Screencasting on Windows

I’m very active on the Xtreme VB Talk forums; it’s the first programming forum I ever joined and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with other developers. This year I’m trying to transform my blog from a cobweb collector to something I might want to show off, and part of that involves posting more about coding. Posting on the blog lets me incorporate screenshots and videos more easily, so I’d like to start augmenting some of my tutorials here. For that, I need something that lets me do screen recording. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the state of Windows screencasting to be all that good. Here’s a list of the programs I’ve tried and what I think about them.

Requirements

These are the requirements I have for screencasting software.

  • Full screen recording is nice, I’d like to be able to restrict it to a region or window as well.
  • I mostly want to record VS 2010 development, so it has to work with Windows.
  • I don’t care if it can record Vista/Win7 chrome.
  • Control over the framerate is nice; if I’m recording 5 minutes worth of typing code it’s not exactly vital that I get 24 FPS.
  • Transcoding to a Youtube-friendly format would be really nice.
  • Documentation about how to get the best possible quality on Youtube would be nice.
  • The ability to add annotations is required.
  • The ability to speed up or slow down portions of the video is required.
  • I’d prefer one tool over a collection of tools.
  • I’m unwilling to spend more than $125 with a slight margin if features are compelling.

The Contenders

To round out my stable of bullet lists, here’s the list of software I’ve tried or will discuss:

  • Fraps
  • Jing (Free)
  • CamStudio
  • Camtasia
  • Expression Encoder 4
  • BB Flashback Express
  • ScreenFlow

Fraps

This is probably the most famous screen recording tool on Windows. You can get it to record your desktop by clicking a checkbox that makes it monitor the DWM. However, it doesn’t record my mouse cursor, which is really nice for screencasting. It can only record the entire desktop. Any editing of the video must be done with a separate tool.

I’d really only recommend Fraps if you’re planning on recording yourself playing PC games; even then you’re going to have to do some post-recording work unless you fancy uploading 10GB to Youtube.

Jing

I don’t recall how I found out about Jing. It’s made by TechSmith, whose SnagIt is the best screenshot software I’ve ever used. I had high hopes for Jing because the SnagIt’s annotation capabilities were really good. There is a free version of Jing and a Pro version that costs $14.95 per year; I’m reviewing the free version. Both versions make you sign up for a screencast.com account before you can use the software; if you don’t like signing up for new services don’t bother with Jing. I don’t see any real benefit to screencast.com so it looks like a way for them to scrape some emails from signups.

Jing itself is pretty easy to use. It lets you pick the whole screen, a region, or a window, and it can record audio as well. The free version limits you to 5 minutes; that’s pretty harsh but it’s plenty of time to get a feel for how it works. The free version only lets you save to a Flash file or upload to screencast.com. The free version watermarks the Flash files it produces with some branding that appears briefly before the video starts. I’ve used Jing at work to save time writing out the steps to reproduce a bug; it’s perfect for this task.

For screencasting, I’m not sold. The Pro version only adds an MPEG-4 codec, removes the 5 minute limit, and lets you directly upload videos to Youtube. There’s no editing or annotation capabilities, and I have no idea what the Youtube quality would look like since there’s no way to evaluate the Pro features.

I’d recommend Jing for helping you fill out bug reports or making quick tutorial videos for family members that need help using some option in a program. The Flash export is really convenient for distribution. For anything complicated, I’m not sure it’s worth a recurring $14.95.

CamStudio

This is a GPL product so it’s free. I haven’t used it recently, but I used it in the past. I seem to remember it did good full-screen and region recording, and it could pan the region to follow the mouse cursor; it was designed in days when video was quite a luxury.

My main problem with CamStudio is a lack of annotation tools. It can output to AVI, SWF, or its own codec, but all of these will have to be edited in some other tool if you want to annotate your video.

It’s definitely a good choice if you know how to edit and transcode video with some other tool; you don’t get cheaper than free.

Camtasia

This is another TechSmith product; it’s Jing’s big brother. It’s got an impressive video editor and tons of options for exporting video and uploading it straight to Youtube. But it’s $300 and far out of my price range. If I blogged for a living I might be interested. It’s definitely one of the most capable-looking tools for Windows.

Expression Encoder 4

I may have used Expression Encoder 3 when I was working with it; I’m not sure. It’s a Microsoft product related to Expression Blend. There’s a free version and a paid version; it looks like the main difference is the free version limits you to 10-minute screencasts and doesn’t support IIS smooth streaming.

EE is not really an editing tool; it lets you glue different videos together and cut pieces out but you can’t do much more. Its main focus is on converting video to formats that Silverlight can stream well; one of those is H.264. I was mostly intimidated by it because it seemed like it was intended for people that already knew what they were doing. The configuration dialogs weren’t even as much help as a man page, so I found myself changing random numbers and hoping the outcome was good.

I can’t recommend EE because it looks like it’s just a fancy replacement for Windows Media Encoder and it doesn’t make much of an effort to be friendly to someone that just wants to turn their 4GB avi into something that takes less than a day to upload to Youtube.

BB Flashback Express

This one’s relatively unknown but has a lot going for it. Express is free, Standard is $89, and Pro is $199. I’ve only tried Express.

Express has the standard stable of screen recording features and is limited to AVI and Flash formats for export. Standard allows you to create WMV or H.264 video, both of which are nice additions. Standard also promises a nice set of editing features including annotation and re-recording audio. Pro lets you redo mouse movements which is really neat; it also enables frame-by-frame editing and changing the speed of playback.

BB Flashback Pro has all of the features I want, but $189 is far outside my budget considering I don’t blog for a living. Standard has some nice features, but it feels like paying $90 for only half of what I want is silly.

ScreenFlow

This is some software for Mac OS X that looks pretty promising. It’s $99 and has all of the features I want. The only trouble is I need something that works with Windows. I’ve been thinking about picking up a MacBook Air, and I’m curious if I could run Windows in a VM and record that.

Conclusion

There’s no solution that fits my requirements on Windows. The only software that provides all of the editing features costs more than $150. Spending $100 can get me close, but I feel like that’s a waste. While there are several free options, editing video using these options involves mastering several tools. And I’ve never found a good guide for making a screencast look good on Youtube other than vague recommendations like “make your video 1080p” or “use H.264″. I’d appreciate any help on this.

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5 Responses to Screencasting on Windows

  1. I’ve used Camtasia before on both Mac and PC, and while it is really nice, the hefty price tag is a large barrier to entry. I’d say if you’re looking for a cheap method, Fraps + Windows Live Movie Maker will get you there, as long as you don’t mind the extra step of exporting the video from Fraps and then editing with WLMM, rather than a one-stop bundled (but expensive) solution like Camtasia.

  2. Private Email says:

    Jing Pro version still has the 5 minute limit.

  3. Marguerite says:

    Did you check out TipCam? http://www.utipu.com/tipcam-download/

  4. Darren C says:

    Screenflow can be used to record Windows within a virtual environment (for example, Parallels), however, you do lose some of the functionality and flexibility of recording mouse clicks (and displaying those mouse clicks directly in the video) etc etc.

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