How to Record Your User’s Screen For Usability Tests on Video Game Consoles or Streaming Devices
The streamers solution for streaming usability tests.
In user experience (UX) research, running usability tests is a common method for identifying the pain points, impressions, and usability of a product or service. While in the year 2022, remote usability testing is commonplace, this article will be referring to in-person usability testing. If you are new to usability testing, check out this article by NN Group on how to conduct usability tests first.
While usability tests can be performed on a wide variety of products, it is common for most to be conducted on some type of graphical user interface (GUI). Typically a usability test is performed with one participant at a time. That participant is placed in front of a screen (mobile phone or computer monitor) and asked by a facilitator to perform a series of tasks. These tasks direct the participant to complete the desired goals or outcomes you hold (or have) for your website, app, or video game.
Standard Usability Test Setup for Websites and Computer Interfaces
If what you’re testing runs natively on a computer and you want to capture the facial expressions of participants and the screen they’re looking at, simply use a screen recording application on your participant’s computer with a webcam pointed at the participant’s face or body.
On laptops, the built-in webcam and microphone should be good enough. But if you’re using a monitor, make sure that your separate webcam can record audio too, or you will have to buy an external USB microphone.
Two monitors are preferred: one for your participant to use and one for you to see what is happening without overcrowding their screen.
A set up might look something like this:
To record or stream the session, an option through Zoom or GoogleMeet would be to have the participant screen share and record the session.
Usability Test Set Up for Video Streaming Devices and Game Consoles
But what if you’re interested in running a usability test on a streaming app or video game that people will use on a TV? How will you record what your user is seeing on the TV? You want the usability test to simulate a natural experience, so it is important to not test an app or video game that typically runs on a TV at home on a computer or laptop. This would be an unnatural experience and not relevant to your goals.
A Quick Solution for User Testing
One quick solution could be to record the TV with a webcam pointing at the screen and have the side or back of the participant in the shot. If the webcam doesn’t support audio then an external audio device (your microphone) will also have to be connected to your computer. Alternatively, you can point a laptop at the TV and use the built-in webcam and microphone device.
This solution is pretty much “plug and play.” If you want to record or stream, just use Zoom or GoogleMeet as you would normally for meetings, but with the external webcam and microphone as your default microphone and camera inputs.
The Streamer’s Solution
Alright. The quick solution works okay, but let’s say you want to capture the facial expressions of your participant and get the best possible video quality of the screen. This setup is called the “streamer’s solution” because you get an end result that looks something like a Twitch stream.
When you record or stream the usability test, you want a video of the facial expressions and the screen interface of the video game console or streaming device to be captured simultaneously. This is the best setup for capturing greater insights and the preferred method at Rathbone Falvey Research (RFR).
The external webcam and external microphone can still be used, but now you would set them up facing the participant. However, there should be some care taken to ensure the participants don’t feel like they are under surveillance.
The challenging part is getting what is being displayed on the TV onto your computer. If you’ve ever tried to connect your TV to your computer with an HDMI cable, you may have noticed that the signal only goes one way (from your computer to your TV). To go the other way (from your TV to your computer) you need to do a little trick: use a capture card.
A capture card interprets the signal from the PS5, Xbox Series X/S, or Google Chromecast, and encodes it so your computer can now understand what is being played.
Capture cards come in two forms depending on how they plug into your computer. The easiest and most flexible option is an external capture card that plugs into a computer via USB. This opens up the freedom to use one laptop this time and then easily unplug the device and plug it into a different computer another time. The second form is an internal capture card that plugs into a computer’s PCI express slot. This option offers the lowest latency response when recording or streaming, but you lose the flexibility and movability of a USB capture card.
With a capture card set up on your computer, you can now plug the video streaming device into the input on your capture card and the TV or monitor to the output of the capture card with an HDMI cable.
The setup might look like this:
Because you want two video inputs to stream or record at the same time, you need software that will allow us to overlay the video of our participants on top of the video game or TV app they are using. There are many software programs out there that can do this. We’ve used the open-source app OBS Studio with success.
Note: a capture card alone won’t let you bypass the DRM protection that are on apps like Netflix or Hulu.
Once all the complication of the tech setup is complete, remember that this is still only a small part of running a usability test. The role the facilitator plays, the setting of the testing room, and the quality of the tasks assigned all need to be given the same amount of consideration as the recording quality if you want your recordings to reveal useful insights when you look back at them.
For a consultation on how to run your own usability test from start to finish, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.