How to Capture a Screencast Using VLC

Record your desktop for free with VLC

Illustration of video recorder screen

Zeynurbaba / Getty Images

VLC is a free and open-source multi-purpose application for audio and video playback and conversion. VLC plays a variety of video formats, including DVD media, on many operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and Linux. VLC can also encode a live feed of your desktop. This type of video is called a screencast. Create a screencast when you want to demonstrate a software product or website, instruct viewers on how to use an application, or document an error or bug to help resolve a problem.

How to Download VLC

To begin, download and install the recent version of VLC, which is updated often. At the time of this guide, the latest version was 3.0.8, but VLC doesn't change its interface often, if ever.

VLC download page

On Windows or Mac, go to the download page and select the version of VLC for your operating system. Installation is straightforward, and you can safely walk through the install wizard to get running.

Linux users should use the distribution's package manager instead. VLC is open-source, and it's a favorite on Linux. The package name is usually vlc. On Ubuntu, Debian, Linux Mint, or something based on these distributions, install VLC by opening a terminal and entering this command:

sudo apt install vlc

Once you have VLC, there are two ways to set up your screen capture: use the point-and-click graphical VLC interface or a command line. The command line lets you specify more advanced capture settings, like desktop crop size and index frames, to make a video that is easier to precisely edit. Most of the time, though, this may be more than you need. The graphical VLC interface is easier to use.

Launch VLC and Set Up the Capture

Launch VLC graphically. It's a normal media player with an orange traffic cone icon. You'll find it along with the rest of your applications, the location depends on how your operating system sorts multimedia applications.

  1. With the VLC window open, select Media.

    VLC main screen
  2. In the Media menu, choose Open Capture Device.

    VLC media menu
  3. In the Open Media dialog box, select the Capture mode drop-down arrow and choose Desktop.

    VLC capture options
  4. Set the Desired frame rate to a number between 10 to 30. The higher the frame rate, the smoother the video will play, but with a larger file size. The computer hardware determines the video quality that it can handle. Generally 24 and 30 are safe. 24fps is the standard for American TV.

  5. Select the Show more options check box to reveal additional settings. Then, set the Caching option lower for less memory usage or higher if your system has more.

    VLC more convert options
  6. Select the drop-down arrow next to Play and choose Convert. This encodes the live desktop into a save file.

    VLC choose convert

Set Up Your Destination File and Encode Options

After you choose to convert your stream to a file, the window will shift to let you set up your encoding options.

  1. In the Source text box, enter screen://.

    VLC convert options
  2. Select the Profile drop-down arrow and choose a profile. This determines which codecs VLC will use to create your file and which devices can play it. The default Video - H.264 + MP3 (MP4) is a good option for most situations.

    VLC has presets for various devices and resolutions. Don't choose an audio profile, since it won't contain any video data.

  3. Select Browse to locate a destination folder. Choose an output folder, and enter a Name for your file in the field at the top. Then, select Save.

  4. When you're ready to start your capture, select Start.

  5. The smaller window disappears, and the VLC interface displays. It will look almost like before, but the playback bar at the bottom will light up like it's playing. That indicates that VLC is recording.

  6. To stop recording your stream, select Stop in the VLC playback controls.

Setup Screen Capture Using the Command-Line

You can choose more configuration options by creating a screencast using VLC on the command-line rather than the graphical interface. This approach requires that you are familiar with using the command-line on your systems, such as the cmd window in Windows, the Mac terminal, or the Linux shell.

With your command-line terminal open, refer to this example command to set up a screencast capture on Windows:

c:\path\to\vlc.exe screen:// :screen-fps=24 :screen-follow-mouse :screen-mouse-image="c:\temp\mousepointerimage.png" :sout=#transcode{vcodec=h264,venc=x264{scenecut=100,bframes=0,keyint=10}, vb=1024,acodec=none,scale=1.0, vfilter=croppadd{cropleft=0,croptop=0,cropright=0,cropbottom=0}}: duplicate{dst=std{mux=mp4,access=file,dst="c:\temp\screencast.mp4"}}

On Linux and Mac, it is similar:

vlc screen:// :screen-fps=24 :screen-follow-mouse :screen-mouse-image="/tmp/mousepointerimage.png" :sout=#transcode{vcodec=h264,venc=x264{scenecut=100,bframes=0,keyint=10}, vb=1024,acodec=none,scale=1.0, vfilter=croppadd{cropleft=0,croptop=0,cropright=0,cropbottom=0}}: duplicate{dst=std{mux=mp4,access=file,dst="/tmp/screencast.mp4"}}

This command is one single line and must be pasted or typed that way. The example above is the exact command used to record the screencast video included in this article.

Several parts of this command can be customized:

  • c:\path\to\vlc.exe: This should be the correct path to your vlc.exe executable. On Mac and Linux, this can just be vlc.
  • :screen-fps=24: This should be set to the frames-per-second rate you want to record.
  • :screen-follow-mouse: Include this to record the mouse pointer, exclude if you want to hide the mouse pointer in the screencast.
  • :screen-mouse-image: Supply a path to a pointer image if you are capturing the mouse pointer.
  • vb=1024: Set this to the bitrate you want to record. A higher bitrate produces a better quality video but with a larger file size (this works in combination with the fps value). Try values of 1500 or 2048 to improve quality.
  • :scale=1.0: Set this value to proportionally reduce or enlarge the video. For example, a value of 0.5 creates a screencast of your desktop scaled down to half-size.
  • cropleft, croptop, cropright, cropbottom: These values represent the pixel size of the crop areas. Set to 0 to capture your entire desktop. For example, if you set cropleft to 100, the recorded desktop will crop out 100 pixels of width from the left side of the desktop. The same logic applies to each parameter.
  • dst=": The full path and name of the video file you want to create.

How to Edit Your Screencast

When recording a screencast, you may not get everything right in one take. When this happens, use video editing software to polish your screencast recording. Not all video editors can open MP4 format video files, though.

For simple editing jobs, try the free, open-source application Avidemux. Use this program to cut sections of a video and apply filters such as crop.

You can edit a recorded screencast using Avidemux