“Screencasting” refers to the recording and distribution of your computer in action. In other words, while using your computer you record the session as a video. You can simultaneously record audio narration or add audio later. When you’re all finished, you can distribute your “screencast” online. Read on to begin your screencasting journey.
What is the purpose of screencasting?
Screencasting is usually used to demonstrate the use of a software application, but can also be used to demonstrate techniques and workflow on a computer. For example, there are screencasts about using Photoshop and there are screencasts about digital painting (which incorporate the use of Photoshop). Screencasting has even been used to make music videos. For web designers and graphic designers, screencasting is also an innovative way to make an audio-video demo reel of your work. You can navigate through projects you’ve created and either narrate or set the entire video to music.
What do you need to start screencasting?
It may be obvious, but you are the most important tool in screencasting. If you plan ahead, practice, and even write a script, you will find that your screencasts will be more professional and more engaging. That is not to say that you should never flub a line or make a mistake. On the contrary, a little human error can make your presentation more endearing. However, you want your content to be easy to follow and succinct.
Your computer needs to be fast enough to record itself in action. Most modern computers are up to the task. I recommend that you have at least 1 GB of memory for screencasting, and even more if possible. I also recommend that you have a secondary hard drive (it can be an external USB or Firewire drive) for recording the video. That way, your presentation is less likely to become bogged down by the recording process as it runs in the background. If you are familiar with video editing, a lot of the same system resource concerns apply.
3. Microphone, Speakers and Audio Ports
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If you want to record audio (either simultaneously or later on) with your screencast, you need a good quality microphone. You should also have decent speakers or headphones to check your sound quality. On some computers, the built-in audio ports will be adequate but on others, you may need to connect an external audio processing device. If you have recorded any musical instruments with your computer, you may already be familar with simple products such as MAudio FastTrack USB, GuitarSnake, or Alesis M1 Active320. These products take the load off your computer’s CPU to allow for glitch-free audio recording. When you use an external audio interface that has both an input and an audio output, you will be more likely to eliminate a lot of the delay that occurs with simultaneous record/playback of audio through traditional analog audio ports. Obviously, if you record your voice and want to hear yourself in real time, use headphones instead of speakers - or else your voice through the speakers will also get recorded.
Some analog microphones simply do not work well with computers despite their marketing claims. You are better off using a true USB microphone or else an analog microphone connected through an external USB audio interface device like the ones listed above. USB processing interfaces usually have the proper pre-amplifier circuitry to initially enhance the analog microphone signal to a level that is adequate for your computer without excessive hiss and noise.
4. Screencasting Software
There are lots of different methods for screencasting. Some people simply set up a video camera and tape their computer monitors. Others output their computer’s video directly to a video recorder. However, perhaps the easiest method is to get your computer to record itself with screencasting software. That way, your video is already in digital form on your computer and ready for further editing or immediate distribution online. Great packages at all price levels (including free) are available for both Windows and Mac users. Here is a sampling of what is available:
Screenflow by Telestream is a Mac application (requires Leopard) that is currently $99 US. A trial version is also available.
Camtasia by TechSmith is a Windows application (requires XP or Vista) that is currently $299 US. A trial version is also available.
iShowU from Shinywhitebox is a Mac application that comes in versions for both Mac OS X Tiger and Mac OS X Leopard with the base level version currently priced at $20 US. Trial versions are also available.
Snapz Pro X
Snapz Pro X from Ambrosia Software is a Mac application that is currently priced at $69 US. A trial version is also available.
Camstudio is a free Windows application. It can output AVI and Flash movies.
Captivate from Adobe is a Windows application and is currently priced at $799 US. A trial version is also available.
5. Video Editing
Some screencasters record everything in one fell swoop. Others record bits and pieces so that they can more easily edit their productions later. Its entirely up to you. Note that while some screencasting software applications include basic video editing features, others do not. Regardless, traditional video editing software can be used for editing a screencast just like any other clip of video. I prefer the Sony Vegas family of video editors for Windows and Final Cut/Final Cut Express on the Mac. You can also get good results with Apple’s iMovie, Adobe Premiere, Pinnacle Studio, Avid Xpress, Ulead VideoStudio, and Microsoft’s Windows Movie Maker. Video editing applications for Linux include Cinelerra, Jahshaka, and Kino. Keep in mind that depending on the video editing program you use, you may need other software to convert your final video to a format that is suitable for online distribution or inclusion in a website.
6. Streaming and Video Players Online
There are a few different ways to get your screencast online. You can simply allow downloads of the entire video file itself (AVI or QuickTime format is best) or else you can “stream” the video inside a video player on a web page. To embed a video player in your own website, you can upload your video to YouTube and then embed a YouTube player on your web page that points to your video automatically. You can also try other services like Vimeo or Viddler that may provide better image quality. You can also embed an Adobe Flash video player and stream your own video depending on the capabilities of your web server.
Are you a screencaster? Please share your tips, experiences and tools of the trade.
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