Setup

Peter Reviews is not an expensive production. Especially when no video is recorded. That’s way easier.

Let’s be honest though, most of my views come from videos, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more views. Not at the expense of my integrity, obviously, and I’m trying to send a message here. I have an extremely cute cat, and yes, posting videos of that cat from my ‘phone would be a ludicrously easy way to get a gazillion views (with no editing!), but then I’d be that cat guy, with the cat, rather than that guy who writes good reviews.

So the setup for my channel is what I’m supposed to be talking about.

Let’s talk hardware and software.

Hardware-wise I use several capture devices, when recording my own voice for a video I go the whole hog and record on a Shure SM58 microphone. If you haven’t heard of that particular microphone, go do a google on it. It’s very famous, and has a well-deserved reputation for two things, durability and quality. They aren’t cheap, but they are worth their weight in gold. I’m a digital recorder, and I like simplicity, so I use a Lightsnake, it’s great, you plug it into your computer, and you have a USB input device that needs no drivers. It is pre-amped and noise-reduced, all you have to do is select it and record from it. I use the microphone on a microphone boom stand, so that the arm comes across horizontally and the microphone points at the corner of my mouth. This is to reduce explosive sounds on hard consonants like ‘p’ and windy ‘s’ sounds. It’s also great for Rock Band. Rock Band and SingStar microphones can be used for cheaper, lower quality alternatives.

For video capture, I use FRAPS to capture PC content, and I’d recommend it highly, it’s a doddle to use and very reasonably priced. The only possible snag is that some conversion programs aren’t adept at displaying or converting PC-level content well. Ever seen a really dark video of FRAPS content? That’s what I’m talking about. FRAPS has captured it, but the software used to produce the final video has not worked correctly. To solve this, by the way, you simply use ffmpeg, ffmpeg -i source.avi -acodec copy -sameq -pix_fmt yuv420p output.avi should do it.

I use FRAPS with a resolution of 1280×720 at 25 or 30 frames a second. I use 25 frames a second when mixing video with console capture (I’ll get into why in a bit), but 30 frames a second when it is solely PC captured footage. I think more than that is generally overkill, recording at 60 just means you’re going to lose detail if you want a video that can be uploaded easily, and recording at 1920×1080 would choke my PC and wouldn’t add much. I decided reasonably early to make 720p my standard, which is why even console footage which I can only capture in PAL is upscaled to 720p. Speaking of which.

Not wanting to break the bank, I decided to go for a reasonably priced (not spending hundreds of pounds or dollars) SD capture card. The specific one is a K-World DVD Maker 2, but there are many reasonably priced alternatives which do pretty much the same thing, just make sure it accepts S-Video which is far superior to composite video (that’s composite, not component!) since it carries all the picture information as two channels rather than one (that’s why you get dot-crawl on composite). Since I use one of these, and the PS3 will only output 576i PAL when running UK-bought games (which is frustrating since the hardware and software are both capable of running in 480i NTSC or 576i PAL, it just locks it out) I can only capture 720×576 interlaced 25 frames per second footage. If my videos are quite popular then at some point I will upgrade to something like the famous HD PVR, but at the moment, with some processing, the SD footage can look quite good. In fact, the main problem is getting all the cabling you need since you need quite the mess of cables and splitters so you can monitor and record at the same time.

That particular USB capture device came with some software called Cyberlink PowerDirector, if the name of the company and product sound familiar it’s because when you buy some hardware, say, a blu-ray drive, you’ll get a free software blu-ray player such as PowerDVD with it. I’m always amused that software called PowerDVD is a blu-ray player that comes on a CD. Anyway, don’t be too put off by the price, there are lots of discounts available if you already own an OEM version of the program in question. Besides, the software costs about two console games in price, and actually is very good and has comparable feature-sets to much more expensive software. A free alternative is Kino for SD video, I’ve heard good things about virtualdub, but was put off with reports of frequent crashes (PowerDirector is very stable and has a good autosave function, although it does have some annoying bugs and ways of doing things). So I do use PowerDirector 9 for all my editing needs, at which point I’ll have it spit out a very high quality version for me to re-encode as two-pass (PowerDirector doesn’t do multipass for some reason, otherwise I’d probably use it) with the h264enc script. Two-pass is absolutely vital for creating good-looking video at reasonable bitrates (4000k for youtube, for example).

Actually, it hasn’t been true for quite a long time that I get the most views from my videos, so after a while I stopped making them, they will return one day.

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