How should I record high-quality video game footage?

Matthew Doucette
  • How should I record high-quality video game footage? Matthew Doucette

    How should I record high-quality video game footage off consoles? I am interested in PC and mobile platform recording too. And Secondarily, how can I edit the footage professionally for YouTube trailers and gameplay videos?

    P.S. for amateur level recording, please see How can I record demos of my gameplay?.


    This is primarily for professional trailers and footage from our indie game studio (i.e.,, but also for posting YouTube videos of personal gameplay accomplishments (i.e.,

    Current setup:

    • Blackmagic Intensity Pro capture card
    • Dell Precision T3400 workstation
    • four 7,200 RPM hard drive RAID-0 array
      • simulates a single 28,800 RPM hard drive
      • Blackmagic recommends a 10..15 hard drive RAID-0 array, with a minimum requirement of a four hard drives
    • Recording in 720p JPEG compression (5:1 file size compression compared to raw) <-- this is as high as I can go in compression and I need at least 720p resolution to maintain professional quality.
    • Windows Vista (Windows 7 soon)
    • edit raw output capture files in VirtualDub
    • final edit in Windows Movie Maker (I know...)

    This is a system we purchased and setup for professionally recording footage of our games. It needs improvement. I also use it to record personal video game play and would like to do this more. The inconvenience of it all is what stops me.

    Example output of current setup:

    Here's an example trailer of our own video game, produced with this system:

    If you have a good eye, or even not, you can see the swap fields problem on all the game play footage. I know the solution, but it requires too much meddling with VirtualDub to "fix" the huge raw output files from the Intensity Pro. In the trailer above, I simply forgot to do this and ran out of time to fix it. This trailer took about a day's work from start to end. Too much time for indie developers without time.

    But, there's pros too. Here's example quality achieved by this setup, courtesy of Forza 3:

    Amazing quality. Please note, which the very informed of you will already realize, that the above Forza 3 footage is from Forza 3's replay mode, which actually plays at 30 fps, not 60 fps, and it blurs the screen with motion blur effects. This is why it translates to the 30 fps (I think) of YouTube better than 60 fps gameplay with every second frame cut out. I want software that does this for me from my 60 fps footage, using every two frames (or more) together to produce a lower frame rate with proper motion blur.

    Problems with current setup:

    Even with a four hard drive RAID-0 array, it still skips frames. A single skipped frame is not so bad, but when they add up it takes the video out of synch from the audio which is not skipped. Imagine separate video and audio buffers each being filled independently, but not equally whenever there is not information to fill it, which is what happens when the hard drive is too slow for a moment and skips recording the frame. You can see this effect at the end of this video, slightly, when you watch and listen to the "ting" of breaking the gates (Geometry Wars 2)...

    ...and this is only after 3 minutes. Imagine how far the audio/video synch would be after an hour. (The reason the video is ahead of the audio, and not vice-versa, is perhaps at first unintuitive depending how you think about it. I'll clear up the confusion: The video buffer is not filled as "high" as the audio buffer due to all the skipped video frames. Now imagine the final video frame, where there is extra audio to spare topping off the more filled audio buffer. Necessarily, the video is matched with audio from the "past". So when the player breaks a gate in Geometry Wars 2, you see the gate breaking and the audio of the gate breaking has yet to come. So upon replay the video happens first.)

    Inconvenience #1: Because of the above skip frame problem, I have to take video in small chunks. A level at a time. I'd rather record for hours and forget I'm even recording, when playing games.

    Inconvenience #2: Nothing on the computer can be loaded or in focus while the video is being recorded, which is Blackmagic's way of making sure they have full power of the computer to not skip frames. Not a flaw, but just inconvenient to have the PC unusable.

    Swapped fields (think every two scan lines are swapped), which require editing in VirtualDub for importing into Windows Movie Maker.

    What I would like to do is record for hours, preferably at 720p or 1080p at 60 fps or 30 fps blurred from 60 fps input.

    Bonus points

    You'll get bonus points (not really) if you can help with any of the following:

    Answer the same question for recording off of PC's (with an HDMI output in my card, I think I can use the same solution as a console) and mobile platforms.

    Suggest anything that helps me have a better video recording setup. Including operating system (even though I'll be unlikely to change), hardware (HD PVRs maybe?), and software. Including anything cost-effective. We certainly do not have an unlimited budget, but have a need for professional video capturing.

    Preservation of the 60 frames per second input, in the lower (30?) frames per second output, while keeping in mind whatever YouTube does for processing as well. For example, if the final YouTube video is only 30 fps, it's smoother to not drop every second frame but instead incorporate all the frames into a more blurry, but more information packed, 30 fps. This is why videos captured on 30 fps handheld cameras from our 60 fps games look smooth, as they do this maintaining of all frames' information inherently. Here's an example of my 30 fps camera recording my 60fps game, where you can feel the smoothness compared to other videos of the same game... can see in the video above, especially when pausing it, that each frame contains more than one frame (of the original 60 fps frames) of information. THis video may only be 20 fps, as I can tell from the larger bosses that there are three distinct explosion rings when I know the game (at least at the time of the recording) only had one. All of this makes for a much smoother viewing which also more accurately portrays what you would see in real life.

    Lot of stuff here. Lots of thoughts and rambling. Edit this question for clarity if you will. Any and all help is appreciated. (Note: I have posted links not for spam, but to be informative. Remove if need be, as well as this message.)

  • I really think that if you brought up your concerns with the game engine people, the issue of capturing video output from a game will not require ANY type of hardware in addition to what the game runs on, let alone specialized incredibly expensive hardware like what you describe. Also this opens up the possibility of "enhancing" the output because you can combine multiple frames into a single one that goes in the final video, which will help it look much smoother.

    The degree of difficulty involved in modifying a game to produce video output will vary. It could be extremely simple, by dumping the pixels from the screen buffer at every frame, or it could be quite difficult if the behavior of the game depends on the time taken to render. This is because the additional time it takes to copy the framebuffer data will be appended to the time it takes to render. It might simply make the game run slower (which is quite manageable as it should make a game easier to play, in general) or it might make the game uncontrollable and unresponsive, if the actual time difference between frames was used to determine parameters to update the game. Of course this all depends on the nuts and bolts of how the game is designed.

    Now I'll point out that this type of approach wouldn't help you capture a video of Forza 3 gameplay at all.

  • I think you can unfocus the Blackmagic software and continue recording, by changing an option in the settings, thus you can use your computer while recording.

  • So, this tutorial has a review of recording devices, including ones that support HD recording. It does note the following

    I WILL BE LISTING SOME HD COMPATIBLE RECORDING DEVICES that enable you to record in standard and play in High Def simultaneously later in this article. However the prices can vary dramatically on these devices. There is only one somewhat affordable external device that allows true HD capture and that is the Hauppauge HD PVR and it is listed below.

    It also says

    As far as I know there are no affordable external devices that record 1080p or from an HDMI cable. The Hauppauge will do HD but it will only record in 720p or 1080i.

    Mind you, this guide was posted 3 years ago so there is no guarantee that the devices haven't improved since then, but this seems to be a very complete guide.

    Honestly, I think you're going to find better support on the GameDev side of things. A lot of players record their videos (especially those in MLG) but a lot of the times they won't care about audio syncing, or perfect framerates. You can take a look at this guide over at the MLG forums, but a lot of their focus is on cheap rather than quality.

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