TechSmith sponsors STL ALT.NET

Creating technical tutorial videos is no trivial task.  It involves a great deal of preparation, recording time, editing time, and uploading time.  While recording, a given portion of a presentation may be recorded multiple times (or dozens, on particularly bad days) because of verbal gaffs, background noise, inaccuracies, technical problems, etc.  So like most things in life, if there is a tool that can can help make the processes easier, it is usually well worth the investment.

Camtasia Studio (by TechSmith) is widely recognized as a premium screen capture, presentation, and video editing product.  TechSmith has graciously donated a license of Camtasia Studio to STL ALT.NET for presentation purposes, and in return I’d like to talk about some of the really helpful features that I use to record screencasts that are hosted on the group Vimeo site.

Camtasia Studio, by TechSmith

When I record a presentation I like to try and divide it up into logical chucks that will be recorded separately.  Dividing a presentation in this manner has a few advantages.  First, committing to a five- or ten-minute segment is much easier for busy schedules, mental state, and vocal chords than trying to plow through a one- or two-hour presentation in a single recording session.  Second, any blunders made during a short presentation segment are easy to correct (just re-record the segment), and require much less editing after recording is complete.  Finally, if the presentation segments can stand on their own, they may be re-arranged during the editing period, if reordering them makes the presentation more meaningful.  Camtasia makes this very simple, as all screen captures that get recorded become part of a project’s media library.  Each clip can then be placed on Camtasia’s project timeline in whatever order makes sense while editing.

Camtasia clip library

Actually recording a presentation in Camtasia is a snap.  When “Record the screen” is selected from the studio interface, a small option bar appears with all the options that can be configured prior to recording.  Like most presentation software, Camtasia lets you record the entire screen or a custom region.  It also has the ability to integrate with any attached webcams, or additional recording devices (like a professional microphone) and lets you tweak settings for each hardware device.

Recording PowerPoint presentations is such a common task that Camtasia allows users to run and capture a presentation from within PowerPoint itself, eliminating the need to fire up the Camtasia interface at all.  Since I’ve used PowerPoint in some manner for most of my STL ALT.NET presentations, this feature was quite handy when it came time to record them.

When I am actually recording, it is often helpful to call out particular portions of the screen to draw the viewer’s attention to specific content.  There are several tools in Camtasia that help facilitate this, but the one I found most helpful was the outline tool.  With a simple keystroke I was able to turn my cursor into a drawing tool and outline a particular part of the presentation with a nice lime green box, indicating the relative importance of the content I was talking about.

Camtasia screen highlight

After the recording phase, Camtasia also attempts to analyze the clips in your library for special “keyframes” — points in the video where the movement of the cursor or position of windows might indicate that particular content is more important — and it will attempt to “zoom in” on those regions of the screen to make viewing easier.  When clips are placed on the timeline, these keyframes are visible as blue diamonds above each clip.  While Camtasia attempts to add these automatically, it is often necessary to add keyframes manually as well.  At first I thought Camtasia was overly aggressive about adding keyframes to my clips, but then I realized that I was overly aggressive about moving my mouse around the screen, as if my mouse pointer replaced “hand gestures” during my presentation, and Camtasia interpreted this movement as an indication that I wanted the program to zoom to where my mouse pointer was flailing about.

Camtasia keyframes

Camtasia zoom

Another thing that I was particularly happy about is that Camtasia makes it painless to include other video content as part of a project.  In the STL ALT.NET videos, I use small intro and outro sequences that were rendered on another video editing product, and I wanted to make sure I could reuse those clips in future presentations.  By adding the clip to Camtasia’s library (drag-and-drop, or using the import feature), I was able to add it to the timeline like any other clip recorded by Camtasia.  There are a number of built-in clip transitions, such as fade, slide, flip, etc. that make it easier to place dissimilar clips side-by-side, and in this case I was able to use fade to great effect.

STL ALT.NET intro

After I finished editing my presentation, Camtasia game me several options for generating the final video output.  Camtasia can render to pretty much all devices sizes, in all major media codecs, for all normal viewing purposes (YouTube video, HD video, iPad or iPhone video, etc.).  Since the STL ALT.NET Vimeo account uses HD video I went ahead and chose HD settings and let Camtasia render the final presentation.  It compressed a presentation that was 1.5 hours long, at a 1280×720 HD resolution, into just shy of 200MB, which is pretty damn impressive.

Of all the great things that Camtasia does, the one thing that matters most to me is: it makes my life easier.  Recording technical presentations is a way that I can contribute to the development community in St. Louis, and using a product that makes that processes fluid and seamless helps me, and in turn, helps everyone who benefits from these presentations.  Camtasia is a solid product, and TechSmith a generous company for donating a copy to STL ALT.NET!

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