For many gamers, the go-to application for performance benchmarking, screenshot capturing and also video recording has always been FRAPS. But if there’s one major thing FRAPS is lacking, it’s competition, something that might end with PlayClaw. This program offers many of FRAPS’ features, along with a couple of unique ones as well.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t even heard of PlayClaw, and even after reading the developer’s website, I admit that I remained skeptical. Part of the reason might have been the fact that I’ve been craving better FRAPS video recording performance for a while, so I didn’t want to jump the gun and assume that the program was going to give me a night and day difference. But, after testing the application for just about two weeks, that skepticism has all but vanished.
The first time I tried the video record feature out, I was playing a game I posted a review for just last week, Bizzare Creations’ Blur. After I pressed the hotkey, I had assumed the program wasn’t working, because there was simply no noticeable lag, which as far as FRAPS goes, is unusual. I immediately exited the game, and sure enough, that fifteen second or so video file was sitting on the desktop. So, I hopped back into the game and recorded a much longer one, and again, the fact that PlayClaw was recording wasn’t even noticeable.
I can’t state this enough, because while FRAPS normally gives me a very noticeable reaction to hitting that record hotkey, it was as seamless as could be with PlayClaw. That’s not to say there will never be lag when recording video with PlayClaw, because that’s far from the truth, and again based largely on your system’s specs. But as an example of how seamless it can be, I accidentally hit the record hotkey while playing Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction last week, and didn’t even realize until I exited the game and had Windows tell me that a hard drive was low on disk space. No joke… the SSD I was outputting video to was full thanks to the 60GB lossless .AVI file I didn’t even mean to record!
An interesting thing I discovered about both PlayClaw and FRAPS is that they both have the ability to output lossless files that scale to the ability of your storage device. For example, when I recorded a video straight to my OS mechanical hard drive with PlayClaw, the 1m 17s of gameplay resulted in a 6.39GB file, and a bitrate of 711,436 Kbit/s. At that rate, one second of video equaled 83MB. But, when I ran an almost identical recording to an SSD capable of much higher write speeds, the resulting 1m 16s clip weighed in at 12.7GB, with a bitrate of… prepare for it… 1,428,382 Kbit/s. That averaged out to be 167MB per one second of video.
Even as a lossless file, that kind of bitrate seems a little bit like overkill. Bear in mind that Blu-ray movies usually top-out at around 40Mbit/s, and what we’re dealing with here is 1.4Gbit/s! Something I also discovered is that even at similar bitrates, PlayClaw’s resulting file always weighs far more… even as much as 2x. I’m not sure if this is due to an inefficiency in the codec or not, but I’m in the process of awaiting for a response to find out.
Before I sat down to give PlayClaw a more serious test, comparing it directly to FRAPS, I used it across multiple games and was left with quite a good impression. The program isn’t perfect, and I’ll get to why in a minute, but compared to FRAPS, my personal experience is that PlayClaw does a far better job at recording in-game video. As I mentioned, I even accidentally recorded game footage by accident, and it took me to actually exit the game before I could tell. If that’s not seamless, I’m not sure what is.
(To view a higher quality version, go to the respective video page at YouTube)
The video above is one that I created in a rather quick manner, so it's not perfect. It compares recording Blur with both PlayClaw and FRAPS, with and without lossless compression. I'm not entirely happy with the video, because it doesn't quite show the extent of how much more seamless recording is with PlayClaw, but it will have to do for now. For example, when I was recording with FRAPS, especially with the lossless option, I felt an immediate slow down, but that's difficult to tell in the video for some reason. I should also note that strangely enough, the recording with FRAPS in the video reflects the best experience I've had in a while with the program, as even earlier in the day in some test runs, the lag was horrendous. It's as if the program was just begging me to give it a second chance!
That aside, and as odd as it is, I even find screenshots to be easier to take with PlayClaw than FRAPS. The reason, and I'm sure I'm not alone here, is that on occasion with FRAPS, and when using high resolutions (almost always 1920x1200 for me), hitting the screenshot hotkey can sometimes lag the game for a moment. I've had this issue with FRAPS across different titles, but most recently with Modern Warfare 2. I am unsure of the reason simply taking a screenshot could cause this, but that's how it is with FRAPS and how it isn't with PlayClaw. Throughout my testing, I took at least two hundred screenshots with PlayClaw, and never had an instance where the game lagged as a result. But to be fair, I've been using FRAPS for years, and PlayClaw for two weeks, so if there is potential for slowdown with the latter, I'm sure I'll discover it in the weeks ahead.
But as it stands, that's the thing I appreciate most about PlayClaw... the fact that its features are not that noticeable while using them. With FRAPS, using Blur once again as an example, as soon as I hit the record button, the game immediately slows down. In some cases, it's not that harsh of an effect, but even a 5 - 10% degradation in speed is hard to ignore, and it makes actually playing the game more difficult. In the second FRAPS run shown in the video above, there's a part where lag crept up and actually sent me towards the side, causing me to run into a mine.
PlayClaw isn't devoid of its own issues, though. The most important one to mention is overall stability. While good overall, it isn't quite as stable as FRAPS, which has the knack of working well in almost every game I've used it in. In fact, I can't recall a single title in recent memory where that wasn't the case. With PlayClaw, there are a couple games I played through where instabilities would arise unexpectedly, but nothing was 100%, and nothing could be replicated that easily.
One game in particular I had trouble with was Just Cause 2. Here, the game crashed most often after I ended a recording, so while the video would remain in tact, the game would crash. This is the only game that I found I had a real problem with, but I've been told that this kind of issue is being actively monitored and will be patched up as solutions are discovered. I should note that this problem only had to do with the video recording... the image snapshots in that game didn't affect the stability of the game.
Changing the resolution while in a game can also cause it to crash as a result of PlayClaw's monitoring, but this is more of a minor issue since many people don't generally change their resolutions after setting it initially. It is a problem nonetheless, however. The last notable problem I encountered had to do with recording games that require compatibility mode to run. This also isn't going to be a major issue for most people, but it's worth noting that I have never encountered the same problem with FRAPS.