I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the last few months asking for advice with regard to Netrunner recording and streaming, so I thought I’d write down my thoughts and advice to refer people to so others can learn from it in a more easy way.
Recording and streaming Netrunner are two different beasts, though they are certainly related to one another. On one hand, what’s so hard about it? Just point a camera at the table, press record, and go to town. And for many of you, that might just be good enough, But if you want to know more detail about ways to improve your picture quality, recording process, and stream performance, read on.
Wait! I know what you’re thinking: “Boring, skip to the good stuff! What camera should I get?” I know, it can be tempting to think that Netrunner video quality is all about the camera, but you’d be wrong. One of the most important things you can do to get your Netrunner videos looking good is to get proper lighting. Lighting helps to make cards easier to read, brings out colors and art more clearly, and prevents cameras from operating in low-light mode where they might produce fuzzy or grainy video.
Another aspect of getting lighting right is avoiding glare. Glare can be really annoying for viewers to deal with, especially when it prevents them from being able to read the cards. What is the point of watching a video if you can’t tell what is being played?
The best way to avoid glare is to choose a good spot to record. Do a survey of the room before you set up for recording, specifically looking out for where light fixtures are placed. Make sure you choose a spot where the light won’t directly reflect off the cards into the camera. One thing I do when I set up is to place the playmats down and strategically place cards in a grid pattern on the playmats to check for any glare spots that I might have missed, and try to adjust accordingly.
Another thing I’ve had limited success with has been the use of a circular polarizing filter attached to the lens of the camera (if you camera supports it). If you adjust it properly, it can help a little bit with glare reduction. It won’t help nearly as much as correct location selection, but if you’re up a creek, it’s better than nothing.
As for the lighting itself, sometimes the store itself is well-lit enough to work. However, you want your cameras to not use low-light mode, if possible, so you will often want to have another source of lighting on your table. It can be as simple as a work light or desk lamp with a daylight bulb, placed far enough away from the play area that the light evenly covers the play area without a spotlight effect. If you want to upgrade yourself to something brighter, easier to work with, and more professional, you can try something like this lighting kit or LED panel set, which should do the trick just fine. Place the lights behind the camera, angled in such a way to light the play area evenly and not add glare to the camera, either.
Alright, now the more fun stuff. For streaming on the cheap, you’re going to want a webcam that you can mount on a tripod. For this, I recommend the ubiquitous Logitech c920, a solid USB 2.0 webcam that has good picture quality and will get the job done.
If you want to go bigger, you can give one of the recording cameras that I talk about later a try instead. However, you will need to get a capture card so that you can stream the live view from the camera. First, you’ll need an HDMI adapter to convert your camera’s HDMI port to a normal HDMI shape. Camcorders and cameras tend to have either Mini-HDMI (Type C) or MicroHDMI (Type D) ports for HDMI output (see this picture for reference). You will need to either get an adapter + a normal HDMI cable, or an HDMI cable that has normal on one end and your camera’s type on the other end. As for the capture card itself, I recommend USB 3.0 cards such as the Micomsoft XCAPTURE-1 (yes, you buy it from Japan and it is very very good), the Startech USB3HDCAP, or the Magewell XI100DUSB-HDMI. I have heard mixed reviews of the AVerMedia U3, so I generally recommend the above ones instead. Some of you might want to know about Elgato capture cards, which are extremely popular and work with USB 2.0. I personally don’t like Elgato cards because they add a delay to the video feed due to the device encoding necessary to cram HD video over USB 2.0. But if you don’t care about that delay, then Elgato devices are another option. I’ve also heard of other problems with the AVerMedia Live Gamer Portable, so I kind of put it in the same camp of Elgatos where I don’t really like them and can’t recommend them with a good conscience. But if you want to try it, or have no other choice, go to town.
For recording (or more advanced streaming), you’re going to want to bring something that can record to memory that you can load onto a computer later. Technically, you can just use the same as a stream setup and instead of streaming, save the stream locally to your computer. If you don’t want to do that, though, I recommend getting an actual camera that can record to an SD card. On the lower end, my two recommendations would be either a GoPro (Hero 3 or better) or a Canon VIXIA HF R600. I started out with the GoPro Hero 4 Silver and was pretty happy with it. I was able to add a reverse lense distortion effect to remove the small fisheye that the GoPro has on Narrow FOV mode, but if you can’t do that, it’s not the end of the world. You will also need to get a tripod adapter and a skeleton case to give yourself easy access to the power adapter, as well as improve audio quality. As for the Canon, I personally have a couple R50’s and would recommend the R600 over it mainly due to the fact that the R600 has threads for 43mm filters (like a circular polarizer described in the lighting section). Otherwise it’s a solid, simple camcorder that records in great quality for your Netrunner videos.
Also, be sure you have ample memory to record everything. You may need extra SD cards (or microSD cards in the GoPro’s case) to fit all the video you’ll be recording. Check your camera’s manual to see how much video time can fit on your memory card at the quality you want to record at.
As an aside, when setting up your recording station, you’re going to have to think about power. Are you going to be able to run your cameras off a power adapter plugged into the wall, or do you need to get battery packs to switch out every so often? I recommend trying to plug into the wall for the reduced hassle and lower cost of not needing to shell out for extra batteries, but I do recommend asking the store for permission, and looking for a spot near an outlet. Be sure to bring appropriate amounts of extension cords and power strips for your camera, lights, possibly your computer, and anything else you might need.
If you have some more cash to spend, then you could bump up to something better quality, such as the Panasonic HC-V770, which I have been very happy with. It has great quality and controls and overall feels and looks a step above the Vixia family of camcorders. A step beyond even that would venture into the realm of DSLRs and Micro 4/3rds cameras, where something like the Panasonic Lumix GH4 is a monster. Personally, that level of camera knowledge stretches the bounds of my amateur knowledge, so I only recommend you get something like that if you are really into photography and will use it beyond Netrunner.
And remember that for any camera, the picture quality will be better if you have proper lighting, because the camera won’t have to operate in low-light mode, which can make the picture grainy.
You may not really need to worry too much about a microphone yet, especially if you’re not going to be doing any commentary over the game (whether in a livestream environment or adding it to pre-recorded videos). In that case, a lot of times the built-in mic on the camera you choose is more or less fine for recording table talk. If you want to get something that picks up better quality audio of the table, you can try a shotgun mic like the Rode NTG-2 or a digital recorder such as the Zoom H4n or Tascam DR-40. For the NTG-2, you’ll need to make sure your camera supports external audio input, some sort of mic mount (a camera shoe mount or a mic boom stand), and have an appropriate adapter to plug into the camera, likely a battery to provide phantom power. For the digital recorders, you can either use it as a mic that inputs into the camera like the NTG-2, or just record audio straight to the SD card on the digital recorder and add it to the video in your video editor. However, for beginners, you really don’t need any of this; just stick with the onboard camera.
For commentary, a solid mic choice both for streaming and recording is the Blue Yeti, a great quality USB condenser mic. It’s got everything you’d want, is plug & play, sounds great, and is at a great price. Another similar option would be the AT2020 USB, which is more affordable and still sounds great. Those will get the job done for what most beginners and even intermediate users will want to do.
If you want to go bigger, though, you’ll start to need a way to add XLR inputs to your computer so you can either stream them or record them. Personally, in my productions, I went ahead and got a full-on audio mixer, the Behringer XENYX X1204USB. I have several audio inputs that I manage in my production (3 commentator mics, table audio, background music, and control room mic) so I need that many inputs to manage it all. If you need fewer than that, you can probably get something smaller. Check out the Behringer 302, 502, 802, and 1202 and find something that fits your needs in terms of inputs and outputs. Explaining how to use mixers is beyond the scope of this article, though, so you might have to do some Googling and YouTubing to learn how to work them. (That’s how I learned!)
For XLR broadcast mics, it’s hard to go wrong with the Audio-Technica BPHS1 broadcaster headset condenser mic. It’s funny — once you recognize this mic, you start seeing it everywhere on all your favorite high-production streams, from AGDQ to StarCityGames to VGBootCamp. It’s inexpensive (for broadcaster mics), convenient, and great quality. I have 3 of them and have never regretted the purchases. If you don’t like the broadcast mic style for recording commentary for pre-recorded videos but want something beyond USB, then…I actually don’t have a recommendation for you. I personally have an MXL 990 that I got a long time ago, but I can’t really tell you that it is any better than a Blue Yeti or AT2020. It’s a need that I haven’t ever really felt the urge to fill for my own purposes, and if I were to go recommending XLR cardioid condenser mics, I would probably be talking out of my ass, and chances are you would already know more than me at that point.
For basic streaming, I think it’s pretty clear that OBS is the way to go. It’s free, open source, and does a great job at getting your camera, overlays, and mic into a stream with minimal headache. I do recommend that you have a plan for getting reliable internet at the place you’re going to be holding the event. Make sure the store’s internet is fast enough, and determine if you’re going to be streaming over wifi or if you’re able to get a hard wire (I recommend a hard wire if possible). Speedtest.net will get you part of the way there, but if you’re streaming to Twitch, the best test you can run is TwitchTest, which actually measures your real bandwidth to the closes Twitch servers and tells you which ones you have the best connection to and how high of a bit rate you can use. If your store has no internet and you have the cash, I have had good success with a mobile hotspot that I got from Verizon, the Ellipsis Jetpack MHS800L. Your mileage may vary, and buying enough bandwidth to do a stream is not cheap at all, but it’s an option! This is the device I streamed the King of Servers 2015 event off of, and i was very pleased with it.
For stream settings, You can actually cheat a little bit on bit rate, since live video looks better than computer graphics like in a video game at low bit rates. 720p at 1500kbps or 2000kbps should look great. If your computer has the power to go to 1080p, then go for it, and 2500kbps should be enough for it. Just make sure your venue’s internet can handle it. Also, I don’t really recommend going above 30fps; it’s just unnecessary. Most other settings can stay at default.
If you want to take your streaming a step beyond the norm, check out vMix, a much more complex and featured video compositor. This is what I personally use to do the production of my streams, though I still end up feeding its output into OBS rather than streaming directly from vMix itself. vMix supports multiple inputs with a preview panel, transition effects, and more. It’s a great tool for massively improving your production quality, and is a lot of fun to play with.
For basic editing of pre-recorded videos, if all you need is basic text and the ability to cut off the beginning and end, honestly iMovie or Windows Movie Maker are fine enough. If you want to do more advanced editing, you’re pretty much gonna have to go with Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. Premiere is included with the Adobe Cloud subscription, though, and is something I recommend anyone get if they are entering the world of digital creativity, so you might have access to that after all. Use of these programs, however, is outside the purview of this article.
That about does it for this article. Unfortunately, instructions on how to best use all this stuff might be an article for another day, but I encourage you to just go out there and give it a shot. It will honestly involve a lot of self-teaching no matter what, and me telling you what to do will only go so far.
To sum up, here are a couple charts summarizing what my recommendations are for you based on what level you find yourself at.
|Camera||Logitech c920||GoPro Hero 4 Silver|
|Lighting||Work lamp||Work lamp|
Windows Movie Maker
|Table Mic||Built-in webcam mic||Built-in camera mic|
|Commentary Mic||Blue Yeti||Blue Yeti|
|Other Hardware||Amazon Tripod||Amazon Tripod
Large memory card
|Camera||Canon Vixia HF R600||Panasonic HC-V770|
|Lighting||StudioPRO Bi-Color LED Panel||StudioPRO Bi-Color LED Panel|
|Software||OBS + vMix||Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro|
|Table Mic||Rode NTG-2||Zoom H4n|
|Commentary Mic||Audio Technica BPHS1||Blue Yeti|
|Other Hardware||Amazon Tripod||Amazon Tripod
Large memory card