I have been blogging for a good while now as I started this blog in July 2011. However, while I enjoy reading and writing, I have to admit that home-created video has reached a prominent place in recent years, especially in video games, but also in a business context.
Therefore, even though I am a bit late to the party, I finally ventured into streaming and video production on low-cost basis, and I have to say that I am surprised how good the freely available tools are nowadays.
In this post, I will tell you about my setup and maybe there is a small Lean Startup lesson within as well.
The investment: hardware
To start with, I used my old webcam and a gaming headset, but I was not quite satisfied with the results. Especially the old webcam was not up to par, as it could not produce satisfactory results while filming full screen video, so I was forced to just use a small picture of myself and a larger picture of a slideshow in order to achieve decent quality. If I only wanted to stream video game gameplay, for example, that might have been adequate, as the game takes most of the screen area, but I wanted to be able to go full screen as well.
The only relatively low-cost option I could find was the Logitech C920 webcam, which is able to capture 1080p video for streaming and has picture quality far above my old stand-alone webcam or my laptop webcam. As I did not want to go for a full video camera setup, this was basically the only viable option I could find.
For audio, I went for a USB microphone. After searching the web for viable alternatives, I came up with two candidates that seemed to be quite equal: the Blue Yeti and the Audio-Technica AT2020USB Plus. The Yeti is more flexible, as it has more recording patterns in case you want to record something else than just your speech. The Yeti also has a sturdier desk stand, although it is also more bulky overall. I ended up with the Yeti as I had a good place for its desk stand, even though the recording patterns are of little use to me. If I had wanted to go for a boom setup for the microphone, the smaller size of the AT2020 would have been more convenient. The next step up in audio would have been to go for an XLR microphone (and the AT2020 is actually also available as an XLR version) and a separate mixer through which to connect it to the computer, but that would have again been somewhat more expensive.
I already had a gaming laptop and a separate monitor for a two-screen setup, so the entire investment to get ready for streaming and video production was to get a good webcam and a microphone. That’s because nowadays you can get all the software you need for free!
When it comes to software, the world has really changed. There is incredibly high-quality software available completely free!
Graphics editing: vectors or bitmaps. Adobe remains the premium supplier of graphics editors with Photoshop for bitmaps and Illustrator for vectors. I have used both at the office, and they are very good tools. However, unless you’re looking to build skills with those products in particular (because they are the de facto standard programs at the workplace), free tools provide you with just about everything you need. For bitmaps, especially in RGB color space (so computer graphics, not for print), GIMP is an excellent choice, and for vectors Inkscape is more than capable of getting the job done. I have always preferred vectors for their precision and more math-like approach, so Inkscape has been my tool of choice for creating any graphics I need.
Recording and streaming. When it comes to recording and streaming, my tool of choice has been OBS Multiplatform. It’s open source, it’s completely free, and it works. I use it both to stream gameplay to Twitch and to record videos to Youtube. Another popular program that many people use is Xsplit, which is a commercial program with a wider feature palette. It also offers a free version, but the limitations in that basically mean that unless you want to pay, OBS is the better choice.
Video editing. Finding a free video editor was slightly more cumbersome, as compromises seemed unavoidable. I settled for Lightworks, one of the first non-linear video editors around, which boasts some impressive references ranging from Pulp Fiction to The Wolf of Wall Street. There is a completely free version available, but it comes with one crucial limitation: exporting the project is possible only to MPEG-4 at 720p resolution. So, no 1080p or better video unless you pay for the license. That said, I consider 720p good enough for a fair while, so this was a compromise I was willing to make to use an otherwise professional-level software program.
Setting things up
The basic setup was quite easy. Finding my way around the various menus in Youtube in order to enable long videos was probably the most cumbersome part, followed by OBS settings, and neither was particularly difficult.
In OBS, I set up my stream key for Twitch in the settings, chose a recording path and video bitrate (3500 is the best setting for Twitch if you have the bandwidth to do it), and chose video resolution. That was pretty much it for the settings.
Furthermore, I set up a couple of scenes in OBS: one for streaming games, one for recording presentations with a slideshow visible, and one for recording myself on full screen. You can choose various video and graphics sources when setting up a scene and position them accordingly. While recording, it is possible to switch between scenes on the fly, although if you’re recording and not streaming, things such as picture-in-picture are better done in the actual video editor.
For Youtube videos I created a few seconds long intro video and a few seconds long end card video in the video editor, which I can then import to new video edits, and after a video has been uploaded to Youtube, I use the annotations feature there to add links to the end card.
OK, so now that all of that is set up, then what?
Tools and settings are necessary, but they are not even the most important thing: the content is! So, once you have a setup that enables you to create content, the way ahead is to go ahead and create some content. And then watch that content, see what can be improved, and do better next time.
That is also a lesson that Lean Startup is trying to teach: do not spend a ton of time fine-tuning what you have in a lab (or on your own computer) – go ahead and put it out and you will improve much faster. (This probably does not apply if you’re manufacturing pharmaceuticals or building airplanes, but it definitely applies to creating videos on the internet.)
For reference, see the difference in my videos in just two weeks:
Finally, a few words on presentations and presenting
I find that many people could use a bit of advice when it comes to delivering a presentation. My Youtube videos are by no means ideal, partially because I still need more practice, and partially because I do not practice for them in the same manner I do for live presentations – a little bit of that rough, video blog style is intentional, even though it is not yet on the level of finesse I want it to be.
Be that as it may, I can recommend a couple of short books for you, whether you are into streaming or giving presentations.
First, a book that has been one of my favorites on how to give a presentation since its publication in early 2012, Shel Israel’s Stellar Presentations is a great short guide on how to give a good speech, and only costs a few dollars.
Second, if you’re more into streaming and video games in particular, one of the most prominent figures in the scene, Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner, published a free ebook on esports broadcasting, Talking Esports, in July 2015. While it offers less insight into how to present than Shel Israel’s book, it is written in a style appropriate to the esports audience and does include a few good pointers that can help any streamer, not just commentators.
Oh yeah, you can find my videos and streams online now!
I am currently running two channels on Youtube, one that is based on this blog and features similar Lean and business content, and one that focuses on video game gameplay and is based on my video game streaming on Twitch. Feel free to check them out!
Picture: Screenshot of video editing in Lightworks