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How to Record Your Desktop and Create a Screencast on Windows

recording-video-camera

Screencasting can seem a bit daunting at first. Open Broadcaster Software is a powerful, free program that will do everything you need, but you’ll need a few minutes to learn its interface.

Screencasts are often used to demonstrate how software works, but they can also be used to give presentations or do many other things. Creating your own screencast is easy, but Windows doesn’t include software to help.

Screencasting 101: Using Open Broadcaster Software

We recommend using Open Broadcaster Software for screencasts. It’s completely free and open-source and allows you to both stream live and record a screencast to a video file. It won’t work on Windows XP, but you shouldn’t be using Windows XP anymore , anyway.

If you hit Preview Stream after firing up OBS, you’ll just see a black screen. That’s because you haven’t added a source. First, right-click inside the Sources box, point to Add, and select either Window Capture or Monitor Capture. Window Capture will capture a single window, whiel Monitor Capture will capture your entire desktop.

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You’ll be prompted to configure the settings for your capture source after you add it. For Monitor Capture, the defaults will work fine for us.

Click Preview Stream after configuring the settings and you’ll see a live preview of your desktop in the OBS window.

obs-monitor-capture-settings

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OBS does warn us that we’ll see poor performance when capturing our desktop while Aero is enabled, so we’ll want to disable Aero while we screencast. The fancy graphical effects just create more work for OBS and aren’t necessary.

On Windows 7, right-click your desktop, select  Personalize, and choose one of the themes under Basic and High Contrast Themes to disable Aero.

disable-aero-on-windows-7-for-open-broadcaster-software

To save your screencast to a local file instead of stream it over the Internet, you’ll need to change a setting. Click the Settings menu in OBS and select Settings. Select the Broadcast Settings category and switch the mode from Live Stream to File Output Only. Choose where OBS will output your stream to and configure any hotkeys you want to use here.

You’ll now need to restart OBS — don’t worry, any settings you already configured will be saved.

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You can now click the Start Recording button and start your screencast. When you’re done, you can click Stop Recording and you’ll find your screencast at the file you selected. Speak into your microphone as you record the screencast and OBS will add your voice to the video file.

If you configured any hotkeys above, you can use them to start and stop recording instead.

obs-screencast

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The video file OBS creates is an H.264 MP4 file at the resolution of your desktop. If you’d like to edit your screencast and remove any unnecessary bits, use Avidemux to edit the video file. It’s a simple, free, and easy-to-use tool for doing some basic video editing.

Webcam Overlays, Watermarks, and Other Tricks

You may want to record a screencast with your face in picture-to-picture mode, so you can talk to your viewers directly. This is simple as long as you have a webcam. To do this, right-click inside the Sources box, point to Add, and select Video Capture Device. Configure the video capture device and ensure your webcam is selected. Next, click Preview Stream and you’ll see the video from your webcam appear in the preview window. Click the Edit Scene button, and then drag and drop and resize the output from your webcam until you’ve arranged the scene how you like it. When you’re done, you can click Stop Preview. When you start recording, the output from your webcam will be captured in the area you put it.

open-broadcaster-software-webcam-capture

You can also add text or image overlays to your screencast by adding other types of sources and positioning them in a similar way. These overlays can function as watermarks, preventing other people from claiming credit for your screencast or just reminding people of your brand.

open-broadcaster-software-image-overlay-watermark

You’ll find more options for controlling the video and audio encoding, resolution, and microphone settings in the Settings dialog. For example, you can enable push-to-talk mode with a hotkey for the microphone and configure other microphone settings.

obs-microphone-settings


You can also record or even stream your desktop with VLC, but you’re probably better off using a dedicated screencasting program like Open Broadcaster Software.

Image Credit: Mike on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 02/24/14