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Recording Screencasts

I am often asked about details related to recording screencasts, so here goes.

Software

I use Snapz Pro X to record the movies. It’s a little pricey ($69) but I have tried several of the alternatives, and none of them gave me a result as good as Snapz Pro X.

If you do a lot of key presses in your screencast then you may find KeyCastr useful. It is an Apple-style keystroke visualizer.

Hardware

For the audio I am using a Logitech (USB) desktop microphone. It works great, but I would prefer a headset since I occasionally move around while recording and this can change the volume of my voice. If anyone has headset recommendations, please add them to the comments.

One thing to check is the Input Volume for your device in System Preferences → Sound. I found that if I have Auto mic input gain enabled in Snapz Pro X (the default) then it will set my Input Volume to 50% when I start recording. So definitely check if this setting has the same effect on your system!

Setup

I have created a user account specifically for recording screencasts. The resolution for this is 800×600 so that I can record the full screen and get a decently sized movie without panning around or having to scale the result (and get a blurry movie).

Recording

Normally I first go through the stuff I want to show without recording it, just talking to myself. This gives me a feel for where trouble will arise and which things I need to prepare better or be sure to have memorized.

It isn’t easy to do them as one-take though, and sometimes I have to start over or cut them short — if I did more of them, I’d invest the time to learn a video editing program so that I could edit the videos after having recorded them, perhaps even record the soundtrack after having recorded the actual video and also skip boring parts in editing.

But for now, I think the time it takes me to get them right as a one-take is still shorter than having to stitch together multiple recordings and/or add a soundtrack in editing.

Post-processing

When done recording I save the file with the Animation codec, millions of colors, and highest quality. Basically I want loss-less, but I think this option is what gets the closest. Be sure to also enable audio when saving.

I use QuickTime Pro ($29.99 from the Apple store) to export it using the H.264 codec, frame rate set to 10 and quality set to high.

For the audio part I use 64 kbps AAC. The audio part of your recording is actually larger than one would think (a 10 minute movie with 128 kbps audio uses 9 MB for the soundtrack alone) so be sure to use compression here.

A last option is the Prepare for Internet Streaming which you should set to Fast Start — this is what allows the movie to start playing before it has been fully downloaded.

categories General

26 Comments

Cheers for the info!

I’d say, spend half an hour with iMovie, and your set!

Humbly, Ylan

05 July 2007

by Stuart Rogers

iMovie’s unnecessary unless you want to do fancy transitions, which most screencasts don’t need. And if you don’t need them, then the hassle of converting to/from DV for iMovie just isn’t worth it. Snapz Pro X and QTPro is perfectly adequate.

I too could do with recommendations for a decent headset. But more so, I could do with a far better speaking voice! For those like me who find it their voiceovers sadly lacking, you can always keep quiet and add a text track in QTPro instead. I find they’re fiddly to set up, but otherwise straightforward to use.

05 July 2007

by Ryan Ballantyne

We use Plantronics USB headsets in a university ESL lab to administer speaking tests. The sets are comfortable, relatively durable (we should know, lab equipment gets a lot of abuse), and the audio quality for both input and output is good.

We also have a Logitech microphone for teachers to record instructional dialogs. It may or may not be the same one you use. I think the audio from the Plantronics sets is as good or better than that.

Not sure what they cost, sorry…

I recommend using Animation for the delivery codec. The trick is to bump the “key frame rate” way up. I set it to 1500. You will often end up with something much better than H.264 quality but still a low file size.

This only works well if there’s not a lot of movement on the screen, so keep scrolling and moving windows to a minimum.

For the mic I use the Samson C01U and for the screen capture I use iShowU. I’m very happy with both.

I’m a Snapz Pro guy too, make sure to get 2.1.0 – it recently went Universal Binary and Ambrosia didn’t do a great job telling the world about it.

I agree you probably want a headset – I ran into the same volume-level issues as you have. I’m using a Plantronics DSP-500 (which they don’t seem to sell anymore). A big plus is that doesn’t require any drivers, the big downside is finding the correct input volume level + boom placement is hard and its omnidirectional mic picks up things like mouse clicks.

05 July 2007

by joachimm

If you know before hand that it will be a one take having a normal fullscreen setup is great, but otherwise make sure to hide the clock.

Hey Allan – I’d be happy to teach you some After Effects basics, to help your post-processing, ahem… process :-)

06 July 2007

by Josh Kritner

I recently had to do quite a few videos for a client project and I absolutely love the Logitech USB 350 headset for audio recording. No drivers required and it does a pretty good job of filtering out background noise.

You can ususally find it online for $30-$35 US.

[…] TextMate Blog » Recording Screencasts Good advice for recording screencasts on the Mac (tags: osx mac screencast video macosx) Posted by jermolene Filed in Uncategorized […]

I have been using iShowU for a while and I like it. It is less expensive than SnapZ Pro X and seems to do everything that I want it to do. I would be interested in any comments anyone here may have about the differences between the 2 that you think are significant.

jb

Jeff: I did one of the Objective-C screencasts with iShowU and the mouse pointer for that one is lacking behind. This is quite irritating since you see menus magically open and a mouse pointer trying to catch up.

SPX initially failed on me when I did the last screencast so I got a chance to re-evaluate iShowU, and while there are a few new options related specifically to the mouse pointer, I couldn’t find the proper combination of settings that gave me a screencast recording I was happy with — i.e. the mouse was out of sync and/or frames were being skipped when I did fast window movements.

I’ve been making screencasts since SnapZ Pro was released. It is definitely better than iShow you - in my opinion. Here’s why. If you are testing them both then shoot the same video with both packages. Run Activity Monitor while you shoot and you will see why SnapZ pro is better.

Snapz will typically hover around 10-15% CPU usage (depending on what it’s capturing). iShowU you will jump and spike many times to 90% and more. If you have multiple cores then you’re probably ok with iShowU. If you’re recording something like Photoshop then you need as much horse power as possible. SnapZ Pro is the least intrusive - although you do have to wait for encoding time, unlike iShowU.

Also of note is the time it takes to encode a SnapZ Pro capture. If you have the RAM then a RAM disk is the ONLY way to go. Esperance DV - 2.3.2 is a great way to go for this. I record in small segments (so as to not fill up the RAM disk which I usually set to 500MB - I have 3 Gig of RAM) then simply use QT Player Pro to piece things together.

If you don’t have the RAM then use the AppleRaid that you have available (in Disk Utility). Get two 10K drives (or even 15K) and RAID 0 them for capture. It makes a world of difference for rendering the SnapZ Pro capture!

There are also a number of tweaks you can make to the snapz pro prefs file that can leave you with lossless animation where you get about 1-2MB per minute. The default prefs leave you with many hundred MB for even a few minutes of capture. This increases the time it takes to edit and encode. More bytes, more stuff to crunch. In the future I hope to fully document the myriad of things I’ve learned from doing videos full time for the past 5 years.

Oh the tip about using a RAM disk means you need the output folder to select from in SnapZ Pro. A little known secret is that SnapZ Pro does not let you select an arbitrary folder. It does, however, allow you to specify the Pictures folder in your Home folder.

The trick is to make a folder named “RamCapture” on your RAM disk. You then Command-Option drag your folder named “RamCapture” (yes, you’re creating an alias) into your ~/Pictures folder and you’ll now see this folder as an output option for SnapZ Pro. Cool eh!

[…] TextMate Blog » Recording Screencasts […]

It is my understanding that the Animation codec at 100% quality is lossless, so no worries there.

Cool set of notes. I use iShowU to record my smarticasts. It is only $20. If you do want to make screencasts, I do encourage you to buy a headset mic. They seem to work best. Another tip is to record short sequences with no sound, and then just annotate them later (I use Soundtrack for this)

Good luck!

[…] TextMate Blog - Recording Screencasts (tags: screencast tips howto software video tutorial record) […]

[…] How the Textmate guys record screencasts. […]

I’ve made a number of screencasts for my site, and one long video that’s bundled with my app. I find iShowU more than acceptable. I use a Logitech PS2 headset, which is just a USB headset endorsed by Sony for the PS2. Plug it in and the Mac just recognizes it.

For the long video (about 6 minutes) I edited the clips together with iMovie. That experience made me wish I had Final Cut Pro. iMovie 6.0.3 crashed a few times, and was really finicky. I felt like I was working in Microsoft Word, I was saving so often.

I use pretty much the same export settings that Allen uses, and I’ve had good results with them.

There is also a very good article linked from the Plasq site, on how they made the video for Skitch.

A couple of other users noticed the mouse laency/sync movement problem as well, which I think I’ve fixed in the latest release - so feel free to give it a whirl.

For anyone that wants to make their voice a little more professional, you can process the audio in Garageband and run it through one of the filters to give you a little more of the “Movie Preview Voice” quality.

I once tried iShowU, but the performance is too bad. Not to mention the “individual mouse track” issue, but the final product is just not smooth. So I had to switch (back) to SnapzPro, which is really impressive for all aspects.

Do you all know about. It’s an interesting free alternative to Snapz and iShwoU.

www.jingproject.com

display eater does a good job too :)

[…] the Mac, I got turned on to exactly how to do screencasts there today via this post by none other than Allan Odgaard, creator of [insanely powerful] Textmate who recommends a product called Snapz Pro X. After making […]

my only recommendation is not to listen to folks telling you to record sound later. Unless you are a professional and have your recording down to a science its horrible. I find most people that record screencasts in this way suck because they spend most of the “audio” time saying “umm.. oh yea this is what I was showing”

record audio as you capture its make the screencast that much more professional.