Sunday, May 6, 2012

Using Ecamm Call Recorder for Skype Lessons

I had always wanted to participate in a piano master class but I never had the guts to volunteer for one. Fortunately, my first lesson with my new teacher was like a mini-master class. I was so impressed by our first Skype encounter that I wished I had recorded it for future review.

My teacher had to call off our lesson twice because he was feeling a bit under the weather. His downtime provided me the opportunity to scour for a plugin that would work for my Skype for Mac. The most recommended one seems to be Ecamm Call Recorder. There is a demo version but according to the free downloaders, it has an ugly water mark rendering it useless for posterity's sake. I settled for the paid version for only $20 (a hair cut or facial could be more expensive).

I set the Call Recorder to start recording right away when I take any video call, everything else on default settings. My teacher rang at the appointed time and as soon as I took the video call, I immediately noticed that the quality became quite horrible. The video was pixelated and then completely froze a few seconds. The audio was choppy then completely died.

The strange thing is that my teacher could see and hear me just fine so it was not a connection problem. I tried everything--stopping the recording, restarting Skype, restarting the laptop. Nothing worked. It got so bad that my teacher and I decided to reschedule the lesson while I figure out a way to solve it.

After uninstalling the Call Recorder, I reinstalled it back on a hunch. I tinkered with the settings, tested it by Skyping with my friend for one hour, and it worked! No lag, no video/audio deterioration.

I think the real trick was when I disabled any kind of compression for the video and audio. Even at maximum resolution (640 x 480) and maximum frame rate, everything worked fine. In fact, I would recommend setting at that resolution and frame rate to get the best possible quality.

The drawback is that the recording (.mov file) is rather big, about 70 Mb/min. Our lesson lasted for 45 minutes, yielding a file of 3.2 GB. This would nicely fit in one DVD and in today's laptops and PCs, this is already a trivial matter.

To save space or when uploading, Call Recorder comes with a number of free tools for re-encoding, compressing, and the like. I tried the one that supposedly shrinks the file fit for uploading to YouTube. It did reduce it to as much as 80% but the video and audio became out of sync in certain places. I decided to use Handbrake and MPEG Streamclip.

Good luck with your lessons!