TechSmith Camtasia Studio 1.1

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All-round solution for producing video-based software training.

Camtasia Studio comes from TechSmith the makers of the popular SnagIt screen capture utility. SnagIt offers basic capture of onscreen video but Camtasia Studio takes this idea and runs with it. If you're producing computer-based training it's a must-have.

Like SnagIt, Camtasia Studio is actually a collection of connected applications that you can access individually or via the central LaunchPad. The most important module, Camtasia Recorder, is also the simplest. It's here that you set up your screen capture to be the full screen, current window, an area that you mark out or a specified fixed region. Hit the Record button and all screen activity within that area - including cursor movements, menu selections, typing and so on - along with your audio commentary is losslessly captured to an AVI file. Camtasia Recorder also offers extra functionality tailored to producing software training videos such as the ability to highlight the cursor and any clicks, to brand the video with a watermark or logo, to automatically pan the view, to draw onscreen and to add annotations.

Camtasia Studio is actually a suite of five dedicated modules.

Getting your capture exactly the way you want it first time is still a tall order so TechSmith provides the Camtasia Effects module for post-processing. Here you can add objects such as callouts, arrows text and WMF images to your video complete with control over colour, fill style, line style, grouping and so on. Once you've added your objects and formatted them, you set their duration onscreen (sadly there are no animation capabilities) and then export your new enhanced AVI.

Rather than trying to cover everything in a single take, it's often better to break a large project up into smaller more manageable units. You can then bring these together in the Camtasia Producer module. Running down the left of the Producer window is an Explorer-style view of your hard disk which shows all supported graphic and video formats as thumbnails. You drag and drop these files into the Storyboard window in the order that you want and, if desired, set up transitions. Double-clicking on an element opens it for editing and you can set in and out points for your video, speed up or slowdown playback and, using the integrated Audio Editor, fade in/fade out, insert WAV files or silences and re-record sections of the commentary.

Producer is where you finalize and output your projects.

You're now ready to export your finished extravaganza ready for viewing. One of the great strengths of Camtasia Studio is that it uses its own TechSmith Screen Capture Codec (TSCC) which is specially optimised for desktop recording and ensures that the results are lossless and highly compressed both of which are essential for video-based training. Techsmith provides an EXE to make distributing and installing the codec as simple as possible, but an even better solution is to distribute the Camtasia Player. This is a small standalone player that works on all 32-bit versions of Windows without requiring any setup and has TSCC support built-in. Best of all, you can use Camtasia's Pack-and-Show command to bundle the player and your video into a single EXE.

TSCC-based AVI is the most efficient delivery route in most cases, but Camtasia Studio doesn't tie you to it. Using the Produce Movie command or step-by-step Production Wizard you can choose between a number of alternative standards including animated GIF and QuickTime (MOV) if you have QuickTime installed. The most useful in-built options are the popular streaming formats Real Media (RM), Windows Media (WMV) and now Flash (SWF) which come into their own for cross-platform Web delivery. In each case the control over your output is comprehensive letting you choose target bitrates, frame settings and so on. With Flash output you can even specify a preloader, an end Jump to URL and Producer will produce the HTML code to host your SWF for you.

Camtasia Studio has another trick up its sleeve. If you're producing material for fixed delivery it makes a huge difference if you can provide some sort of front-end for your videos. You can do this with the Camtasia MenuMaker module. The easiest way to set up your front end is to use the MenuMaker wizard and choose from one of the five pre-supplied templates (there are more on the website). Once you've added your files these appear as a simple list which you can customise and you can also set up sounds to be played on startup, on click and so on. You can then test your menu and, when you're happy with it, select the Create Menu command. This creates a master EXE file and copies it along with all the necessary media files to a specified directory which you can then burn to CD. TechSmith also now provides a separate application, Theater, which enables you to create an interactive menu-based front end for your Flash-based videos.

Being shown how to do something is always more effective than being told how to and, if you're thinking of producing software-based training, Camtasia Studio provides an excellent all-round solution from initial recording through to final delivery.

Tom Arah

Ease of Use
6
Features
5
Value for Money
5
Overall
5

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

July 2003

requirements Pentium II, 64Mb of RAM, 25Mb of hard disk space, Windows 98, Me, NT 4 (SP6a), 2000, XP.

 


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