Recording the matches you play, with the aim of transcribing them for later analysis, is a growing phenomenon. Ultimately we can all have a good day or a bad day at a tournament and believe we were hard done by, but the true measure of playing well (and learning to play even better) is a dispassionate reckoning by the bots! It’s been some time since I first saw people attempting to make recordings, with quite elaborate constructions to hold up large camcorders. However, advances in camera technology and a bit of inventiveness have brought a decent quality recording within reach of most players. Here’s how I did it.
What you need
First of all, pick your camera. There are a number available but I went for the Akaso EK7000 – a reasonably inexpensive one at £60, and coming with a wide range of simple fittings and accessories. It’s really lightweight at just 30 grams, which means it doesn’t need a heavy-duty support (and it doesn’t weigh me down when I travel about on the train with my board!)
These are intended for mounting the camera on car dashboards, cycle helmets, tripods and various other places, and a watertight shell (should you ever fancy underwater backgammon). There’s also a wrist strap for switching it on and off remotely, which I haven’t yet tried. I picked out the cradle with a standard camera mount and the dashboard base, and then just needed something to raise the camera to the right height…
… a job done admirably by a £3 telescopic selfie-stick. It has the same standard screw mountings at each end so you attach it in between the camera cradle and base.
If you were using the camera in a car you could use the sticky underside of the base to keep it in place. Backgammon venues tend not to like you sticking things to the tables, however, so I needed something to play the part of the table. Enter part three, a £1 value clipboard from my local Tesco:
The camera base mounts on the clipboard, either using its stickiness, or – to make packing away easier – the clip, and then the clipboard can slide under my board and the weight of the board holds it in place. It’s then just a matter of tweaking the position until you have a clear view of the board and any accessories such as a clock, scoreboard, or written notes of the score. I made a few trial recordings and found I could be really quite generous with including space around the board in shot, and still get a very clear view of dice and checkers.
You can download a small sample here. It’s in .MOV format so won’t display in a browser, but it’s easy to convert to .MP4 with free software. As you can see, the board is perfectly clear – when I’m not leaning over it.
Tips for recording
The battery in the camera itself isn’t particularly beefy – at 1050 mAh it can record for about 75 minutes, which may not be long enough for a decent length match. It can easily be hooked up to an external battery pack which will increase the recording time proportionally to the available charge. Alternatively, if the camera is wired up to your laptop’s USB port so that you can preview everything, it will draw power from the laptop. The Akaso has a spare battery which you can swap in in seconds, but you don’t really want to have the distraction of thinking how long it might have left when you want to be playing!
The camera’s memory is also a bit on the meagre side, but you can add a micro USB card to increase it. Downloading matches from the camera to a laptop is also pretty easy and quick enough to be done between tournament rounds, so you don’t need much more storage than to accommodate your longest match. Turn the resolution settings to their lowest in order to save space – it’s still perfectly good quality.
To make the recording as easy to transcribe as possible, find a reasonably light spot but not with a bright light causing too much glare. Glare can be more of a problem if you use a tablet or phone app to keep score on, if there’s a strong reflection from the surface. Next, choose dice with good colour contrast. I have a number of precision dice and I found my dark blue and pink ones are easier to read than my orange ones; experiment a bit and see what suits you best. Finally, when transcribing, I find it helps to set my copy of XG to the same colour scheme and orientation as my board – it saves a lot of mental effort if you can have video and XG side by side looking as similar as possible!