Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tip: Turn computers into external monitors

If you do any tabletop shooting, an external monitor is a must. No matter how well you mark your recording surface, your hands and other objects will wander unappealingly out of frame. After getting some permanent space and shooting everything on my computer desk, I discovered a much better external monitor than my previous 7" version.

What I did was turn the large computer monitor already on my desk into a giant external monitor for my tabletop shoots. I did this by simply running my camera's composite video out into an external USB video capture box. This allowed me not only use my computer monitor as a video monitor, but also to flip the image to see what my upside-down camera was recording.

This idea could be put to use in many other situations as well. Use an even larger computer monitor in your studio. Use a laptop as an external monitor in the field. If you go the external USB capture box route (you can use an internal computer card as well), the whole setup is very portable.

Older computers can even be re-purposed for this task. Since all you are doing is displaying the image and not recording it, less computing resources are needed. In fact, the box really does most of the work outside of the computer itself. Evidence of this is the slight delay you'll see when viewing. These cards act as your basic analog-to-digital converter, dumping the new signal to your computer where you can do what you want with it.

My setup is simple and cheap. I found the ION Video 2 PC box, which is all over eBay for very little money (I picked up a used one for $18 total), and will work on both the PC and Mac. If you go this route, make sure you get the MkII version, which (supposedly) works better on modern systems. Also make sure you get your drivers from the included CD and not those found on ION's website. I could never get them to work, but the CD worked without a hitch.

For displaying on my monitor I used the free Bandicam software, which seemed to be one of the few programs that would correctly display the 16:9 widescreen output coming from my camcorder. I also used the free iRotate which allowed me to flip my computer image (with a keyboard shortcut) to correctly see the inverted image I was shooting. If Ctrl+Alt+arrow keys don't already do this for you in Windows, install iRotate. It will fix this oversight.

Of course, if you already have the appropriate composite or HDMI inputs on your monitor, this whole idea may seem moot. If you don't (or need to flip your camera image because your monitor can't), here is a cheap way to do it anyway.


Ian Random said...

I believe screen rotation is already builtin to Windows.

Scott Eggleston said...

It is, but it doesn't work for every system. I think it has to do with the graphics card. An integrated graphics chip on your motherboard seems to work the best. A slotted graphics card seems to not work as well. Which is where iRotate comes to the rescue!


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