It’s a topic that is not well documented on the internet, and something that can appear quite complicated if you have never done it before. There are many reasons why recording the output of your computer screen can be useful, such as for recording live sport or recording a how-to tutorial for others to view. To see the 5 steps straight away, scroll to the bottom of the article – but to get an idea of what is required and the equipment you need, read on.

  There are various ways you can record the output of your monitor – and by that, I mean recording to a source exactly what you are seeing on your computer screen. There are programs / software such as Camtasia Studio which have full screen recording capabilities, but this only suits certain uses I believe.

  I have used Camtasia Studio 6 in a short example which can be viewed here (avi file, 0.3 MB). It shows the quality of the recording when I play Solitaire on the computer – as you can see, it is fine but for the slow movements. This could have a lot to do with the processing power of the computer, it likely will appear faster on more powerful computers. Regardless, for short tutorials or how-to’s (you might want to record a tutorial on how to use a particular software for instance) Camtasia Studio would be a good recording solution due to its ease of use.


  However, for recording something more complex such as live sport, movies and TV shows or almost anything that is streamed over the internet another solution is needed. It could be possible to record to another computer or DVD recorder, but this is not something I have tried and it might not be possible for a lot of people.

  I used a VCR instead. Most people still have a VCR lying around somewhere, and the good thing about video cassette tapes is that they are cheap and are capable of storing 6 hours of video each.

  You can see an example of a VHS rip I have done at viewed here (wmv file, 0.1 MB).

  Recording the output of your computer screen is a two part exercise, the first being actually getting the video (and audio if you require it) from your computer and into the VCR – and that is what this article covers. The second part, which my next article will cover, will look at getting VHS data back into the computer saved as a video file.

  Before you start, it is important that you look at the following list of equipment. There might be alternative ways to do this, but I am recalling exactly how I did it in a way that does work.

  PC or laptop

  Needless to say, you will need a computer. A laptop is ideal because you can move it to any room of your house (or more precisely, whichever room your VCR is in if you cannot move your VCR).


  A regular VCR with the standard input and output jacks should be sufficient. An S-Video out on the VCR will be required to get the video back into the computer.

  VHS cassette tape/s

  To actually record the video you will need some video tapes.

  10 metre ethernet cable

  Of course this will vary from person to person, but if your broadband modem is going to be in another room to where you are going to be doing the recording, you will need a long ethernet cable to connect the modem to your computer. 10 metres was sufficient for me (available for less than AUD $20 from JB Hi-Fi), more or less (or your current cable) may be needed for you.

  S-Video to RCA cable

  This is the most important cable, as it deals with getting the video from your computer into your VCR.


  3.5mm to dual RCA audio cable

  This is not necessary if you do not want to record the audio, but if you do then this is vital. This cord will split the signal from your 3.5mm headphone (audio) output on your computer to the red and white RCA audio inputs for your VCR.


  I will also include the equipment you need to get the video back into your computer, as it is important to know this from the outset because presumably you will want to have the video file back in a digital format once you are finished.

  Video camera / camcorder

  The camcorder acts as the “middle man”. The VCR talks to the camcorder (using VCR mode), and the camcorder talks to the computer allowing a program like Windows Movie Maker or Adobe Premiere to capture the video. The camcorder will ideally have an S-Video input, just as the VCR ideally has an S-Video output. There may be ways around this however by using the RCA jacks, however I have not tried this.

  S-Video to S-Video cable

  To connect the VCR to the camcorder.

  A/V cable (3.5mm jack to 3 plug RCA)

  To get the audio from the VCR into the camcorder.


  Firewire cable

  This is used to connect the camcorder to the computer. Both audio and video will travel though this cable.

  Video capture software

  A lot of programs will do this. On Windows you can use something like Windows Movie Maker or Adobe Premiere, while for Mac iMovie should do.


  Now, here are is the step by step guide to record the output of your computer screen to VHS. Depending on the set up of your home entertainment system you will probably be able to watch the output of your computer screen on your television screen, which can be great for watching live streams while you record.

  You can use the VCR stand alone though. The only downside of this is that when you set your display mode to see the VCR/TV as your primary monitor and your computer screen as your secondary monitor (I explain this in detail below), certain streaming software will only show images to your primary monitor. By this, I mean that if you use a VCR without connecting it to a TV, you might not actually be able view the stream (you will just see a black screen). The good news is that in my tests, I have found only Sopcast has this characteristic. SPVOD will display correctly on both the primary and secondary monitors, while Windows Media will also display correctly provided Underlays are turned off (in Tools -> Options -> Performance -> Advanced -> unclick “Use overlays” in video acceleration). Another benefit of turning overlays off in Windows Media Player is that you will be able to take screenshots (the Print Screen button) of videos you play in Windows Media Player.

  STEP 1

  Prepare your computer (make sure you are on the internet if you want to record a stream, that you have everything set up if you want to record a demonstration, etc).

  STEP 2

  Connect the S-Video to RCA cable from the S-Video output on your computer into the RCA video (yellow) input on your VCR. Also connect the audio cable, with the 3.5mm jack going into your computers headphone jack and the 2 audio RCA going into the red and white RCA inputs on your VCR.

  STEP 3

  On your VCR, go into the correct AV mode. For me, AV2 allowed me to view video/audio input (with AV1 allowing VHS playback). You will know if it is workin by whether you see a picture on your TV screen (if it is connected). If the TV is not connected, you will need to find out the correct AV modes from the VCR manufacturer or simply through trial and error.

  STEP 4

  Go to your computer display settings. I will explain how it is done in Windows XP – it is likely to be similar for Windows Vista and Windows 7. On the Desktop, right click in open space and then click “Properties”, then “Settings”. You will see this screen:


  Then click the “Advanced” button, and go to the “Displays” tab. Make sure both “TV” and “Panel” are both selected, with the TV set as the primary monitor (click the circle with the dot in it) and the computer set as the secondary display. It should look like this:


  Apply the changes and then click the TV button (just above the picture of the TV in the “Displays” tab). By this stage you should have the dual displays working – even if you don’t have the VCR connected to a television it is still important to do this. You can increase sharpness and contrast if you wish, but most importantly in the “Format” tab select your regional TV format. For me, it was “PAL B” and choosing any other would cause the picture to record in black and white with jitters – so it is important you test this and find out the optimal format for your recordings. In the USA it will likely be an NTSC type. Apply these settings once you are finished.

  STEP 5

  Put a video cassette into your VCR, and when you are ready press the record button. I have found SP (the standard play setting for tapes – 3 hours) to give the best quality recordings. While LP (long play – 6 hours) does work, the quality of the video was quite bad.


  That is all there is to it! Follow those 5 steps and you will be recording your screen in no time.

  My next article “How to transfer VHS tapes to your computer” will demonstrate how to get the videos back into a digital format.

Categorized in: