I’ve recently found myself in need of assembling a screencast to demo CMS technology. This is something I’ve never done before. Obviously the first step into the arena was to find a tool for the job. The options I considered were CamStudio (free) , Camtasia Studio ($300) from TechSmith, and Expression Encoder 4 Screen Capture (EESC). Until it was too late, I had overlooked Fraps – which I believe works with Windows 7 when Aero is enabled; I don’t know if it would have been a proper choice.
That said, being the frugal type, I started with CamStudio and proceeded directly to install the beta 2.6b release. Overall an excellent tool for my needs and I found it comfortable to work with. Nevertheless, the experience was flawed as the screencasts it captured had AV synchronization issues that grew with each minute of capture time. In the first minute of recording, my voice was off from the video by perhaps a half second. By the time my recording had extended to twenty minutes, the audio was off by ~4 seconds.
Before I jumped on the Camtasia band-wagon, I wanted to try one more “free” option. Expression Encoder Screen Capture would cost me nothing, except that the free version is limited to 10 minutes of capture time. But no worries, I decided to take advantage of my BizSpark MSDN subscription which offers the Expression Encoder suite. The range of compression options were far more comprehensive than CamStudio, and easily understood despite the fact that I am not an encoding techie.
I did have a couple of issues with the tool. First, I could not get the zoom feature to work. Installing the SP1 fixed that problem. But then I ran into another bug where I was limited to 10 minutes of record time, despite having a full license for the product. I then installed SP2 which fixed that problem. Unfortunately SP2 also eliminated the screen zoom feature; Evidently there are defects associated with screen zoom on Windows x64 platforms that still must be ironed out. Fortunately, the built-in windows zoom feature was still usable, so I fell back on that.
Those issues aside, it does seem that EESC is up to the task. So I moved on to consider other issues, such as my microphone arrangement. The mic built into my webcam works and is usable, but it hasn’t enough “pick up” to give my voice an appropriate volume. I then tried a head set, which solved my volume issue but created an “aspiration” issue; the sound of my breathing became a problem. Finally, to my surprise, the best free mic for the job was the one built-in on my Dell laptop.
As I progressed through recording and editing sessions, I discovered Expression Encoder is a bit on the buggy or raw side. Fortunately determination got me around the issues. I never did finally try Camtasia.
I also discovered that first-time screen casting is a time intensive affair. I was spending perhaps an hour for every five minutes of recorded time. Phew! I’d like to think I the techniques I developed now would accelerate future attempts.
Ultimately it is not my goal to become a professional screen-caster. But if I were to do more of this work, I would invest in a proper microphone. Though the built-in mic on my Dell was good, it required my face be too close to the screen. I’m far-sighted, so it made watching my on-screen activities and voice-recording a bit of a battle.