Recently I’ve been creating a series of screencasts that demonstrates products in live use, with voiceover narration. Because I can work through the applications, record my actions, edit for time and conciseness, yet still give a good, informative demonstration of the product, these screencasts can be a very effective way of delivering product information.

Curiously enough, the first question that the technical folks who see the presentations ask is “What software did you use to do that?” They obviously see the value for building demos, presentations, and training tools, and are quick to jump on useful technology.

The tool that I use to build these demos is Camtasia Studio from www.techsmith.com. I build my demos as Windows Media Video (WMV) files, but the product offers a broad range of media file types for presentation delivery, from efficient Flash files to IPod M4V to AVI files for DVD creation.

For such a capable tool, Camtasia is incredibly simple to use. While it offers a good Help engine and video tutorials (created in Camtasia, I presume), I’ve yet to need to use them. The interface is clean and simple to use and most screen items have a pop-up tool tip identifying their function.

I’ve barely touched the surface of the features available. You can also make DVD or C-ROM menu systems, automate the creation of a web-page–embedded video, lay down music tracks to accompany a production video, or take advantage of the automated Flash quiz and survey creation to build very interactive and usable presentations. And while I’ve been tempted to use the web-cam capture feature to include a PIP image of myself doing a presentation, I’ve so far resisted the temptation.

That feature touches on one of the few problems I have with the software: Embedding video captures requires using a USB web camera; the software doesn’t support (Digital Video) DV devices.  I tried to do a quick workaround by using a DV camera that writes directly to hard disk, but the Camtasia software was unable to render the mpeg files created by the Sony DV camera.  Since I don’t usually use a web cam (nor do I think it’s a common business tool), I had to take the extra steps to set one up. The webcam files were usable but not high quality video. 

One last comment: Make sure that you have substantial hardware if you plan to build complex or high-resolution presentations.  On a 3.2Ghz quad-core Intel Extreme–based system, with 4GB of 800MHz RAM and fast drives, it took just over 12 minutes to render a 10-minute WMV presentation at 1024x768 resolution.  According to the Windows Vista Task Manager, the process utilized all four CPU cores.

At $299, Camtasia Studio is an effective,  low-priced solution to a high-visibility problem.

Check out Windows IT Pro’s ittv.net web site at http://www.ittv.net/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx to see some of the videos we’re posting there.

Tip –

If you store a lot of images in dedicated directories on a Vista system, you might have noticed that it takes a very long time for those directories to load. This is because the Thumbnails view was selected.  Loading thumbnails can really slow down the display of directory contents. To turn off the Thumbnail view:

1.     Open folder

2.     Click Organize

3.     Click Folder and Search Options

4.     Click View tab

5.     Click “Always show icons, never thumbnails”

6.     Click OK