One of the most successful tactics of COPs is to create digital videos of meetings and then to post those to the web. This topic will summarize the information you will need to help you provide citizen oversight of public bodies.
The most important tool in your toolbox is the video camera. To put the current state of affairs in perspective, consider the development of this equipment (the examples shown are not recommendations.)
| VHS and Beta camcorders
Analog recording, difficult to edit. These are now completely obsolete.
| MiniDV camcorders
- Extremely popular small tape format which records digitally. Each tape is about 60 minutes in length. Cameras of this type are still very prevalent.
- Requires real-time to download the video into the computer for editing. If you record a one-hour meeting, it will take an hour to download it.
- Must purchase tapes, each one costing about $5. Tapes are nice in that they provide a permanent archive of the data (hard to lose). Tapes can be reused.
- These cameras are prone to getting out of adjustment. My MiniDV camera (Canon Optura 60) needed alignment and repair every year or so with heavy use.
- See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPVXVh3JbwQ for instructions on transferring videos from the mini-dv tapes to your computer.
| DVD Camcorders
Some cameras record directly to a writable DVD disk.
- Disk is limited in storage capacity to two hours.
- Very easy to store and deal with a large number of recordings if simple documentation of meetings is all that is desired.
- DVD recording mechanism is mechanical and is subject to vibration damage.
- Must buy new media for each recording
| Hard Disk Camcorders
- Offer large capacity (long recording times)
- Hard disk drives are prone to failure and are relatively fragile.
- No way to remove media to have "unlimited" recording time.
| Flash Memory-based camcorders
This is the latest configuration that is just now becoming useful.
- Downloads video to the computer at about 4x real time. One hour takes perhaps 15 minutes.
- No tapes to purchase, but the data is volatile and easy to accidentally erase.
- Slot for SDHC flash memory cards (16 GB or 32 GB) allows unlimited recording time between computer downloads (given enough cards).
- No mechanical mechanism to be adjusted and solid-state memory is immune to vibration that would hurt a hard disk.
- Fast transfers from camera to computer, perhaps 10x real-time (i.e. much better than mini-dv tapes)
Therefore, we recommend a flash-memory based camera such as the Canon Vixia HF10. We chose this camera because:
- It has 16GB of internal flash memory and an HCSD slot for an additional 16GB.
- Recording at the lowest resolution (720 lines) provides 6 hours of recording time using internal memory.
- The lowest resolution is plenty for meetings of the type we record and is appropriate for Internet uploading.
- Takes very good still pictures, suitable for internet uploading to websites.
- Has a reasonably good stereo microphone, however, we have added a shotgun microphone to allow better pickup of quiet speakers.
- Has a microphone input jack which is important if you want to wire in a microphone input which is important to get the highest fidelity sound suitable for Public Access TV.
- DOES NOT have a eyepiece viewer. You must use the flip-out LCD display to monitor the recording. Has not been a problem but the display is on one side and it can be hard to use if the camera is placed on the left side of the room, which is common in many meeting rooms.
- Cost of the camera is about $700 as of this writing.
The following accessories are necessary or desired for successful recording of meetings. At a minimum, you will need a tripod and extension cords. The comments here relate to the Canon Vixia HF-10.
- Tripod. This is the most important accessory. In many cases you can just set the camera in one position and enjoy the meeting. Any movement of the camera is VERY noticeable. Must have a dampened head that slows and smooths movements. Price: $150 or so.
- Larger Battery: Don't put this off! The battery on the camera does well but is limited to about 110 minutes. You can purchase a battery that will last many hours for only $20 to $30 for most cameras. On the Canon Vixia HF-10, I purchased a battery that will last for 5 hours for less than $14.
- Extension Cords. Meetings can drag on for a very long time. Until your buy a better battery, you will have to use extension cords.Plugging in will give you unlimited recording time (only limited by your storage media). Get velcro retention straps to make it easy to bundle these up into your pack.
- Camera Bag. You will need some sort of camera bag to allow easy transport of your gear.
- Wide-angle lens. This is very important in small meeting rooms where otherwise, you can't back up enough to get everyone in. Caution: Don't cut corners with third-party lenses. Get the lens from Canon or the edges of the field of view will be out of focus, and zooming in will not be as clear as it could be. These are about $200 from Canon. Make sure you buy the right size as each camera model is different.
- Shotgun Microphone. Audio quality is extremely important and is often under appreciated in its importance. The internal microphone is subject to noises when control buttons are pressed and can result in echos in some rooms. Instead, purchase a shotgun microphone than can be directed toward the speakers in the meeting and disregard other room noises. The Canon Vixia HF10 requires a special microphone only from Canon at about $150.
- Additional Memory. With 16GB of internal memory, this is not too important unless you need to record more than six hours of meetings before you can download your video to your computer. I haven't bought another 16GB chip yet because the prices are still falling rapidly, and with six hours of recording time, I really don't need it.
Recording the meeting
See How to Record Public Meetings
for a twenty-minute instructional video which explains the process using an older model video camera. It has a lot of tips and suggestions that will apply to a flash-memory based tape recorder, including how to use a tripod and how to work with the meeting.
After you record meetings, it is necessary to download the video from the camera and edit it.
- You will need a high-end computer with substantial storage. Each hour of video from the camera is about 2.6 GB in size. Once it is converted to AVI format, it is about 1GB per 50 minutes, which is the size chunk you will need.
- The computer MUST be fast to allow it to work with processing HD video without dropping to its virtual knees. This means a computer with a quad-core or better.
- Must have a fast USB port for downloading data from the camera.
- Downloading uses software provided (in this example) from Canon and helps you keep track of what has and has not been downloaded. Still pictures can be viewed as if the camera was a disk drive.
- Windows has a free video editor (Windows Movie Maker) but it is not sufficient for editing HD videos as of this writing.
- I currently use Cyberlink Powerdirector 8 Ultra ($99). It works okay but has some goofy limitations. There may be better options available, but this product is a good value for the money.
- Make sure you move the raw video files you plan to edit to the hard-disk on the machine with the editing software. You need fast access.
- The raw video files remain unchanged when you create your final video. You identify which raw videos you are going to use in the project, and the video editor takes that data and creates a new video image.
- Move the videos to the timeline and chop off any extra time at the start of the meeting and at the end, chop out gaps in the middle, etc.
- Use simple but clear fonts for titles, simple transitions (like fade).
- Consider using the Creative Commons 2.0 License (noncommercial attribution) instead of "Copyright, all rights reserved"
- Put the title of the video right on top of the video to avoid boring titles only at the start. This reduces the total time of the video.
- Pull out a frame of the video that is useful as a representative still for the thumbnail of the video.
- Add title to each speaker if you can.
- Save the project and then split it into segments that are about 50 minutes or less in length.
- Produce each one using a DIVX encoding to result in AVI file. You may have to download the DIVX encoder from divx.com if you don't see the option in your editing software.
Uploading to streaming server
it is very important to upload your videos to the Internet so they can be viewed by anyone. This is what puts pressure on the body to do the right thing. If you only record for your own use, you will get far more traction if anyone can view it, "on a permanent basis."
- YouTube is the most popular service, and they now allow loading of videos longer than 15 minutes!
- blip.tv is NO LONGER an alternative as they are not interested in shows that do not get a gazillion page views.
- Metadata - It is important to update the metadata for each video uploaded so it can be easily found by search engines.
Submitting to the Copswiki website.
It is very important to submit the media to the copswiki website to make sure it is combined with the other project media, photos, and other notes. See How To Submit Media
for a full description of this process. Use the keyword of the project and the media will be automatically listed with the project.
- Windows Movie Maker says it can handle MPEG2 but in reality, it is not supported. Therefore, it is necessary to convert to AVI format.