How To Record Conference Video On A Budget

Videoing presentations at conferences is pretty much the norm these days, but you won’t get great results if you just stick a single camera on a tripod and hope for the best. Here’s the equipment you’ll need to do it effectively without spending a fortune, and some tips on making the process work.

In the spirit of our previous post on setting up a budget home recording studio, this is drawn from the experience of experts in the field. In this case, the ideas come from a presentation at 2011 by Ryan Verner and Ben Hutchings, who helped set up the recording and streaming for You can see an example of how that’s worked in the keynote by Vint Cerf at the top of this page. Ryan runs Next Day Video and has organised the video for numerous open source conferences, while Ben is the main developer for DVswitch, an open source tool for live switching and managing of video sources, which has been used at the conference.

This write-up assumes that the main aim is to record presentations for later viewing (whether online or offline). The same principles are also useful if you want to stream presentations live, but that requires a more complex technical infrastructure.

The budget and the gear

To effectively record conference presentations, the team advocated spending a total budget of around $1200 as follows:

A basic FireWire camera. Cost: around $300. Obviously you can spend more, but Ryan suggested that this really isn’t necessary given that the camera will probably be in a fixed position. “As long as the lighting is decent enough, a simple camera is good enough.”

A basic USB mixer, plus a lapel or handheld microphone. Total cost: around $300. While you can use the built-in mic on a camera, you’ll generally get rubbish sound. “Camera mics are too ambient,” Ryan said. “Audio is very important. Record something with a normal camera and it’s distracting.”

A VGA capture device. Cost: Around $600. This lets you feed slide presentations directly into the recording, rather than trying to point the camera at the screen, which invariably looks terrible.

As well as this equipment, you’ll also need some a number of PCs to handle the recording process — but in reality, those should already be available within your workplace, or with a little scrounging. Unsurprisingly, both Ryan and Ben advocate using a Linux-based machine; the most critical element is having a FireWire connection for effective throughput.

The importance of workflow

Recording a single video and uploading it to YouTube is straightforward, if time consuming. If you’re dealing with multiple sessions, you need a more effective and automated process, or you’ll waste a lot of time. “Avoid dealing with data manually,” Ryan advises. “Automate as completely as possible. Workflow is the most important part of any video strategy.”

An ideal automated system will capture information from laptops to a central storage system, attach titles automatically from a separate schedule, and begin encoding automatically. Even if you can’t manage that, having a clear workflow plan will make life much simpler.

Other things to remember

Test all your tech on site before the day. If there are unexpected tech problems, you don’t want to have to try and solve them minutes before the event starts. “Test for every issue you can think of,” Ryan advises. “Assuming things won’t go wrong is silly. It’s AV. Things will go wrong.”

Don’t spend too much time on editing. You’re not trying to win an Oscar. Trimming off the start and finish and adding a title will be enough. As well, if you use switching software while the event happens, you’ll save a lot of effort later.

Got your own tips for more effectively dealing with conference and workplace video, or favourite bits of gear? Let’s hear ’em in the comments.

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • Another pitfall: if people from the audience will be asking questions etc and they’re not handing a mic around, the only audio you’ll be able to get of the questioner will be horrible.

    A couple of well-placed crowd mics will get you something – but often the best solution is to just word up the presenter beforehand. Ask them to summarise questions from the audience before answering them. A lot of good presenters do that anyway – people usually ask questions badly, so it’s good clarification.

  • Angus, do you have any updates or tips on recording live presentations at conferences in 2015? I have a conference coming up in August I’d like to record a few sessions at but am on a limited budget.

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