Jeff Alexander's Weblog

Technical Evangelist - Windows Infrastructure

Screencasts: Tools of the Trade

Screencasts: Tools of the Trade

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vista skus

Well as a lot of you know I've been doing a fair few Screencasts on Windows Vista lately.  So I thought it was time to give you some guidance about how I have been producing these and what tools I've been using.  First of all thanks to Chuck for providing a great document to get us all started! So what I wanted to do is give you a bit of glimpse of the hardware needed then go into the software I use and finally the steps I use to get from recording to final production.

Hardware

Laptop

Toshiba Tecra A7 with 2GB of RAM - It's good to have a bit of grunt when doing Screencasts because you have to have a bit of software running to record with which I will go into later.

Headset

I needed to get a good digital headset because I've been recording a lot of Podcasts as well.  I ended up going with a Plantronics DSP 400 Foldable PC Headset.  What I like about it is its light; it folds up nicely in your bag; it's digital and in plugs in via USB.  You can get these at most places like Harvey Norman or other electronics retailers in Australia.

Webcam

I also have a Microsoft Lifecam VX-6000 which I can use if I need to record anything other than the screen.  I guess I could do an introduction like my mate Hugo does but I haven't done this yet!  Kleefy and I mainly use them for conference calls instead of using the phone.  Any webcam will do but hey I'm going to plug our stuff when I get the chance.

Software

Windows Vista - Of course I'm running Windows Vista Ultimate with all the demo's I need to do each Screencast.  Now it took a bit of doing and some experimenting with different bits of software to get all this working.  And I had to set this up for Podcasting and doing Screencasts.  So what I might do is go throught the Podcasting software first and then what I use to Screencasts

Podcasting

For creating Podcasts there are heaps of applications out there to do this.  I use Audacity which is a free tool that is quite easy to use.  Below is a screenshot.audacity  When it comes time to record I record 10 seconds of room silence at the beginning because this allows you to factor in some editing.  I also take advantage of pause button quite a bit because it allows you to edit more easily.  There is a good article on CNET that goes through the whole process of Podcasting.  And if you want to snazz up you podcast then head over to Flashkit for some really cool sound loops that you can add to podcasts or screencasts. 

After the recording is done then I save the project and then export it as a .WAV file.  Thats all I do because most of the Podcasts I've been doing have been going in post production at Microsoft in Redmond.  I'll post more on what that's all about soon...

Screencasting

We've called this many terms such as "Blogcast" but "Screencast" seems to be sticking.  Think of it simply as a "mini" webcast.  So this is where I spent the most time getting the software to work under Windows Vista.  Mainly this was do to the fact that I was running all different betas of Vista.  Now that RTM is here things are settling down.  So on to the process.

  1. Early on I wanted to see if I could do this all with free or software we had an internal license to and see what the results were like. So the obvious first place to start was with Windows Media Encoder but that had issues with beta's of Windows Vista. This has been fixed now and works fine on the RTM version of Vista.  So early on I started to use a tool we use internally called HypercamhypercamYou can download a trial but you have to purchase the full version for $39.95 US.  It's not bad and I did my first couple using this.  It outputs to .AVI files which can get quite big so I use Windows Media Encoder to convert the file to .WMV format.  This can take a 250MB AVI down to around 30-40MB without any perception of a loss in quality.  The next step after I had this in .WMV format was to use Windows Movie Maker that comes native in Windows Vista.  I used Movie Maker because it was simple and of course free. 
  2. The next step was to creat a PowerPoint template with 3 slides to frame each Screencast.  I created a title slide; a more information slide and the Windows Vista logo as the last slide.  I then saved the deck as a .JPEG so that I could import into Windows Movie Maker. In PowerPoint this is one of the Save As options which is quite useful.
  3. I then imported the JPEG slides into Windows Movie Maker and the video file and arranged them in the right order on the storyboard.  The picture below gives you an idea.movie maker 1
  4.  Once I was happy with any transitions and effects it was time to publish the movie.  The options I chose were for playback on the computer and best quality.  Since the file was a decent size already  there was no reason to compress it down any further and I want to have a decent quality for people to watch.
  5. Once the file was fully encoded it's time to post it to our web server.  And thanks to the boys over at WebCentral for providing us some space to do that!  I use FTP to upload the file as I find it works the best.

Now that was some of the stuff I did in the beginning which really is a bit complicated.  These days as I want to do quite a bit of these I don't want to spend a lot of time creating the screencasts.  For the latest one I've done which I will post soon I used Camtasia Studio v.4.01 which is an incredibly powerful tool for doing this.  It not only includes the ability to capture the screen but you can capture PowerPoint and a Webcam if you have one setup. This version works on Windows Vista and is in Beta right now.  You can download a 30 Day Trial of this here.   To find out more about this product and others go to Techsmith's website.  To me this software is like Windows Movie Maker on steroids.camtasia

As you can see you can record the screen and it has a storyboard interface like Windows Movie Maker.  However I still use Windows Movie Maker to get the files into .WMV format.  Camtasia saves in AVI which is still quite large.

My mate Hugo uses this along with quite a few internal folks so I'm going to be having a good go at using this one!

So what will I use in the future?  Well I haven't used Windows Media Encoder as of yet for a Screencast.  I'm going to see how the quality compares to using Camtasia.  It's always a balance between quality and the size of the file.

In the end this is my experience on creating Screencasts and is by no means the definitive guide.  It's just my experience.  The weirdest thing is locking yourself in a room and talking to noyone.  As I do more I'm getting used to it.

So more of these will be coming up and I plan on creating an Index style post with links to all past Screencasts.

I hope this was useful to you!

Cheers, Jeffa

 

Comments
  • Our local technical gurus Jeffa and Kleefy have been busy making some handy little screencasts for everyone.

  • Jeff Alexander has been busy preparing Windows Vista Screencasts . He has posted a bunch so far: Windows

  • Can you point me please to the Vista driver for the web cam?

  • I think "blogcast" is working just fine.. LOL! Great post Jeff!

  • Thanks dude, answered my questions perfectly.

  • Yes today is finally the day! Today I'm being interviewed by Nick Hodge who is our new Enthusiast Evangelist

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