Freeware / Internet / Windows · December 18, 2006 2

A better way of recording MSN Webcam Streams

Very frequently I engage in lively video conversations with family & friends through MSN and invariably occasions arose when I felt the need to capture whole conversations or at least short video clips. You just can’t let some memorable moments slip by like that…

I searched far and wide for tools / plug-ins that would allow me to make good-quality captures and tried hundreds of them. A simple Google search would bring you upon a horde of such sites claiming to have the perfect tool for you. However, I was thoroughly disappointed with their offerings… save one.

A little on the capture mechanism employed by the Webcam recorders. 99% of them – free ones or paid/licensed ones are nothing but simple screen capture tools. Such software enable you to either capture either the whole screen or part of the screen (video window) over a long period of time and save to popular video encoded format. When you’re viewing the webcam streams in full-screen mode, this is still acceptable.. but windowed mode spells the doom for such tools.

Since you’ve to define a certain region of a conversation window to capture, that particular window has always got to be on the top of all others. If you keep switching between many different chat / browser windows the software will start capturing whatever if finds in a similar region in those windows. Secondly, if your internet link is not of a decent speed, your video will most likely be kind of choppy as frames come in late or get totally dropped at times. These softwares have no way of knowing about dropped/late frames and keep writing blindly to the disk. Thus they turn out very poorly recorded videos. A couple of examples of such tools are:

Keep in mind, these aren’t bad by any means – they’re very good as live screen capture tools, but simply not efficient webcam video capturing utilities.

This is where MSN Webcam Recorder comes in. I found it by a chance discovery sitting quietly several pages down on a Google search. At that time it was still in the early stages of development – but while reading about it’s features it sounded pretty promising.

For a change, this little freeware tool captured the video packets directly as they streamed into your system and did not rely on blunt screen capturing. For this it employs WinPcap – a freeware low-level Windows based packet capturing tool which allows applications to capture network packets bypassing the protocol stack – thus enabling the applications to grab raw data packets and do as they saw fit with them.

This approach permits MSN Webcam Recorder to grab the packets even before they are shown in the MSN window itself. To quote the author…

It sees the Webcam video the same way MSN does, and reproduces it with a more accurate time correction. You can also watch a live video in another window, the size you want it to be, so you’re not stuck with MSN’s conversation window and its small size!

Standard features:

  • Once installed, it sits in your system tray and can be made to load up automatically at startup.
  • Whenever it detects a MSN Webcam stream – either originating at your computer or coming in from someone’s else’s system to yours, it automatically starts recording them in libmimic format resulting in very small file sizes.
  • You’ve got the option of halting and restarting the recording of a stream whenever you feel like.
  • You cannot play the recorded files directly in any media player – but once you’re done with the recording, you can instruct the software to re-encode any of those streams in many different formats/codec (including .avi,.mpeg etc.) as supported by your system.
  • You can playback the recorded stream prior to conversion to a standard format using the inbuilt stream player in the software so as to ascertain the quality of your recording. In fact, you can play the streams live even while they’re being recorded.
  • All the recorded streams are automatically added to a list, from where you can pick and choose and play at will.

While the interface is a little cryptic and confusing for first time users and leaves a lot to be desired, overall this is the very BEST MSN Webcam recorder I’ve come across and a FREE one too. This one is a must download !!