I have been on the site and had pinball as a hobby for about 7 months, I have asked a lot of stupid questions as I have been learning and haven't had much to contribute back. I have been a full time content producer for 3 and a half years, last September I started a kickstarter for capture equipment to see if there was interest in live pinball streaming, there was!. Since then I have tried out a huge variety of equipment and capture methods.
In this post I am going to cover everything you need to get high definition video of a pinball machine, audio, hardware, software and lighting for personal or professional use.
#1 - Fighting Reflection
The very first thing you need is a stable capture environment. If you point a camera straight down on a pinball machine you will see a lot of reflections. If your ceiling is white the whole playfield will look foggy and hazy. The best solution is to paint the ceiling and side walls black, or for a more temporary solution lay down black felt. No matter how you adjust the camera or lighting if there is white around the machine it will muddy the capture.
For almost any capture, the more light the better! I highly recommend umbrella lights with 100w fluorescent bulbs. This will allow for even lighting without making your capture space obscenely hot. I use two at roughly 45 degree angles on each side of the machine.
Umbrella Lights -
amazon.com link »
#3 Capture Hardware
This section will cover how to capture a cam to PC, this is useful if you want to do a multiple camera capture or livestream your footage. For personal and a single camera you won't need most of this.
To run a multiple camera capture you need capture cards, these are the bridge that will process the information coming in and display them to your capture software. I highly recommend the Avermedia C985, I have 3 of them running with no conflicts and they do a very nice 1280x720 at 60fps. There are other cards on the market but mixing cards can lead to driver issues which are a nightmare. Another option if you are set on 1920x1080 is the Black Magic Intensity Pro. I use one of these for my main content studio, but not 3x and they are known to have compatibility issues with certain chipsets.
Note: Capture cards are infamous for driver issues, if your card is not recognized then download the appropriate driver and manually install. http://www.avermedia-usa.com/avertv/Support/Download.aspx?Type=Driver
Avermedia C985 -
BMI: Pro -
Next is computer hardware, if you are looking at streaming you want at least a quad core i7. More importantly you need a motherboard to hold your capture cards. They fit into the PCI-E slot, this is the small black PCI slots you see below. You need one PCI-E for each capture card/camera combo you want to have showing.
amazon.com link »
Any camera with a HDMI out can show a picture to a streaming or recording software, I use 3x Cannon G20s though there are MANY other options. Don't forget long HDMI to HDMI mini cords!
If you are on a budget or just want to experiment, Logitech C920 webcams do a great 1280x720 60fps and only require a USB plug in. While running webcams you will need to adjust the software setting for exposure/white balance to get a correct capture. If running multiple webcams of the same type you may only be able to adjust one. If you are low on USB slots you can buy a divider to plug in multiple webcams.
#4 Camera Mounting Options
I have tried just about everything, booms, mounting bar and all manner of clamps. I have settled on this setup as the best I have found. A long mounting bar above the machines with universal clamps and strong bendy arms. This keeps most of the wires off the floor and allows for some great angles.
These universal mounts are great, 15kg weight limit, the arms easily hold a 1.5 lb camera in place and allow for perfect camera placement.
Mounts + Arms -
amazon.com link »
Note: With the amount of lighting happening on a pinball machine I highly recommend manually setting the exposure for each camera as well as using manual focus. White balance settings can also be key to getting perfect colors on your capture.
Audio can be tricky because you are capturing yourself and the machine, if you are just doing the machine it is a bit easier. For voice and machine capture a mic with setting a for bi-directional capture works great. I use a Blue Yeti with the gain set at 35/100 in the device properties. Sure you can run your XLR mic into a compressor and amp but unless you are a total audio geek the added cost and wires probably isn't worth it. There are also plenty of great headset mics out there too, but I find they just don't do the machine audio justice.
amazon.com link »
There are two main programs for Streaming, if you are not interested in livestreaming this section may still be very helpful to you. In addition to being able to livestream, these softwares can be the vessel for your multiple camera capture for local recording. These programs have their intricacies but if you spend a little time with them they are quite simple to operate.
OBS is a open source streaming software, free to use and great. In order to capture pinball and be able to rotate your images you need to use the test version 0.9.1 (This will be full release soon). The main advantages of OBS is that it is free to use and it has superior audio control options.
Xsplit is a paid livestreaming program, it has all the bells and whistles. I use Xsplit for capturing pinball only because the image rotation works better (for now). Once OBS fully releases the multiplatform 1.0 I'll be switching. The advantage of Xsplit is that it is very user friendly.
Setting up your scene:
To add a camera to the software in OBS you click on Global Source > Add > Video Capture Device and the select your device and manage settings. Xsplit works the same, the add is on the bottom left in Xsplit.
Here is how mine looks during a live stream:
Bitrate is how much information you are sending, as a general rule if you have 2 upload you have about 2000k bitrate to work with. For streaming you don't want to go any higher than 3500 bitrate even if you have insane internet. Note that even if you have 2 upload you wouldn't want to set it at 2k, leave yourself about a 250 bitrate buffer for stability and include your audio in your calculation!
There is plenty of stuff you can mess with in here, but most important is your preset. The lower your preset the more encoding your PC does, this comes at the cost of processing but will improve your video quality. If you are wondering how hard your PC is working, hit ctrl + shift + esc to open the task manager and click on performance.
Done? No you are never done! I have spent over 10,000 hours in content production and I find new things all the time! I am by no means the best or most knowledgeable, but I know a lot more than I did 3 years ago. Getting great quality takes a lot of time and trial and error. I hope this helps someone else get started in capturing and sharing what they love!
I am grateful to be in a position to share my hobby with others, pinball has been a life saver for me and given me something to focus on when I have spare time. Thanks to everyone on pinside who has helped me troubleshoot and learn about this wonderful hobby.