Capture video and sound to a laptop

The first teaser, Welcome to Architecture Corner, was produced in a very traditional way.

I used a camcorder with an external lavallier microphone attached via a cable to one of the 3.5 mm jacks on the video camera. The other jack was connected to a pair of monitoring head-phones. The gear were placed on a sturdy video tripod.

Now, lets go over to how to get video and audio into the computer.

I have been using Apple computers for a while but the principles adhere for those running Windows 7 instead of OS/X. Videocameras today and more advanced DSLR & mirror-less cameras often outputs HDMI as an option. Older videocameras with Firewire doesn't work well with new software and USB is very seldom used, unless for specialized webcams.

A new laptop have output for HDMI, either direct or via an adapter, but is very unusual to have HDMI-input. All current Macs have possibility to have HDMI output, but not a single model with HDMI-input. This is why I need a separate HDMI-input unit. These converters have either USB or Thunderbolt as interface to the computer. You also need some kind of software driver for the "card".

Video and computers is still bleeding edge technology. Some combinations of computers, converters and software doesn't work and some does. This is why I had to read a lot of different post in video forums and look at videos on Youtube of what was working or not. 

In the end, I settled for a UltraStudio Mini Recorder from Black Magic Design. It's small, have one HDMI input, one SDI-input and one Thunderbolt output. With the included software can you choose input device and capture a video stream to different video formats as MPEG4 or PRORES. It should also work with Google Hangouts and other live streaming services. With a cost of € 200 at a local store was it also the cheapest device from the vendor. I prefer to shop in local stores, so if something doesn't work is it probably easier to go back to them instead of using a global web-shop.

If you are using a PC with Windows 7 should you select an USB3-version instead of Thunderbolt-interface. 

The other step is to get a good sound into the computer. We first have to agree that the internal microphone in the computer or the mic in the camcorder ain't good enough. This is why we need external microphones.

But the signal from an external microphone is to low to feed into a computer, unless you have an USB-microphone. This is why you need an external pre-amp or a mixer with an interface to the laptop. There are pros and cons with both solutions. An external pre-amp is smaller and doesn't need an extra power supply. A mixer have more channels and have more functionality, but is often larger and need a power supply. In both cases do you need a program to record the sound. 

I don't want to carry to much so I went for a small preamp that gets its power from the computer. The selected model became a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and this unit have two balanced inputs for XLR-microphones or instruments with telejack, two balanced outputs, a headphone jack and an USB-interface to the computer. 

There is a DAW-software included in the package, but I have used HiJack Pro on the Macintosh to capture sound since before and will continue with this for a while.

If you have professional microphones will they have XLR-connectors, but semi-professional pics does often have 3.5 mm jacks. I have both mics with XLR-connectors and mics with mini-tele. 

I found out that with the Focusrite was it not recommended to have a tele to mini-tele adapter due to different signal levels. The solution is instead to have a XLR to mini-tele adapter that is made for low-signal sources. I went for the Røde VXLR adapter and bought two of them.

With this setup, (Sony HDR-CX740, UltraStudio Mini Recorder, Audio Technica lavallier mic, Scarlett 2i2 and VXLR adapter and cables) was it possible to record a very short video with sound directly to the computer. Not included in the picture was a LED as a fill-light in addition to the windows as main light sources. 

Later, I imported the video and sound source files into Final Cut/X and synced the separate video and sound channels. After transcoding was it possible to share the video on YouTube or other sites.

There was only one major problem during the first shooting session. The focus follow function was included in the capture stream. You didn't see it until some person came into focus. 

Back to the scene one more time and redo the whole shoot.