Easy steps to get OBS running for high-quality demo and presentation recordings

Earlier this year, the product team started conducting internal product update demos. Every other month, we would showcase the changes and new features from across the product team to the entire company. This would help keep everyone on top of the latest developments while giving them the opportunity to ask questions at the end of […]

Earlier this year, the product team started conducting internal product update demos. Every other month, we would showcase the changes and new features from across the product team to the entire company. This would help keep everyone on top of the latest developments while giving them the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the session. At the rate commercetools has been growing, these demos are also excellent for newcomers to dive right in and for everyone to see the faces behind the product.

We needed a way to record these demos. Not everyone has experience producing videos beyond hitting the ‘record’ button in meetings, but those aren’t always the highest quality. I put together this easy-to-follow guide to change just that.

It’s a bit of a coincidence that shortly after we did our first demo session, we entered the age of lockdowns and extended period of remote working— increasing the number of virtual demos and webinars (and the need to record them). So, hopefully this guide really comes in extra handy.

But regardless of time and what’s happening in the world, knowing how to effortlessly create high-quality videos is also a useful life skill!

Here are examples of times when you’d want to produce videos by recording your screen:

  • Demoing new product features
  • Explaining a new technology, standard or initiative like GraphQL or CloudEvents
  • Presenting changes and updates on existing features
  • Providing a how-to guide to build or configure something
  • Tutorial that combines one or more of the aspects above.

Screenshots from OBS Studio v25.0.1

Why though?

By now, you may have a question mark hanging over your head and ask why you’d ever want to mess with a screen capture/recording software? Why make life complicated when you can just hit ‘record’ in your favorite online meeting service and be off to the races?

  • Offline recording. Record directly onto your local disk. No dependencies on upload speed or internet connection that might affect quality.
  • Record any time. If it’s not a live demo, you don’t need to set up a meeting for one and going through the full motions of joining, presenting, recording and waiting for the download link. Just hit start locally in your software.
  • Instant review. No waiting for a recorded file to be processed by the meeting provider and sent to your email.
  • Control over resolution, frame rate, compression, etc. Most online meeting services only have one button: start/stop recording.
  • High resolution: Using 720p (1280×720) is alright, but 1080p (1920×1080) is preferable. Majority of online meeting service providers provide a maximum resolution of 720p or lower, tend to apply very high compression (video looks pixelated) and may sometimes automatically reduce resolution. Screen recording software lets you specify the resolution and keep it consistent (you’re only limited by your computer hardware and many modern laptops can handle recording screens at 1080p 30 FPS just fine)

Download and install a screen recorder

First step is to get your favorite screen recording software installed. For most screen demos and work presentations, your screen recorder should be able to record:

  • 1080p (1920×1080) resolution as a minimum
  • At least 10 minutes per video clip (many freeware/trialware products have time limits)
  • Watermark-free (many freeware/trialware products automatically mark videos with their own logo)

If you don’t already have one, I highly recommend OBS (Open Broadcaster) because:

  • It’s open source and free (therefore, no watermarks)
  • It has powerful screen streaming and recording settings
  • It’s cross-platform: works on Windows, Mac and Linux
  • Great out-of-box compression (8-minute 1080p 60 FPS video = 300–400 MB)

The only downside of OBS is its learning curve that’s higher than ‘easy one-click’ software. Since it’s geared towards power users, some might also argue it’s overkill for recording presentations and demos versus something like QuickTime’s built-in record feature. However, once you master it, you’ll find OBS to be significantly more versatile and powerful for a variety of screen-based audio-visual recording activities.

Recording checklist

There are a few things to keep in mind to record videos with the right quality and consistency (I’ll use screenshots from OBS, but please look for the equivalent if using another software!)

  • Save location/folder — anywhere you want on your local disk
  • File format — prefer mp4/mpeg4, avi, m4v, mov
  • Resolution — 1280×720 minimum, 1920×1080 recommended
  • Frame rate — 30 FPS
  • Framing — Your presentation should occupy the entire screen!
  • Also: Make sure you don’t have extra things being recorded, like your Spotify window lurking in the bottom corner.
  • Audio source — use the highest quality possible (e.g. if you have a dedicated microphone, please use that over your laptop’s built-in mic!)

Setting up your screen recorder

Save location

The output page for specifying where and how your recordings would go

Go to Settings > Output > Recording tab > Recording path

While you’re here, select “mp4” for recording format

Recording options

The video page for setting the resolution and frame rate you’ll work with

Go to Settings > Video

  • Canvas — This is the area where you will framing the video and what will be recorded in it (think of it like a viewfinder of a camera).
  • Aspect ratio should be 16:9 as it’s the most common for screens and video playback (let’s not get into that aspect ratio debate… I’m a 16:10 person myself).
  • Keep in mind you might have to reframe the video within the canvas for certain laptop screens (Macbooks and some Dell XPS laptops have 16:10 screens, Microsoft Surfaces have 3:2 screens) and ultra-wide monitors that don’t have 16:9 ratios. See the next section on framing your screen.
  • Canvas resolution — I recommend 1920×1080 to match output and make life easy. If canvas resolution is set lower than output resolution, then the video will be scaled up and might look pixelated.
  • Output resolution — This is what the file produced will look like. For demos, go with 1280×720 (minimum) or 1920×1080 (recommended)
  • FPS (frames per second) — 30 is the minimum and should be sufficient.
  • No harm using 60 FPS, but keep in mind file size will be bigger and it will strain your laptop more (important for users of older laptops)

Hotkeys (Optional)

Hotkeys page for mapping key combos to functions

Helps improve quality of life, especially if you only have 1 physical monitor/screen — you don’t need to switch between windows to start/stop recording.

Framing your screen

After configuring settings, it’s time to set up framing of your screen.

Step 1: In the Scenes box, click + and add a scene. Name it anything you want. Let’s name it “Screen section” as an example.

Step 2: Click on the name of the new scene you just made (e.g. “Screen section”)

Step 3: In the Sources box, click + and add a source that is “Window Capture”.

Step 4: A dialog box will appear. Click “Create new” and give it a name (e.g. My web browser)

Step 5: Under Window, select the program where your presentation will occur.

  • This will be your browser if doing a product demo.
  • This can be your web browser or PowerPoint if showing a slide deck.

Step 6: What you see in this frame will be what appears in the recording. Frame your presentation within the capture area by moving/resizing what you see

  • Full-screen, 16:9 monitor: Make sure your whole screen fits the frame (width and height)
  • Full-screen, non-16:9 monitor: Match your screen to the frame (width) then move it (height) so the black bars on top/bottom when you present full-screen won’t be recorded in the video.
  • Windowed is nice if you have a high-resolution 4K monitor or more than 1 screen, so you can have the recorder up next to your presentation and you can see what you’re recording: Resize both the presentation window AND the frame so they match each other.

Audio check

  • Do a quick sound check by making some noise — your mic is working and ready when the green-yellow-red bar lights up with the noise.
  • Windows user tip: Mute your desktop audio within the audio mixer to prevent system sounds from being recorded (e.g. you will still hear notification chimes over your speakers, but they won’t be in your recorded video).
  • MacOS is more forgiving in this regard as it stops one application from recording the sound from another by default. It also makes it a pain if you DO want to record sounds from within your system and other applications. But that’s out of scope for what we’re doing in this article.
  • Please note there may be more than 1 mic/aux shown if you have multiple microphone sources (laptop mic, headset mic, and a USB mic all plugged in at the same time). Find the one you intend to use, and mute the rest.

Start/stop recording

Self-explanatory. If your software has both streaming and recording functionality, be aware they aren’t the same thing!

Tips and considerations when recording

General guidelines

  • Start with a quick introduction. You can fill in the blanks and use this canned intro:
    “Hello everyone, my name is {FULLNAME}. I am the {JOBTITLE.FUNCTION} (e.g. Product Manager) at commercetools. Today I will be talking about {TOPIC} (e.g. the latest product features from our team released in Q2 2023)”
  • Start by showing a logo or title card as an introduction.
  • Have a list of items and actions you will perform. If you slip up while recording, you can start again from the last action and edit that out later.

Before presenting:

  • Clean your desktop up to eliminate distractions, possible notifications, prevent leakage of sensitive data.
  • Consider increasing your cursor size so it’s easier for watchers to follow your interactions:
    – Mac: Apple logo > System Prefs > Accessibility > Cursor size
    – Windows: Control Panel > Mouse Properties > Pointers > Scheme > Magnified
  • Alternatively: Enable cursor finder and activate it to emphasize your actions:
    – Mac: Apple logo > System Prefs > Accessibility > Checkbox “Shake mouse pointer to locate”
    – Windows: Control Panel > Mouse Properties > Pointer Options > Checkbox “Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key”
  • Ensure minimal background noise both in your system (e.g. music playing) and in real life (e.g. neighbor’s kids screaming or construction work).

When presenting:

  • Only move the cursor around when necessary. Do not play with your mouse/trackpad for no reason.
  • Verbally walk through what you’re doing on your screen — pretend you’re sitting next to the viewer and helping them.
    – What are you doing (I will now click on the Filters Dropdown)
    – What your action does (which opens up a filter drawer of different product criteria)
    – The effects/benefits of your action (so that I can narrow down the list of products)

Using your webcam

Consider whether showing your face is necessary — it can add a personal touch to your presentation but keep in mind that your shared screen will be smaller.

If showing your face, ensure:
– Your face is well-lit by good source(s) of light
– Pro tip: Your monitor isn’t a light source, even if it’s 32 inches large
– Your background is presentable (Having a bookcase behind you is OK, but your hanging laundry isn’t)
– Ideally it would be a plain colored wall/backdrop.
– You are dressed appropriately

How long should my video be?

It really depends on content and discretion, but try to aim for one of the following lengths + examples on what kind of content will work for what length:

  • 2 minutes: Explain a single concept, idea, topic in brief
  • 10 minutes: Exploring a topic with examples OR how-to guide (usually focused on one area)
  • 30 minutes: Discussing a group of topics OR explaining multiple concepts OR tutorial with larger coverage (e.g. how to set up products, being a power user of PIM search)
  • 45 minutes: This really should be the longest you should go. This is the length of a full-webinar.

Go for short-and-sweet; longer isn’t always better. Remember that the audience may have limited attention spans and schedules.

Go try it out

I hope this guide was useful for getting setup to record product demos and presentations— congrats if you’ve managed to produce a video based on what you learned here. A few of our product people have already managed to get some great internal demo videos up after trying their hand at screen recording.

Remember this is a pretty high-level, quick start guide to using what’s essentially a power tool in the world of screen recording. Reading, exploring and practicing are all key to being able to get the most out of a software with a high skill ceiling.

Easy steps to get OBS running for high-quality demo and presentation recordings was originally published in commercetools tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Commercetools