A how-to on iPad screencasts, Display Recorder, and jailbreaking

Posted: August 16, 2012 in apps, forScore, iPad, video

Going on a bit of a technical tangent today.  Hugh S. from Going Digital for Musicians asked about how I create the iPad screencast videos for the forScore tutorial series.  I know of two ways to create screencasts by direct video capture on the iPad:

1. Use the Display Recorder app from the official Apple App Store.

[UPDATE 8/16/12 : Looks like this app was pulled from the App Store last month, so currently the only option is #2 below see option #2 below and also Matt’s suggestion in the comments.]

Pros: Can record audio output from apps, and no jailbreak is required.  This app also lets you upload directly to YouTube.  Cons: Video is chunkier and has a lower frame rate (see my example), and there is no visual indicator for touch gestures, so viewers don’t see how you’re interacting with the screen.

2. Jailbreak your iPad and use the Display Recorder app from the Cydia app store (same name, but actually a different app and developer).

This is the method I use.  Pros: Much better video quality, plus there are visual indicators (little gray circles) for touch gestures.  The app also lets you upload directly to YouTube.  Cons: No audio capture from apps (although I have a hacky workaround), and you have to jailbreak.

Tip: Regardless of app, use an external mic to record sound.  The sounds of tapping and swiping are picked up surprisingly loudly by the iPad’s built-in mic.  The mic on my phone earbuds works fine for recording the narration.

Jailbreaking the iPad

WARNING: The following is for informational purposes only.  I am not making a general recommendation that everybody jailbreak their iPad.  Jailbreaking is a void-your-warranty void-your-tech-support* sort of activity, as is downloading unofficial apps.  Know the risks, be willing to accept the possibility of losing data or bricking your iPad if something goes wrong, and be prepared to invest the time/money/expertise to recover from that scenario if it happens to you.

That said, the steps for jailbreaking were surprisingly easy, easier than rooting my Android phone.

  1. Download the Absinthe jailbreaking tool to your computer.
  2. Sync your iPad in iTunes.  Make sure that the “Sync Apps” checkbox on the Apps tab in iTunes is checked.
  3. Back up everything on your iPad seven ways from Sunday.  You can make a standard iPad backup through iTunes by right-clicking on your device name under the ‘Devices’ menu and then clicking ‘Back Up’.  I actually made two backups, one to iCloud and one to my computer.  Some apps have their own process for creating backups (e.g. forScore backups) and it wouldn’t hurt to use those too.
  4. Follow the (simple) instructions on the Absinthe website for running the tool and then restoring your iPad backup.
  5. The jailbreak tool installs Cydia and you can get the Cydia version of Display Recorder from there.

Once you have Display Recorder installed, here is my trick for capturing audio from the app: I turn up the iPad volume all the way, plug my earbuds into the iPad, and put the earbuds right next to the earbud mic.  The mic captures the audio from the earbuds – it will be quite a bit softer than your voice, but still audible.

Another tip: I use the YouTube video editor to rotate my iPad screen recordings from portrait mode to landscape mode, to accommodate viewers using laptops or other devices with landscape-only displays.  None of the video editing apps on my iPad seem to do this rotation correctly so that it uploads to YouTube in the right orientation, so I have to use YouTube’s web-based editor for this.

*see Loren F.’s comment below

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  1. airturn says:

    Thank you!! This is immensely helpful!!

  2. Jailbreaking your iPad doesn’t actually void the warranty. You aren’t physically changing anything on the iPad. If you are having problems with a Jailbroken iPad and you bring it to the Genius bar, they will probably refuse to provide you with support, because of the Jailbreak, though. You should always use iTunes to backup and then restore your iPad before bringing it to the Genius bar. This will remove the Jailbreak and bring your iPad back to Apple official and supportable condition.

    • Tech4Singers says:

      You’re right and I’ve attempted to amend the post for accuracy. I’ve heard from other sources as well that the Apple store will not provide tech support for jailbroken iPads. To remove the jailbreak, I believe it requires more than a regular pre-jailbreak restore (that’s actually one of the steps in the jailbreak process). I haven’t tried removing a jailbreak myself, but one can Google around for instructions on how to do it.

  3. Matt says:

    I have another potential solution – the Reflection app records your iDevice’s screen INCLUDING sounds. There is also a jailbreak app called Touchpose (or Touchpose+) which adds in the circles as you tap. It’s a slightly more complicated solution, as it requires a computer, but the sound production will be much better, and it allows you to use the tap highlighting without recording (in presentations, etc.). For people like me who already own Reflection, it’s a great, free solution (Touchpose+ is $1, but the original Touchpose is free!).

    • Tech4Singers says:

      I’ve tried Touchpose – it’s handy for presenting and I bet it would be handy for recording as well. The Reflection recording method sounds like another good approach. The only other complication I could think of, other than needing a computer as you pointed out, was that you might need to merge in your voiceover from a separate track? (per the Reflection support FAQ)

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