distance from the camera.  This naturally segued to discussing tips about getting good audio quality even when you’re all the way on the other side of the room from the camera.  Or, even more so — say when you’re all the way across an open field or a river stream from your camera.  How do you get good sound to record with your video when you’re far away from your camera?

Well, of course, a wireless or lavalier type microphone, transmitter and receiver system is a good way to go.  And, while I show just such a device in the first part of the video above, the fact is that I spent a few hundred bucks for mine.  That might be a bit much for some folks.  Especially if you’re still just dangling your feet and touching your toes in the waters of this whole video-blogging pool thingy.

A Digital Voice Recorder Can Help You Inexpensively Get Some “Walking Around” Space While Recording Your Video

So, for a few hundred dollars less than a wireless audio system setup, I made the point about using a digital voice recorder.  I happen to use the Voice Memos app that comes standard with my iPhone 3GS.  Although, you can pretty much use whatever you want.  The only requirements I would say are:

  • Listen to the quality of the audio recorded.  Make sure it’s, uh, sound. (Pun intended.)  It sorta defeats the purpose otherwise
  • The audio should be easily transferrable to your computer
  • The audio file format should be easily transferred into your video editing software. (Of course this implies you have video editing software.)

The Biggest Challenge About Recording Audio On a Digital Recording Device That’s Separate From Your Camera Is…

…Syncing.  That is, you have to go through a few steps to sync up the audio file from your digital voice recorder with the talking-head’s lips in the video.  (Remember those b-level martial movies where the samurai guy is seen talking, but the sound doesn’t go with what his lips appear to be saying?  That’s the effect we don’t want to have.)

Solution:  To get the audio and video sync’d up, take a step somewhere in the beginning of your recording session and clap.  Yes, clap!

After you turn on the camera and are recording both video and audio, make sure your digital voice recorder is in your pocket somewhere close to your mouth.  (Like in a pocket of your shirt or blouse.)  Or, better yet, use a corded microphone clipped to your shirt and which is connected to your digital recorder.

Then, with both these devices turned on, clap loudly three times.  This will give you three hard audio “spikes” (see below) that will appear in both your camera’s audio track and the digital recorder’s audio that you can use to sync up after you import them both into your video editor.

Caveats For Your Video Editor

  • Make sure it supports the ability to view audio files as “wave forms” (similar to what’s shown in the picture above)
  • It helps to have the ability to have multi-tracks.  This means that you can place different audio (or video) clips “on top” of one another.  For example, in the picture above, notice how there are three rows (called tracks in video-speak) for the audio files.

Video Editing Software That Will Work For This

  • For the PC:
    • Windows Movie Maker (usually bundled free with your PC) actually has one additional audio track you can use in addition to the audio that comes with the video.  They usually use it for music, but you can place your digital audio file there, too.  Then just match up the spikes in the same way I show you in the video.
  • For the Mac:
    • Sadly, I don’t think iMovie (usually comes with your Mac) displays audio waveforms.  (Someone help me out here?)  Consequently, I’d say it might be worth investing a bit in another Mac-based video editor like Final Cut Express (about $99 last I checked… ‘might even actually come bundled free with some Mac purchases.)

Your Turn

What other tips and tricks do you have about getting good quality audio and video on a shoestring budget?