Recording game videos with ShadowPlay and ffmpeg

Occasionally, I want to record myself playing a videogame. I use Nvidia's ShadowPlay for this, which sorta got renamed to “GeForce Experience” a while back. I don't currently attempt to stream video because the internet connection I have right now doesn't have enough upstream bandwidth.

For high-quality smooth VOD recording:

As for video quality, I found that the Nvidia hardware encoder (at least with my GPU, a GeForce 650Ti) is not very good at producing compact, high-quality video files. It can produce files that are almost small enough, but at abysmal quality. Alternatively, it can produce files that are high enough quality, high far too large. In order to get around this, what I do is:

  1. I record with all the quality settings in ShadowPlay set to maximum. That is, 1080p resolution, 60Hz framerate and 50Mbit/s bitrate.
  2. I use a command-line program called ffmpeg to re-encode them to much smaller files (about 10% to 20% the size) with only slightly lower quality.
  3. I check that the recompressed output files look okay, then delete the original huge VOD files.
  4. I upload the recompressed output files to YouTube overnight.

If you are uploading to YouTube, YouTube will re-encode your video on their servers. I believe this is partly so that YouTube can control video formats and bitrates themselves, and partly so that YouTube can prevent miscreants from breaking into other peoples' computers by uploading malformed video files with exploits in them.

As far as I can tell, for game recordings on YouTube it's best to upload video files at 60Hz framerate and 1080p resolution. I think this is because the ratio of bitrate to pixels that YouTube gives you is roughly constant, so the more pixels you shove in, the more frame coherence the encoder can take advantage of to make your pixels be pretty within its bitrate budget. Trying to get “fewer pixels, but more bits per pixel” on YouTube does not appear to work; if you downscale a video to 720p before uploading, YouTube will give you a lower bitrate than if you had uploaded it at 1080p.

The ffmpeg command that I use for reencoding a video from ShadowPlay is:

ffmpeg -i input_file_from_shadowplay.mp4 \ -c:a copy \ -c:v libx264 -bf 2 -flags +cgop -pix_fmt yuv420p -crf 28 \ -preset slow \ output_file_from_ffmpeg.mkv

On my desktop computer with an Intel i3-4130 CPU, this takes roughly 3 seconds to encode each second of input video. It produces output files at about 6 Mbit/s (or about 45 megabytes per minute). Here are a couple of examples of what the output quality from that looks like, after being uploaded to Youtube:

The ffmpeg command that is recommended (according to Jernej Virag's helpful post) is:

ffmpeg -i input_file_from_shadowplay.mp4 \ -c:a aac -b:a 384 -r:a 48000 \ -c:v libx264 -bf 2 -flags +cgop -pix_fmt yuv420p -crf 21 \ -preset slow \ output_file_from_ffmpeg.mkv

There are two differences between the one I'm using in practice and the recommended one.

  1. The one I use doesn't bother to re-encode the audio (that's what the c:a, b:a and r:a bits are about) because the audio encoding that ShadowPlay uses itself seems okay to me.
  2. I use a slightly lower quality (that's what the “crf” thing is: -crf 21 is higher quality but bigger files than -crf 28).

(Eagle-eyed readers may also notice that Jernej specifies a -strict -2 option in order to get aac audio encoding to work, but that was only necessary for older versions of ffmpeg.)

If you change -preset slow to -preset slower or -preset slowest then you'll tend to get smaller files at the same quality, but it'll take longer to encode. I picked -preset slow as a tradeoff between how long the files take to encode versus how long they take to upload on my internet connection.

I use .mkv as the container format for two reasons. The less important reason is that this way I can tell from the name whether a given file is an original from ShadowPlay or one that I have recompressed with ffmpeg. The originals all have the extension .mp4 while the recompressed ones all have the extension .mkv.

The more important reason for using .mkv is that YouTube can save you time by doing its re-encoding of your videos concurrently with you uploading them. If this kicks in, your videos can go live sooner. If it doesn't kick in, YouTube won't begin re-encoding your video until the upload is completely finished.

Whether concurrent encoding on YouTube kicks in depends on the specifics of the container format (like .mkv, .avi or .mov) that the video is inside, not the codecs (like h264, Theora or MPEG-2). While there are options for ffmpeg that will produce .mp4 or .avi files that work for concurrent encoding, it's much easier to just use .mkv format. Because .mkv is well designed for streaming, it just works immediately with no fussing.