Screencasting Solutions

Adobe Captivate 6

What is screencasting and why should I care?

Screencasting refers to recording and publishing desktop activity on your computer.  What used to be screen capturing (a screenshot of a desktop, or part of it) has evolved to include full motion video of desktop activity. Screencasts can be enhanced in various ways, including the addition of callouts and graphics, other images, video, and audio. Screencasting software is great for anyone who wants to create online tutorials, and especially for demonstrations of software.

There are several options for screen capturing and screencasting software, some of which are free (for example, check out Jing from Techsmith).

To do more advanced techniques, such as editing your screencasts or adding interactivity, you will probably have to pay something. Here are a few good options that aren’t free but may be affordable, depending on your budget:

On the Macintosh platform, Screenflow is an excellent screencasting program. I have it, and have found it to be easy to use yet has excellent features and produces high-quality results — it is especially good for for full-motion video. MacWorld published a very favorable review of the latest version, Screenflow 3.

I’ve used Camtasia for Mac version 1, which I didn’t think was as good as Screenflow. However there is a new version of Camtasia for Mac which I haven’t yet used.

On the Windows platform, there are two strong contenders:  Adobe Captivate (Education version, $299) and Techsmith’s Camtasia Studio (Education version, $179).

The new version of Adobe Captivate (6) is cross-platform, and has more options for exporting than it did before. Previous versions of Captivate used Flash for Web output, which doesn’t play on Apple mobile devices and has become problematic. But Captivate 6 now supports HTML 5 output, and numerous export options for mobile devices. I haven’t used Captivate 6.  I’ve found previous versions of Captivate to be usable but a little clunky and buggy at times, but many of these issues may have been resolved with the new version.

Captivate has several desirable features, including the ability to easily import a Powerpoint slide show then edit and enhance it.  Captivate has many options for creating sophisticated interactivity, including quizzes and branching based on user input.  Previous versions of Captivate have not been backward-compatible. However I was able to import a Captivate 4 file into the trial version of Captivate 6 (this doesn’t mean that the saved version 6 file could be opened in prior versions, however).

Camtasia Studio for Windows (http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.html)  has an excellent reputation, and is available in a new version (8).  It is a Windows-only product (it is not the same program as Camtasia for Macintosh).  The strong suit of Camtasia Studio is its support of full-motion video and superior video editing capabilites.  Camtasia is great for software tutorials and has been used by many people doing software usability studies.

So what is the best program to buy?  For my purposes (most of the time) on the Mac platform, I have been very happy with Screenflow and its strong full-motion video and video editing features.  For Windows, I can’t be too confident in making a recommendation since I haven’t used the current versions of either Adobe Captivate (version 6) or Camtasia Studio (version 8).  However if you require the ability to do interactive quizzing or need a cross-platform solution, Captivate is likely to meet your needs. If you want the best video support, Camtasia Studio is hard to beat.

If you have any experience with screencasting tools that you would like to share, please let me know! (Or click on “Leave a comment” at the top of this post.)

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