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Recording iChat

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iChat’s audio and video conferences can be useful productivity tools—you can talk, “in person,” with people thousands of miles away. But what if you’d like to archive such AV conversations? For example, for use in a podcast or video podcast, or to keep a record of an interview? Although there are a number of excellent video-capturing utilities out there, such as Ambrosia Software’s Snapz Pro X 2, the easiest solution I’ve found for recording AV chats is Ecamm Network’s $15 Conference Recorder 2.0.1 (   ).

With Conference Recorder installed, a drawer containing recording controls appears at the bottom of any audio or video chat window. (You can instead choose to have the recording controls appear in a separate window.)

Conference Recorder Controls
Conference Recorder controls attached to an audio chat window.

The red button in the middle starts a recording using the current Conference Recording settings; this button turns into a Pause button during recording. You access Conference Recorder’s preferences using the button on the left—this screen is also available via iChat’s own preferences window—and reveal existing recordings in the Finder using the magnifying-glass button on the right. (Recordings are automatically titled with the name of the other person in the chat—or the name of the first other person to enter the chat, in the case of more than two participants—and the time at which the chat occurred.) The indicator at the far right of the drawer glows red during recording.

Conference Recorder saves its recordings as standard QuickTime movie files in MPEG-4 format; what you see in the movie is exactly what you saw during the conference.

Conference Recorder Recording
A Conference Recorder video played back in QuickTime Player.

By default, Conference Recorder saves video at “Medium” quality and audio at “Normal” quality; with these settings, 3 minutes of video results in a file approximately 10MB in size. However, via Conference Recorder’s preferences dialog, you can customize recording settings such as image size (110 x 134, 176 x 144, or 320 x 262 pixels); frame rate (5, 15, or 20 frames per second); and audio and video quality. With all settings at their maximum—which allowed me to view the resulting video at full-screen-size with acceptable quality—a 3-minute video was approximately 27MB in size. (Note that if you change any of these settings during a recording, the new settings won’t take effect until the next recording you start.)

Conference Recorder Settings

You can also choose to record only the audio of AV chats; to automatically record all AV chats (or just chats with particular Buddies); to hide the “picture-in-picture” that appears in video chats; and whether or not to display a recording indicator on the screen in a video chat. (Many states require such an indicator, so be sure to check your local laws before disabling this feature.)

Another nice feature is the ability to record yourself—for example, to practice a speech, record a presentation, or even produce a video podcast. Simply open iChat’s preview window (by clicking the AV icon next to your own name in iChat) and then use Conference Recorder to record the video as you would any other AV conference; the resulting video files include “Me Video” in their names.

On the other hand, I wasn’t able to record the video of a conference involving more than two people; once three people were involved, Conference Recorder captured only audio.

Once you’ve recorded an AV chat, you can use that video (or audio) as you would any other QuickTime movie: You can double-click the recording in the Finder to view it in QuickTime Player, or you can use it in other apps such as iMovie. If you’re planning to use the audio from your recordings in a podcast or other medium where MP3 files are preferred, Conference Recorder includes a helper application, Convert To MP3, that uses iTunes to convert your audio and video files to MP3 audio format.

Conference Recorder is a useful tool for those who need (or just want) a record of AV chats. The fact that it integrates so seamlessly into iChat itself means that it’s also simple to use. Useful and easy to use? That’s a good combination.

Conference Recorder works with iChat 2.0 or higher and a compatible microphone and/or video camera.

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