One of the primary purposes of home computers has always been content creation. Some of the first useful function were writing, page layout, and image editing. Uses for home computers continually expanded with the introduction of new technologies and new media formats. Today, a home PC can be used for editing digital photos, compiling videos, recording podcasts, and even recording and mixing music. You don’t need to have a workstation class PC (although the horsepower of a discrete video card will go a long way when working with video), but with a few upgrades you can transform your PC (or laptop) into a content creation powerhouse.
Equipment I use to create blog and video content
I’ve been writing for the Best Buy Canada blog since 2012; I have also created content for numerous other publications. During that time, I’ve made many adjustments to my computer setup to reflect the content creation side of things. I mainly use a MacBook Air for writing, but I connect it to a 27-inch iMac which I use as an external monitor*. It offers a much bigger display with higher (2560 x 1440) resolution. The iMac is also used for video and photo editing, leveraging its Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and Nvidia GeForce video card. Audio output is via a receiver connected to a pair of speakers. I switch between my iPhone and a Sony camera for shooting video. And when recording voiceovers for blog videos, I plug in an external microphone (Here is an example of one the videos I created for Best Buy).
In other words, I started with off-the-shelf consumer computer(s) and with a few add-ons turned them into what I need to create quality content for Best Buy and the other outlets I contribute to.
Invest in a good monitor
If you’re using a laptop, the built-in display is small, likely 15-inches or less. If your PC came with a monitor, it’s probably a reasonable size, but with middling resolution (1080p) and just average colour reproduction.
It doesn’t matter what kind of content creation you’re doing, you’ll benefit from a large, ultra high resolution 4K monitor. You can have more content onscreen, there’s no squinting, and everything will be razor sharp. If you work with images or video, you’ll want to take the extra step of investing in a monitor with wide colour gamut. Ideally you want the full sRGB spectrum (plus the AdobeRGB spectrum if you are involved in print publishing). You’ll want the ability to calibrate the colours on that monitor as well. You may also want to consider a monitor with a display that can rotate, making it easier to switch between working in portrait and landscape mode.
Use external speakers
The built-in speaker in even the best laptop or computer monitor will pale in comparison to the audio even a basic set of external computer speakers will output.
If you plan to use your computer for any content creation that involves audio—especially music recording and mixing—computer speakers are a must-have at a bare minimum. Alternately, you could invest in a good set of headphones.
Don’t rely on your webcam for quality video creation
The webcam built into you laptop or all-in-one is perfectly fine for Skyping friends and family. For vlogging or shooting video, it may be tempting to use the webcam—it’s “free” since it’s already there—but that would be a mistake.
Instead, consider your smartphone, which will almost always offer higher resolution video in addition to more flexibility in positioning. For high quality video shooting, you’ll want to look at something more advanced, like a camcorder or camera with advanced video shooting capabilities. Justin Morrison has some suggestions for cameras that shoot great video. NOTE: for most video platforms (e.g., YouTube), shoot only in landscape orientation for best results.
Upgrade to an external microphone
Your computer probably came with a built-in microphone—especially if it’s a laptop or all-in-one PC. One thing I quickly learned when the Best Buy blog first started posting videos is that the built-in microphone is not up to the challenge. It’s fine for the occasional chat, but it will fall flat if you’re recording a podcast or doing video voiceovers. Built-in microphones are in a fixed location, they are part of a computer that generates noise and vibration, and they’re designed for general use. The audio recorded by my computer’s built-in mic was thin, background noise was picked up as easily as my voice, and there was a noticeable hum whenever the computer fan or hard drive spun up.
An external USB computer microphone offers many advantages. First, the microphone itself is superior quality. The position can be adjusted for comfortable speaking. And it’s not physically connected to the PC (other than the cable), so you can limit or eliminate background hum from your recordings. My first external mic was a Blue SnowBall iCE, which worked quite well. But I’ve since upgraded to a higher quality mic that offers better audio capture with dual condenser capsules and switchable pickup patterns.
An external sound card
If you are working with audio, especially recording or mixing music, you might want to consider an external sound card. These usually connect to the computer via USB, and include an onboard DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) that will be higher quality than the versions most computers and laptops come equipped with. Sound coming out of the computer will be superior (lower distortion, higher volume and wider frequency range) so music will sound better, but an external audio card with inputs also lets you record audio at a higher quality.
Upgrade your RAM and storage
Adding RAM means you can keep more applications open, keep more browser tabs open, and RAM-hungry apps like video editors will run more smoothly.
Multimedia projects can result in huge files. So upgrading your storage to SSD (solid state) will result in much faster saving and loading. Go with an external SSD and you get additional storage capacity on top of what your computer already has, faster access, and the ability to unplug and put it in your pocket for easy use at another location.
* Why do I use an iMac as a monitor? Recent models don’t support this feature, but Target Display Mode lets you connect a Mac laptop to a compatible iMac and either use the iMac as the laptop’s display, or as a second display. I prefer to write on a laptop so I can unplug it and go at a moment’s notice. My house uses Apple TVs and an iTunes media library for video streaming, so the iMac is running at all times as a media server. When I’m working, it’s still doing its primary job, but I’m using its display as an external monitor. And I have the iMac’s horsepower available whenever I need to work with video.
We’ve put together a series of posts this month showing ways you can transform your computer. Steven Hill’s posted on how to speed up your old PC, Chris Loblaw has tips on making any computer run faster, Jacob McCourt has suggestions for accessorizing your PC to boost productivity, and I recently laid out my ideas for how you can transform your computer into an entertainment powerhouse.
Let us know in the comments if you have any questions related to creating content on a computer that we can help with.