Recommending LUG video setup

I’ve just been asked to give a recommendation on the kind of setup a LUG would require to do regular video recordings. Here is the email reply that I wrote – and now thought I should share through my blog.

The tech gear that is required to record LUG meetings depends on the amount of effort that you want to put in and the type of rooms you are recording.

I would certainly recommend an expensive tripod – it needs to be heavy to be stable and smooth for panning and tilting. Trust me: it makes a world of a difference!

Then, you will need a DV camera – consumer-quality will be plenty. Don’t go for a DVD camera – their recording capacity is 30 min only.
They are thus good to capture random walk-around footage, but not talks.

Finally, hook up a headphone to your camera to be able to hear what it records.

This is the baseline equipment, really. Record to DV tapes, later hook up the camera to your computer, use Kino to rip and edit (mostly trim front and back), use ffmpeg2theora to transcode, and you’re done.

The only problem with this equipment is that you will not get good sound unless you are able to hook up to a PA output. Here is where the complexity starts, since most theatres don’t provide you with such output. All the art in video production is in the audio.

A first step to improving the sound is by using lapel mics (make sure your camera can take mic input). These give you the speaker in perfect sound quality.

What you may still be worrying about is the questions and the laptop sound.

To get the questions, you need wireless handheld mics. But now you have two sound sources that need mixing. Well, the cheapest approach to that is a Beachtek XLR adapter, which you screw under your camera onto the tripod and takes 2 inputs to mix down to one with mic output.

If you’re really keen and want to get the laptop sound, too, you end up with three inputs and now you need a proper mixer to take all the signals in.

Another improvement to make is the medium onto which you record. DV tapes are rather hard to handle and take ages to rip. We wanted a simpler process and thus bought some consumer DVD recorders that we’d hook up to the firewire output of the cameras to do recording.

Of course you want to monitor that the recording is actually happening, so we also bought some small black/white TVs, which we got from Toys’R’US for under $20.

You can throw the DVDs into any computer and transcode from there. They are also a good back-up medium. And they require lots less storage than DV tapes and are much easier to organise.

And this is my preferred future setup for SLUG: DV camera, tripod, lapel mic, DVD recorder, TV.