How to Capture a Screencast Using VLC

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Introduction

VLC is a free and open source multi-purpose application for audio and video playback and conversion. You can use VLC to play a wide variety of video formats, including DVD media, on many operating systems including Windows, Mac, and Linux.

But you can do a lot more with VLC than just play video! In this how-to we will use VLC to encode a live feed of your own desktop. This type of video is called a "screencast." Why would you want to make a screencast? It can:

  • Demonstrate a software product or website.
  • Instruct viewers how to use an application.
  • Document an error or bug to help resolve a problem.
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How to Download VLC

Download and install the VLC media player
Download and install the VLC media player.

You should download and install the most recent version of VLC, which is updated often. This how-to is based on version 1.1.9, but it is possible some details may change in a future version.

There are two ways to setup your screen capture: using the point-and-click VLC interface, or through a command line. The command line lets you specify more advanced capture settings like desktop crop size and index frames to make a video that is easier to precisely edit. We'll take a closer look at this later.

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Launch VLC and Select the Menu "Media/Open Capture Device"

Setting up VLC configuration to make a screencast (Step 1)
Setting up VLC configuration to make a screencast (Step 1).
  • A new window will open where you should change Capture mode to Desktop.
  • Set the Desired frame rate to a number between 10 to 30. The higher the frame rate, the smoother your video will play, but with a larger file size. I like to use 24.
  • Click the checkbox Show more options to reveal additional settings. Here, I set Caching to 0 ms.
  • Finally, click the dropdown menu that says Play and change it to Convert. You choose this option because you want to encode the live desktop into a save file rather than view it live.
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Select a Destination File

Setting up VLC configuration to make a screencast (Step 2)
Setting up VLC configuration to make a screencast (Step 2).
  • This is the name of the video file you are creating. Because we will be making a video file in the mp4 format, I like to name this file "something.mp4".
  • Although you can click the Video drop down menu to select a video format, I have found the best quality using the default setting, which is H.264 + AAC (MP4).
  • (Note that "AAC" refers to the audio format, but your screencast will not have any audio.)
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Lights, Camera, Action!

VLC Stop Recording Button
VLC Stop Recording Button.

Finally, click Start. VLC will begin recording your desktop, so go ahead and begin using the applications you want to screencast.

When you want to stop recording, click the Stop icon on the VLC interface, which is the square button.

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Setup Screen Capture Using the Command-Line

You can choose more configuration options by creating a screencast using VLC on the command-line rather than the graphical interface.

This approach requires that you are already familiar with using the command-line on your system, such as the cmd window in Windows, the Mac terminal, or the Linux shell.

With your command-line terminal open, refer to this example command to setup a screencast capture:

c:\path\to\vlc.exe screen:// :screen-fps=24 :screen-follow-mouse :screen-mouse-image="c:\temp\mousepointerimage.png" :sout=#transcode{vcodec=h264,venc=x264{scenecut=100,bframes=0,keyint=10}, vb=1024,acodec=none,scale=1.0, vfilter=croppadd{cropleft=0,croptop=0,cropright=0,cropbottom=0}}: duplicate{dst=std{mux=mp4,access=file,dst="c:\temp\screencast.mp4"}}

That is one long command! Remember that this whole command is one single line and must be pasted or typed that way. The example above is the exact command I used to record the screencast video included in this article.

Several parts of this command can be customized:

  • c:\path\to\vlc.exe: This should be the correct path to your vlc.exe executable.
  • :screen-fps=24: This should be set to the frames-per-second rate you want to record.
  • :screen-follow-mouse: Include this to record the mouse pointer, exclude if you want to hide the mouse pointer in the screencast.
  • :screen-mouse-image: You need to supply a path to a pointer image if you are capturing the mouse pointer. Here is one you can use.
  • vb=1024: Set this to the bitrate you want to record. A higher bitrate will produce better quality video but with a larger file size (this works in combination with the fps value). Try values of 1500 or 2048 if you want to improve quality.
  • :scale=1.0: Set this value to proportionally reduce or enlarge your video. For example, a value of 0.5 would create a screencast of your desktop scaled down to half-size.
  • cropleft,croptop,cropright,cropbottom: These values represent the pixel size of your crop areas. Set to 0 will capture your entire desktop. For example, if you set cropleft to 100, the recorded desktop will crop out 100 pixels of width from the left side of your desktop. The same logic applies to each parameter.
  • dst="": The full path and name of the video file you want to create.
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How to Edit Your Screencast

You can edit a recorded screencast using Avidemux
You can edit a recorded screencast using Avidemux.

Even the best movie stars make mistakes. When recording a screencast sometimes you don't get everything right in one take.

Although it goes beyond the scope of this article, you can use video editing software to polish your screencast recording. Not all video editors can open mp4 format video files, though.

For simple editing jobs, try using the free, open source application Avidemux. You can use this program to cut sections of video and apply some filters such as crop.

In fact, I used Avidemux to cut and crop the completed screencast video example here:

Watch the video for how to capture a screencast using VLC