Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Making a talking head video from your desktop and displaying in Google Video

Gary had asked for a “how to” on a previous demo of talking head video, but last night Google Video didn’t accept uploads and I was a bit afraid that the YouTube acquisition had affected their upload policy. My fears were misplaced. Upload worked this morning. They must have had a temporary server glitch. So, below, is my own annotated instructions on how to do this sort of thing.

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I’m going to talk about this for the PC. I’ve done likewise for a Mac, and if you are doing this on a Mac, you can substitute iMovie for where I talk about RealProducer Plus. However, one caveat. I’ve got an iMac with a built-in iSight Camera. For whatever reasons, iMovie doesn’t see that camera. If you use an external camera – no problem. If you do use the internal camera, then you need another program to record the video. I used iVeZeen. For recording uncompressed video, it works fine, but for compression it had problems.

On the PC, I’ve had good success with a very inexpensive Logitech Camera. One of the nice secrets is that for the quality of video I want to produce, this works quite well – for both video and audio recording. If you have a flat screen monitor in your office, clipping it on top of the monitor and then leaving it there out of harm’s way till you need it makes it quite convenient. The camera plugs into a USB port. You do have to install software that comes with the camera, so the computer recognizes the device, but that is pretty straight forward.

In what I do, I’ve used the camera as the audio recording device, rather than any built in recording device on the computer. It is easy to visually gauge distance from the camera and so it becomes easy to get a sense of a comfortable zone where the recording can be done. To do this, go to the Control Panel and select Sounds and Audio Devices. Select the Audio Tab. In the recording area, make sure the camera is selected.

Sound Control Panel

One of the tricks I learned, but only after making the same mistake many times, is that the microphones for these things are pretty sensitive and the right thing to do is to set the volume for recording on your computer down. This will keep the thing from picking up too much background noise. I can live with crappy video, but crappy audio makes the presentation worthless, in my view. So this is one of the key steps in the process. Fortunately, as with the previous step, this only has to be done once. Click the Volume button in the Recording Device area. This is a screen shot of my volume settings.

Volume Control

Now we’re ready to start recording and for that you need some software. At Illinois, a good choice is RealProducerPlus, since we have a campus site license to the software. (UIUC community can get this software from the Webstore. Because of the licensing restrictions and the need for us to assure further distribution to non-licensed users is restrained, the software is available on CD only, not by download.) The two things it offers for this particular purpose are nice frame rate for recording (30 frames per second) so the video looks smooth not choppy and a fairly easy to learn interface. Perhaps there are freeware alternatives for the PC. The Logitech camera itself has video capture software that produces AVI files. That’s a possibility. My experience with that is mixed. Sometimes it is fine but at other times it produces choppy video.

Here is a screenshot of the RealProducerPlus interface. I’ll talk through the minimum set of steps needed to record a movie.

RealProducer takes as input either another type of media file or from a recording device. The default is the former and so you must actively select the recording device for both Audio and Video inputs. Note that in the screen shot I’ve selected the Logitech Camera for both of these. That is on the left, below the image of me that is shown during the capture. That the image appears shows the Video input is being received correctly.

On the right, there are some buttons, one of which says Audiences. Click it. If you are actually going to record for later streaming, you can choose multiple audiences. But for this purpose, you only need one audience and the one I’ve got is 256K DSL or Cable. Recording for dial-up makes the thing too choppy. The other control to set is the Audio Mode. I believe the default is Music (a higher quality). I choose Voice, which makes the file a little smaller. The quality is fine for this purpose.

You can put in Clip Information, and that might be a good idea if you are concerned about protecting your copyright. But it is not necessary to make a recording. The key final step for that is to identify the four icons below the Destination window, one has the Real logo, the next has an image of a server, then a pencil, and finally a trash can. Choose the button with the Real logo, select a name for your file and the location where you want the file to reside on your computer.

Now you are ready to record. I recommend making a 10 second movie or so, just to test that the recording is working ok. When you make your actual movie, you’ll simply overwrite that test movie. Recording happens a second or so after you press the Encode button. You’ll see another image in the right window pane during actual recording. You click the Stop button next to the Encode button when you are done. On my computer it takes almost no time thereafter for the video to be ready to view. There is a button for playing back the movie and that will bring up RealPlayer so you can see what the video looks like.

The completes the technical part of the recording. There is a different issue about making your own talking head video that you can tolerate. You’ll probably think the first few you make are terrible. (They might be.) One issue is looking at the camera rather than the computer screen. Another is talking smoothly and naturally without a lot of ums and ahs. We’re not actors, so that might not be easy to do. But it certainly is easier if the message is comparatively short and to the point.

At this point you now have a movie in realvideo (.rv) format. Before going further, I want to describe the value add of Google Video, because a possible alternative is uploading the movie to a streaming server or simply putting the file up somewhere for download. So here are some arguments for Google Video.

1. The process can be used for personal video creation as well as academic video creation. Indeed, my guess is that doing the one will encourage doing the other. So the same approach can be used for both.

2. Google Video has no bandwidth restrictions.

3. We’re asymmetric in supporting technology on campus, giving faculty greater access than students. (I think that is typical of most campuses.) The true power here in using this type of thing, I believe, is in student created videos. Then, it would be very good to get the faculty to use the same environment as the students.

4. Google Video has captioning tools (that I’ve not yet tried) for accessibility.

5. Google Video is easy to embed in a blog or other Web page. It has automated tools for that, making it easy to do that part.

Note, however, that Google Video does not render the realvideo file. Instead, it converts that file to Flash format. So what is shown is less good than the original .rv file, but it seems to me it is good enough.

To access Google Video, you need a Gmail account. (I’m saying this by recollection. There may be a different way to create a Google Video account.) I assume here that the Gmail account is already created. Then from the regular Google search page, simply click Google Video and sign in. That is all there is to that part.

Once in, click Upload. You get a screen like this:

This is a partially completed form. It is pretty straightforward to complete. You do have to accept the terms and conditions at the bottom. Uploading and processing does take a little while, perhaps a minute. (Obviously, that depends on the size of the file.) When completed you’ll see a page where you can view your video. That page has the info for Web publishing the video or sending email alerts about the video to friends.


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