Future Trends in Screencasting

Below I list a number of thoughts I have about the future of screencasting.  What’s coming is ‘The Age of the Smart Editor‘.  Having screencasted for 4 years (by co-founding ShowMeDo in 2005 and ProCasts in 2008) producing both educational and sales screencasts, I’ve used a lot of software and I have many ideas for how things will change in the future.  This is discussed in our Google Group here.

Free Screencasting is Here:

The age of having to pay to record screencasts is behind us – already we have great free tools like Jing, BB FlashBack Express, ScreenToaster, Screencast-o-matic and Screenr (and a few more).  Hosting is free if you use YouTube or Vimeo and is free for low volumes with screencast.com.  With Jing we actually have a cross-platform ‘1 click record & deploy’ process – it Just Works so it is super-easy to make simple recordings and share them on the web.

One Export Format:

Having to think about the export format will also be behind us soon.  Currently I see about 90.3% adoption of H.264-compatible Flash players in the wild, this means we can’t just use MP4 screencasts yet (we’d lose 10% of our viewership if we did as MP4 normally contains H.264 video).  H.264 is definitely better than the Sorenson 3 codec found in FLV (H.264 has fewer variables to tune and makes smaller file sizes at the same quality) and is also better than VP6 that is more recently found but it isn’t quite prevalent enough yet – maybe in the next year it will be.

Dumb Editors Will Become Cheap:

The age of ‘video editors being expensive’ is receding, HyperCam 3 will have a low-priced screencast editor very soon, BBFlashBack Standard is 1/2 the price of Camtasia Studio and on the Mac there are several very good and low-priced editors already.  We’ll only pay if the editor makes our life easy, not if it just chucks lots of features at us.

The next big step here will be when we see one major player release their basic screencast editor for free.  It is an inevitable step and it will introduce screencast editing to a far wider audience (e.g. to students and pro-amateurs).

The ‘Smart Editor’ is coming:

Camtasia Studio is the first good indication of this – it has Smart Focus and Automatic Background Noise Removal.  What we can expect to see is more and smarter features than these.

Smarter Auto Focus:

Camtasia Studio 6 has Smart Focus – it zooms the view around the area that the mouse is moving in.  This is a great time-saver, rather than having to apply focuses manually throughout the video the software does it for you.  The problem is – the results aren’t always great.  Camtasia can get it wrong-enough that you have to go back and refocus manually, also the focusing can be erratic (zooming in and out) in an unpleasant way.  TechSmith are clearly on the case and I expect them to improve this feature in future releases.  I don’t know of any other package that does this yet.

Fixing a Wobbly Mouse:

When recording it can be very hard to record smooth mouse movements.  It would be excellent if you could re-flow the mouse’s movement (not its clicks, just its movement) to iron-out kinks and make the action smoother.  Making the mouse invisible at choice during post-production would also be wonderfully useful (sometimes the mouse just gets in the way of something you’re talking about!).

Dead-scene Trim:

Often when I record a production I leave lots of gaps where I don’t speak and don’t move the mouse, purely so I have footage to edit around (and to gather my thoughts!).  Editing this dead footage out later is time consuming and laborious – I’d love to see a ‘dead-scene’ identifier that lets me easily chop all the dead material.

Automatic Audio Clean-up:

Camtasia Studio can remove background noise automatically – sadly the result isn’t great (again, this is something I expect TechSmith are working on – if you manually remove noise then the results are just fine, it is just the auto de-noising that can be hit-and-miss).  What I’d love to see is the inclusion of compression and normalisation into a better de-noise system.  These are manual, boring steps that should be automated.  Again Camtasia seems to be the only one ahead of the game here.

Automatic Subtitle-file Generation:

Subtitles are a fiddly beast.  If you’ve produced a subtitle file (e.g. .srt) then you can use it with Flash players to get on-screen subtitles (e.g. here with CC), you can also let Google read the file so it has more text to index (great for search results!).  The problem is – you have to generate that file.

Typically you take a pre-written script (or type it out) and then apply time-codes manually.  This is tedious!  Given that the narration in a screencast is normally by one person in a quiet environment at a steady pace, there’s no good reason why a speech-to-text system couldn’t export the narration and time-codes automatically.  Such a system would let everyone expose their screencast to a wider (hearing-impaired) audience, those without speakers and Google.

Transcription of Narration Segments:

Building on the previous idea, the same speech-to-text system could carve an audio recording into segments based on sentences coupled with a visual text identifier.  We could then drag this visual speech segment around in the timeline for accurate lining up with actions – no more fiddling with cutting up audio and dragging it around, hoping it is lined up (doing this by guesswork is tedious!).

Replacing Entire Narration Quickly:

Sometimes you make one recording and it seems good enough but on reflection, it isn’t up to scratch.  If you record a new narration track and try to add it to the screencast often it won’t line up and you have shuffle it around.  Being able to drop in a second narration track and letting the editor line up the new narration in place of the old narration (respecting the timeline) would save a lot of tedious manipulation.  This idea came from this thread, thanks Jay.

Add Background Music Easily:

The addition of background music is time-consuming.  To make it sound good you need to use an envelope tool (Audacity does a great job of this) so it can start loud, be quiet for most of the screencast and then fade out at the end of the narration.  The pattern works well, it could be automatically generated by a good editor.

Embed API:

I can think of many software packages that could benefit from having a built-in screencasting tool (web based or pre-installed).  Sooner or later someone is going to release a free API tied to their screencasting system that makes it easy to embed a recorder and uploader into applications, making it easy to submit bug reports or share tips with other users of that package (with no thought as to the underlying screencasting system for the end-user!).

Do you want to read more thinking like the above?  Join the mailing list for The Screencasting Handbook and get involved with the book in our Google Group.

Below I’d love to hear your thoughts – did I miss any obvious ideas?  Is there anything you disagree with?  What pain do you encounter that ‘smart software’ could solve?

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