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Slashdot Asks: How To Best Record Remote Video Interviews? 96

Posted by timothy
from the otherwise-we-will-torture-you dept.
You've probably noticed that Slashdot's been running some video lately. There are a lot of interesting people and projects in the world we'd like to present in video form, but some of them are too far away for the corporate overlords to sponsor travel to shoot footage in person. (Another reason my dream of parachuting to McMurdo Station will probably never manifest.) We've been playing around with several things on both the software and hardware side, but in truth, all of them have some flaws — whether it's flaky sound (my experience with the otherwise pleasing RecordMyDesktop on Linux), sometimes garbled picture (Skype, even on seemingly fast network connections), or video quality in general. (Google Hangouts hasn't looked as good as Skype, for instance. And of the webcams built into any of the laptops we've tried, only Apple's were much worth looking at. Logitech's HD webcams seem to be a decent bargain for their quality.) We've got a motley bunch of Linux, OS X, and Windows systems, and can only control what's on our side of the connection: interviewees may have anything from a low-end laptop with a built-in webcam to elaborate conferencing tools — which means the more universal the tools, the better. (There may not be any free, open source, high-quality, cross-platform video conferencing tools with built-in capture and a great UI, but the closer we can get, the better.) With all that in mind, what tools and workflow would you suggest for capturing internet conversations (with video and sound), and why? Approaches that minimize annoyance to the person on the other end of the connection (like the annoyance of signing up for an obscure conferencing system) are especially valuable. We'd like to hear both sides, so please chime in if you've had especially good or bad experiences with capturing remote video like this.
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Slashdot Asks: How To Best Record Remote Video Interviews?

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  • I recommend (Score:4, Funny)

    by NEDHead (1651195) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:02PM (#39489749)

    Courtroom sketch artists

    • by jhoegl (638955)
      I was thinking Chat Roulette. It can be both exciting and disturbing at the same time.
  • Transcripts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Crasoose (1621969) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:04PM (#39489779)
    Whatever you end up doing I would appreciate it if you could include a transcript of the conversation if the video isn't particularly important. I usually end up reading these stories on break or when it is particularly slow, so transcripts make an otherwise worthless video entry useful to me.
    • I second this comment.

      As a general rule, I try to skim once to find pertinent information and skip over filler content, something that is next-to-impossible with video. Having a transcript makes this much easier (especially in Q&A sessions).

      Additionally, I can take in the content as time allows, with minimal backtracking to pick up the context when I have to break away to do something else.

    • Re:Transcripts (Score:4, Interesting)

      by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:33PM (#39490073)

      Hi there,

      I've been adding transcripts to most of the Video stories as of late. I was nudged today saying I should check the replies because apparently there was some official interest in having this done.

      Whatever happens there, if there won't be any official transcripts, I'll try to continue to provide them as time allows.

      Which brings me to one recommendation for the videos.. not so much the recording side, though: Please get ooyala to fix their player :| Infinite spinning disc of buffering when trying to seek? Reminds me of RealPlayer.. except at least its buffering wasn't infinite ;\

      I have no valuable input on the streaming-recording side as HD resolutions are apparently one of the goals - that's going to be problematic in general, I suspect. For most of the videos that's probably overkill, anyway?
      But perhaps some interviews could be done not so much on-the-fly but rather with a list of questions, so that video can be recorded locally and transferred after the fact - the interviewee would still have to be willing to and capable of record(ing) this, of course, and the interview would be a lot less dynamic.

      • by Crasoose (1621969)
        I have been reading your transcripts, you are doing great work and I appreciate your time spent.
      • Hi Quasi, I have been reading your transcripts too and I really want to know one thing: how are you doing them? Are you seriously doing this manually???
        • Yes, manually. See also: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2746001&cid=39483397 [slashdot.org]

          To expand on that a wee bit. I tried using a speech recognition system but they make quite a few errors. Google's is one of the best out there and if you've ever used YouTube's closed caption system you've probably quickly stopped doing so.

          My brain is also not wired for listening to one thing, and watching text appear as another thing, and detecting errors and quickly fixing them that way. Maybe with a lot of training,

      • by timothy (36799) * Works for Slashdot

        We've been very grateful for your transcripts -- I hope you've gotten some ad-free pages as a (heartfelt but I realize inadequate) token of our gratitude. If not, ping :)

        timothy

        • Glad to hear it :)

          I have actually had the checkbox to disable ads for quite a while now (well before the video transcripts), but I haven't checked it as of yet.

      • by Roblimo (357)

        I've tried to contact you about doing video transcripts for $$. Either the email associated with your UID is dead or you don't check it. So if you see this, please email robin at roblimo dot com.

        Just about everybody who gets paid to work on Slashdot started out as a volunteer or random poster, so you'd just be the latest one to go pro.

        - Robin

        • Oh that goes through a white list, so I wouldn't have received it if you used that e-mail address :) I will be in touch. Good job on the SlashdotTV page!
          ( And whoever designed the icon to make the antenna poke out from the bar? Kudos to them. )

    • by dargaud (518470)
      Transcripts all the way. But if you want quality video: mail them an already configured camera on a mini-tripod. Call them on the phone, tell them to press [Record], also record your end of the conversation (sound only), get the camera back, mix the sounds. It will never be as good as a cameraman+soundman with 2 plane tickets.
  • Why Video? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eljefe6a (2289776) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:04PM (#39489785) Homepage
    I am curious why video is necessary for these interviews.
    • by Khyber (864651)

      To read body language, for one.

    • by ddt (14627)

      People don't read, but they watch videos.

    • by RJFerret (1279530)

      Why video? Because it's linear, and we don't want random access to interview responses?

      Hmm, maybe because video is time consuming to digest instead of quick to read?

      That doesn't sound right, maybe because video interviews don't allow for reasoned responses?

      To make subjects self conscious?

      Maybe because video content can't be web searched effectively?

      Wait, I know, it must be to reduce cost, because not everyone with a computer has a keyboard available in this era of tablets?

      Perhaps due to written interviews

      • by snicho99 (984884)
        Your point is very well taken and for the most part I have to agree with you - AS far as communicating specific, for example technical, ideas are concerned. But as for communicating more subtle more nuanced things about the interviewee - especially things the interviewee doesn't specifically set out to communicate - video has it over the written word every time. You can't always tell if someone is lying over video - but you almost NEVER can when you're reading the written word.
  • Sounds like you have an itch. Scratch it. You have a legitimate business need for this software, use some of that corporate money and invest in the tools you need. Then open source them so we can all enjoy.

  • Forget video. Just post a transcript of the interview to Slashdot and a link or embed the youtube video. I really enjoy being able to read the TED talks because I can't stand watching most of the videos. I like reading because it's faster than listening to some one pause between concepts.

  • by no_such_user (196771) <jd-slashdot-20071008@@@dreamallday...com> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:08PM (#39489819)

    Consider holding the video conference using the lowest-common-denominator, e.g. Skype, but having the remote party also record it locally using a higher quality codec with standalone video recording app. Once the interview is over, have the remote party compress the file (Handbrake is easy to use, even for non-tech minded) and transfer it using conventional means (FTP, etc.). Though this might mean you'd need two cameras at the remote location (unless you have a way to split a video device to two different apps), it will eliminate network bottlenecks, latency, and resolution constraints.

    • by snicho99 (984884)
      I concur. An even better solution would be to engage a local freelancer or stringer to do it. That way they'd actually have a decent camera, decent audio gear (people so often overlook this) and might actually know something about lighting, sound, scene etc. Doesn't have to be expensive maybe a couple of hundred dollars for an hour long interview. You can still do the interview over voip, just get a million times better picture. Have a point of difference.
      • by smurfsurf (892933)

        Hell yeah on the audio thing. I am just trying to watch some recorded "webinars". The video quality is quite good, but the audio is really gruesome. Sounds like recorded through a tin can and is hard to understand. I am near headaches just a couple minutes in.

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:11PM (#39489839) Journal

    My friend has a tech podcast he produces weekly, and he's run into the same desire to do remote interviews.

    We've found that for a Windows PC, the Logitech Orbit AF was a pretty good webcam. It has motors in it so it can pan and tilt, as well as auto-focus, and the camera "ball" sits on a tall, thin stand so it's basically at eye-level when sitting on a table or desk in front of the user(s).

    The stand is, unfortunately, a little on the flimsy side (basically, the ends of the plastic pole that snap into the camera and the base are just mini USB connectors - so liable to break if the camera is knocked over a few times). But if you treat it with care, it seems to be pretty effective. Logitech's accompanying software supports face tracking too - so if the user moves, the camera tries to follow their head.

    As for software, my friend always used Skype - but definitely with less than stellar results. The big benefit to Skype, though, is its popularity. Most people you call and ask to do a video-conference with you either have Skype already set up, or can quickly download and install a copy. Plus, it's cross-platform compatible. But yeah, it seems like video quality varies with it, even when both parties have very fast broadband connections -- and on longer sessions, it seems to eventually lose the audio or video at some point in the call.

  • You know the drill. Pick any two.
    • by flowwolf (1824892)

      Since when was this a thing? Sounds like something an uneducated bar star would say about finding a partner. "You have to pick any two : Rich Smart or Good Looking". Those are stupid compromises made by pessimists and defeatists.

      I could name a few dozen open source projects that are all 3 but I won't. You've interacted with at least a dozen just by posting here.

  • The best solution is to provide a software to the other end to record the conversation. That way his/her answer and behavior will be perfectly recorded and that is what you care about. Then send the file by any means (network, USPS, ...) Provided these are *slashdot* interview, I am sure the interviewee (is that actually the right word?) will know how to do that.

  • by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:17PM (#39489889)

    Maybe because text is so much more efficient to create, transmit, store, analyze, consume, etc.?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    While I don't use xsplit for video conferencing, I see lots of casters use it to stream content (from web cams, desktop, to direct x games). I tried it out and loved the result. In the end, I did not like the sound of my recorded voice so I stopped casting.

    I see the pro version supports skype. It would be worth a try or awesome if someone that had experience with that feature could comment on it.

    http://www.xsplit.com/

  • Apple iChat (Score:5, Informative)

    by danaris (525051) <danaris @ m a c . c om> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:26PM (#39489991) Homepage

    Best I've seen so far has been Apple's iChat. It lets you record video chats natively and without hassle, with both parties having to agree.

    Works with AIM, Jabber/Google Talk, and (in the Messages beta) iMessage.

    Obviously the main flaw is that it doesn't work if the person on the other end doesn't have a Mac. If they do, though, I don't see any reason not to use it. There are even scripts you can use to set it to automatically ask to record each call when it starts.

    Dan Aris

  • If you have an awesome interview with a person the Slashdot crowd cares about on a topic that is relevant, then video quality doesn't matter. Worry about the content first.

  • "We'd like to hear both sides" haaahaahahaa

    I'm tired.

  • Wowza is low cost, supports AWS hosting and has DVR functionality built-in, you just point the client at the DVR App to start recording broadcasts. It will save this broadcast as an FLV file on the server, one for each broadcast. You can extend this functionality to whatever edge case you may have by using Java POJO coding as well as transcode using FFMPEG. Another nice plus is that it can support playback at various bitrates so you can offer adaptive playback to support lower bandwidth clients as well as those with fast connections. On the whole, it's very straight forward to get up and running with Wowza.

    The draw back is that it uses RTMP for incoming stream recording and since there is no HTML-based Device support (yet), use of a webcam or external camera requires you use Flash based technology for the Broadcast Client. The good news is that you can develop a Flash based client for all platforms, aside from Mobile Browser. Android, iOS and WebOS can be delivered as Native Apps written with Flex with a captive Adobe Air Binary inside, Air also allows you to create Desktop Apps for Windows and Mac, though Linux support has been tossed due to lack of interest from Flash hating Linux users (however Linux support can be had by using older SDKs if it is an absolute must have). Wowza supports re-streaming, so the videos could be streamed as mp4 instead of flv and via other protocols (such as HLS) so other non-Flash based players (such as an HTML5 video tag in a mobile browser) could play back the recorded video.

    The major cost here is in the development of a tailor-made broadcast and playback client to the various platforms (a good AS3 developer could write a single core codebase that has a web, and native app UI to minimize cost). The Wowza license is $50/month on AWS and similarly priced to host on your own hardware. Unless you have several hundred or more regular viewers, bandwidth costs should not be a factor.

  • by Tihstae (86842) <Tihstae@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:56PM (#39490315) Homepage

    to a text based discussion like /.?

  • I'm workign in TV news now, and have worked with many of the majors over the past few years. There is not a universal winner.
    Skype does remain extremely popular because of it's ubiquity and it's fantastic ability to handle very crappy connections. It's not the best when you have plenty of bandwidth, but it's certainly the best when you don't. CNN takes live shots to air off Skype regularly.

    That said, if you are willing to pay, Vidyo is doing some decent stuff. I know of at least 3 'radio shows on tv' that o

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you don't want to tax the computer at all.. Split the video signal from the computer to a record deck. Say it's a VGA output. scale it to YUV and record it on a HDVcam. Then edit the video. I know this sounds like a the long way, but it will probably be the best quality.

    While recording to a deck, you could also have a good camera setup that inputs to the Video conerence and splits the signal to another recorder.

    Other options for recording video conferences without skype are actual conference units. like

  • What methods are people using to provide these transcripts? Piping it to Google Voice? Splitting out the audio and running through Dragon Dictate? Farming out to Mechanical Turk?

    I was thinking about trying to provide transcripts for a large number of videos and nothing strikes me as particularly easy or reliable. Any suggestions?
  • Try http://www.shinywhitebox.com/ishowu-hd/ [shinywhitebox.com]
    10.5-10.7 support, lets you record screen, cameras and has great support.
  • Once you find a software solution, don't forget the hardware. I recommend shipping a Logitech or HP webcam as well as a decent audio capture device to the person to be interviewed and have them ship it back when done. Low cost, and you standardize the video and audio capture quality.
  • by Markmarkmark (512275) on Wednesday March 28, 2012 @01:00AM (#39493359) Homepage

    I've played around a lot with this stuff for more than a decade. Skype can be okay if the remote system is powerful, well configured, has excellent broadband, a good external webcam and good lighting. However, those necessary things will only rarely all be present, particularly internationally. If you want high quality and a high degree of future-proofness for the video assets you are going to so much effort to create, there is a counter-intuitive alternative.

    There are truly amazing small consumer camcorders now available for $500-$700 that work great in low light, capture excellent 1080p, auto focus on faces, auto iris, auto WB, etc quite well. I shoot with high-end pro gear and these little consumer cams deliver an unbelievable picture for the price. Ship one of these to your remote location with a small AV clamp that will mount it to the top of the monitor next to the webcam. Do your live interview via Skype through the webcam but have your remote location turn on the HD camcorder after the Skype session begins. The camera will beep when it starts recording and you can use this beep to later sync the Skype recording with the HD camera recording. After the interview, the remote location can plug the camera in as a USB device and Dropbox the recorded file over to you in non-real-time (AVCHD peaks at ~24mbps but is often much smaller). Or if it's not as time sensitive, you can get the file off the SD card when the camera comes back.

    This also gives you the advantage of providing a handheld camera to your remote location. Even rank novices can shoot 'B-Roll' type footage of remarkable quality. The handheld image stabilization on these cams is impressive. If you give your remote amateur "crew" a simple shot list and ask them to first watch a ten minute YouTube tutorial on basic camera handling and shot composition, the results can even rival semi-pros. This way you'll have something to intercut with the talking heads to further elevate your production value.

    Yes, this implies that you are actually editing your final product. Basic editing will again double your production value over raw webcam recordings. It doesn't have to take too much extra time, particularly if your remote camcorder has it's time-of-day clock set roughly right. Your handy intern can be making a shot list of good/bad clips and restarts on your end during the interview and reference this via TOD + clip offset time during subsequent editing. This saves a lot of hunting around inside the clips. With practice you should be able to do a basic edit with canned intro/outro, standard title overlays, B-roll cutaways and some still graphics (logos, product shots) in about 3X the total running time of your output. Note: that's just active work time, not unmanned background clip downloading or final output encoding, which you can batch up and leave running unattended.

    Finally, as we say in TV land, audio is more than half the picture. Sending a basic wired clip-on microphone will do wonders for your production value by reducing machine noise and ambient room echo. If your remote location is in North America you can send them the Radio Shack part number for a decent clip-on mic that they can pick up themselves for $25. Regardless, if sound/video from your end is going to be seen then you should use at least use high quality mic and camera on your end.

    • by JTW (11913)

      Actually that's a stellar idea.

      I recently bought a POV cam from Contour cameras.

      Standard is 720p with omnidirectional sound, about 3-4 hour recording time on a single charge, the memory cards can hold up to 8 hours.

      But it can shoot 1080p and it is not advertised as Low Light, but works very good in low light.

      The camera settings can be configured by manipulating a text file on the memory card that it reads on start up.

      The native recording format is H.264 MOV files, so all the compression is done up front.

      The

  • Until Kazam [twm-kd.com] gets a bit more traction and is further developed [omgubuntu.co.uk] stick with FFMPEG and use a script like this:

    #!/bin/sh

    INFO=$(xwininfo -frame)

    WIN_GEO=$(echo $INFO | grep -oEe 'geometry [0-9]+x[0-9]+' | grep -oEe '[0-9]+x[0-9]+')
    WIN_XY=$(echo $INFO | grep -oEe 'Corners:\s+\+[0-9]+\+[0-9]+' | grep -oEe '[0-9]+\+[0-9]+' | sed -e 's/\+/,/' )

    ffmpeg -f alsa -ac 2 -i hw:0,0 -f x11grab -r 15 -s $WIN_GEO -i :0.0+$WIN_XY -f webm -vcodec libvpx -threads 2 -y output.webm
  • I seem to recall a teaching software called Blue Button, that was featured on FLOSS Weekly. Not sure if it went both ways tho.

  • I highly recommend using Snapz Pro X [ambrosiasw.com] on your end. This can record all the audio and video that shows on your computer (which must be a Mac). You would just need to setup a Skype call with your interviewee, start recording and off you go. You can also set it to record only a section of your screen (e.g., the main Skype window). I've used it to record PowerPoint lectures pretty successfully (including ambient audio).

    I believe iChat can have better video quality than Skype, but it is not sufficiently cross-pla

    • ScreenFlow and various others listed here [appstorm.net] look like they could also be perfect for the job (recording computer audio, microphone, local video and on-screen video).

  • Highly compressed audio is hugely affected by how much background noise is present in the source audio. You want to maximize the spoken voice, and minimize everything else. This optimizes the compression algorithms by giving them the best possible data upon which to base their decisions about what gets taken out of the audio. The compression ratios are often 60:1 or higher, which means that for every 1 byte of data that gets passed on to the listener, 60 bytes are taken out. Ouch.

    You must get the microp

  • Bloggingheads posts hour-long video conversations between two people and have been doing it for a few years now. I know they're now trying to use Skype when possible, but that requires high-speed on both ends, so they still use the old system a good portion of the time. My understanding is that there's some sort of hardware setup that gets shipped by post to the interviewee, and each side talks over the phone and looks at a camera. The people talking can't actually see each other, which is one downside, bu

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