First Handbook screencast – “Making a screencast in the next 30 minutes” using Jing

Posted on October 8th, 2009 by Ian

The first screencast tutorial is on-line, it shows you how to make your first screencast, using the free Jing, in the next 30 minutes.  This screencast is a part of Chapter 4 in The Screencasting Handbook.  Since Chapter 4 is now complete I’ll be releasing a new copy of the book to my mailing list members soon (if you’re not on the list, sign up!).

In this screencast tutorial I’ll show you:

  • How to start recording with Jing on Windows (it works the same on Mac)
  • How to upload your recording
  • How to get a reminder of the shortcut URL that it magically gives you after the upload is complete
  • The Handbook’s Google Group where you are encouraged to share your screencasts so we can help you improve

This screencast is being released with a Creative Commons By Attribution license so feel free to embed it and share it with those who will find it useful (though the Handbook itself will be commercial).  To be in line for the release of the Handbook you just have to sign-up to the mailing list (it is very low volume and you’ll get a discount on the early releases of the book by joining).

This screencast is being discussed in the Google Group and Andy White has created his first Jing on using Audacity to clean-up narration.

In the course of the screencast you’ll see me recording a demo of, you can watch this demo via at full resolution (you’ll need a large screen) or below where I’ve hacked the embed-html provided by so it fits in the blog:

Thanks for the link Betsy!

Almost ready for the first proper release!

Posted on October 8th, 2009 by Ian

Having written 10,500 words and recorded one 6 minute screencast for new screencasters, I’m getting close to releasing the first ‘real draft’ of the book.  Here’s an expanded Handbook Outline (15 pages) that shows you the first couple of chapters and the full chapter list as of today.

Whilst much of the book is yet to be written you can see everything that I intend to cover.

There is lots of useful conversation in the Google Group, we’re up to 65 members now and the topics covered include:

  • Workflow – how to record academic screencasts with the minimum of fuss
  • Constructive critiques of a few screencasts
  • The new Podcasting Unleashed book by a fellow Brightonian (great for microphone technique)
  • Before and After reducing audio noise
  • Whether we should or shouldn’t use background music in tutorial screencasts

Tim Bower on Educational Screencasting

Posted on September 28th, 2009 by Ian

Tim has a nice long blog entry on Why I’m Excited About Educational Video.  He posted a link in our Group, on his site he discusses:

  1. Video Teaches!
  2. Video Complements Other Instructional Material
  3. The Technology Required to Successfully Use Video is Finally Here

As Tim points out, screencasts are a great way to pass on new skills:

“Because I teach computer programming, I have watched several videos on the ShowMeDo web site.  I notice that when I watch a screencast video, I pick up on subtle issues that I was missing from the books.”

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Future Trends in Screencasting

Posted on September 19th, 2009 by Ian

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  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?

7,500 words written for The Screencasting Handbook

Posted on September 17th, 2009 by Ian

Over the last few days I pushed the book up from 3,000 words to 7,500.  You can get an idea of what’s on offer by checking the outline pdf, it contains the first two chapters.  We’ve just been discussing a few points of the latest version in the Google Group.

My goal is to start selling the book in the next few weeks, right now I need to write the ‘Creating your first screencast in the next 30 minutes with Jing’ chapter and then I’m good to go.

The expected price of the finished handbook will be $39USD (approximately £25GBP) but the finished version is a way away, I’ve written about 10% of the book so far.  I plan to put the initial version out with a discount (probably 30%) and to reduce the discount as new material is written (so you’re better off buying it sooner than later!).  All purchasers get all the updates and the final edition free of charge, of course.

To be told when the book is ready for the discounted purchase (it’ll be in a few weeks) go and join the mailing list right now, it is at the base of The Screencasting Handbook‘s homepage.

If you have any questions, join the Google Group and ask away!

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HyperCam 3 – Low cost Screencasting & Editing on Windows!

Posted on September 13th, 2009 by Ian

Way back in the mists of time (sometime early in 2006 I think) I recorded a how-to screencast for ShowMeDo to teach the viewer how to use the original HyperCam to make their own ShowMeDo tutorial screencasts on Windows.  That screencast is well out of date but possibly the configuration notes might still be useful.

HyperCam is about to have a major update – the upcoming September release adds a major new feature, read below for details on HyperCam v3.

HyperCam 3 Box

I liked HyperCam back in 2006 – it ‘did the job’ as a simple screencast recorder, it never crashed, it worked on Win 2k and XP (and later Vista – see their changelog) and seemed to be a very nice solution.

There were however two problems:

  • the software required purchase
  • it had no editor

For ‘purchase problem’ was only a problem because we were promoting the creation of screencasts in ShowMeDo for Free and Open Source Software.  Our audience would be amateur screencasters and we didn’t want anyone to have to buy software as that might stop potential authors from trying to screencast.  (Note – I bought it and I own several other screencasting tools – I have no problem with paying for software if I’ve not been clear above!)

The second problem was the lack of an editor.  This is still a major problem on Windows – we have no free (or low-cost) editing solution.  The closest two are BBFlashBack and CamTasia (at roughly £100 and £200 respectively).

Good news everybody – the new HyperCam 3 has an editor!  This means that Windows users will have a low-cost recording and editing solution, see below for a mock-up screen.  It looks as though the editor will include trimming and merging – trimming by itself is superb as it lets you delete minor errors without requiring a re-record.

HC3 hasn’t been released yet (it is expected this month).  Dmitry was kind enough to send me a short list of the upcoming features and point at their forum.  The expected price of HyperCam 3 is $40 USD (approximately 30 Euros):

  • new skinned user friendly interface
  • an ability to grab video in overlay mode
  • an ability to edit the captured video file with the HyperCam Media Editor (fast and lossless AVI trimming and merging)
  • an ability encode a captured sound
  • an ability to use DirectShow, VCM and DMO codecs installed on PC

HyperCam 3 screen

Portable (no-install, no-Internet) Screencasting on Windows

Posted on September 13th, 2009 by Ian

Recently I was asked if it is possible to screencast when you can’t install a screencasting tool and when you don’t have Internet access.  You know what?  You can!

If you use the free CamStudio on Windows then you can get the Portable CamStudio download – you just pop it onto a USB stick and ‘it just works’.

Dai, a long-term ShowMeDo author, created a screencast that teaches you how to set everything up:

“In this video we show you how to setup CamStudio, Dm2, VirtualDub and Audacity to work off a pen drive so that you have a portable setup to create your screencasts.”

If you search for ‘camtasia portable’ you get lots of links for a similar solution for TechSmith’s main screencast tool.  I’m not sure on the legality of these downloads but if you have your own license, I guess you could replicate the process and take CamTasia Studio on the move with you.  You’d probably want to speak to TechSmith just to confirm the license situation first though.

Edit RecordMyDesktop Linux Screencasts with Camtasia Studio

Posted on September 9th, 2009 by Ian

Tim Bower has just shared a tip in our Google Group – here’s how he recorded a screencast on Linux using RecordMyDesktop and then converted it so Camtasia Studio on Windows could edit it.

Camtasia doesn’t like Ogg Vorbis (.ogv) videos so Tim first had to convert it to a more familiar format, he settled on the well-known XVid codec.  Using mencoder he converts input.ogv using the XVid codec with mp3lame audio plus two flags for XVid to then generate output.avi:

mencoder input.ogv -ovc xvid -oac mp3lame
-xvidencopts pass=1 -o output.avi

Tim notes that if the XVid codec isn’t already installed, it can be found here.

If you’re an ffmpeg user you might find some of my other tips on using ffmpeg to transcode videos to be useful (although they don’t outline the above step – you’d still have to experiment).

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‘Screencasting in 7 minutes with Jing’ workshop at BarCamp Brighton 4

Posted on September 7th, 2009 by Ian

Yesterday at BarCamp Brighton 4 I ran a ‘start screencasting in 7 minutes with Jing’ workshop – I’m happy to say I had 7 new people start ‘casting for both internal education (in Thales) and for communication to clients for freelancers.  TechSmith have picked-up this post – thanks Betsy!

Jez (see further below) took a photo of me and ‘friend’ (the building we used was also running a big building-sized art exhibit!):

The video below shows my 30 minute session, we all sat in a group (this space had no screen) for a very informal tutorial (sorry, the video starts a few minutes into my session):

Start Screencasting in 7 Minutes with Jing – Workshop at BarCamp Brighton 4 from IanProCastsCoUk on Vimeo.

Firstly I had everyone installing Jing since it is trivial to install and ‘just works’ on both Windows and Mac.  Next I ran through some examples of other screencasts:

  • Jay’s Gibraltar Software screencast produced in 3 days with Camtasia on Windows (via my friendly critique)
  • Google Chrome screencasts for examples of 10-20 second feature tours
  • DropBox intro screencast which shows two computers syncing (via a virtual Windows instance) – see the Windows desktop about 1/6th of the way into the video
  • ShowMeDo’s OpenStreetMap videos for open-source tutorials
  • MailChimp‘s homepage video as a warning – lots of style (it is quite pretty) but very little informative content!

Whilst new users installed and tested Jing (mostly on Macs) I had Jez use my Mac to record a short screencast for an imaginary colleague to teach them how to search in Wikipedia.  Jez, having never screencasted before, created this very clear tutorial (permalink) on searching for ‘RMS’ to understand what RMS Titanic stands for:

One of the other chaps (Rosario?) had Snow Leopard and gave us a quick demo of using QuickTime’s new screen-record feature.  He recorded the screen and showed that we could save it out as a .mp4 – this gives Mac users another free screencasting opportunity.  Couple that with iMovie and you have a cheap (well, free) and cheerful recording and editing environment.

I offered some tips for first timers:

  • Do a walk-through first of all so you’re practiced
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Record the audio in a quiet room (you can clearly hear other background voices in Jez’s example above – best avoid this if you’re doing work for clients!)
  • Don’t wiggle the mouse to highlight something, prefer to use an editor later to add highlights or spotlights
  • Just Do It – don’t worry about it, just make a recording and repeat it if it wasn’t good enough.  Soon you’ll have something online that Does The Job

Critique of Tour Screencast

Posted on August 25th, 2009 by Ian

Jay of GibraltarSoftware posted a link to the Business of Software forum asking for feedback on his new Tour screencast.  I figured that a critique here would be useful to other Handbook readers rather than a reply over a BoS.  Over on ProCasts I have critiqued five other screencasts, I’ll be doing those here now as the Handbook is a more suitable place to offer a constructive critique!

Update – the video was recorded over 3 days on Windows using Camtasia 6 via these suggestions with a Shure SM58 mic with some of the work being done in several Adobe programs.  Jay has also added a detailed write-up.

This is Jay’s video:

Overall I thought that the video was very clear.  As mentioned by some others in the BoS forum it could have done with a bit of clarity up front explaining what would be demo’d but I found it compelling enough to watch all the way through.

The Good:

  • Jay opens with a webcam view, with smiles and enthusiasm – this is lovely.  Seeing the founder give a friendly intro makes things instantly more watchable (and we’re more likely to forgive mistakes since we have a more personal connection)
  • Jay’s narration is clear, it moves along at a nice pace and has enthusiasm, it makes it very easy to listen to
  • I’ll say again – the picture-in-picture effect and seeing Jay’s enthusiasm is lovely!  So few founders show themselves (it is hard both on the technique, quality control and one’s ego) so it is great to see!
  • The story is clear, I understood the use-case and I now have a story I could tell to someone else.  This is a product I could have used as a programmer and the demo means it is easy to pass on to someone else
  • Using YouTube is smart – anyone (like me!) can embed the video in a blog review or email

The Bad:

  • When the webcam is displayed we can see that the audio and video aren’t quite in sync.  This is hardly a deal-breaker but it does jar a bit
  • When speaking, Jay’s breaths can be heard and background hiss is is present.  Audacity is a great tool for de-noising and fading out unwanted sounds like breaths.  Cleaning this up would add a further professional touch
  • In the webcam shots it looks like Jay is holding the mic (it moves in and out of shot), a mic-holder might be a sensible purchase
  • At 2:58 the volume of the narration changes.  This can happen when the speaker moves away from the mic.  This could be fixed with the Envelope Tool in Audacity or by not moving when recording a new take of the narration
  • There’s a lot of wind at 3:53 caused by gusto during the narration, a pop-shield can be helpful but mostly it comes down to good mic technique and breath control (and you only get that via practice!)
  • At 4:06 there’s a quick cut when Jay asks the user to try the software – because his head is shown the cut is very obvious, also the audio ‘sounds’ like it has been cut.  Cutting head-shots is very hard, they always look chopped up.  It isn’t a deal-breaker but again does jar a touch


  • There aren’t any zooms at 1:31 but there are later – some zooms at this point would help.  Although the video is HD and it is possible to read the text, it is tiny and hard.  Zooming in e.g. for the wizard would help readability
  • At 2:09 we see a zoom and an arrow call-out.  I’d suggest using Camtasia’s spotlight call-out so the rest of the screen is dimmed, that way the user’s attention is focused where the arrows will be shown and not elsewhere

If you found this feedback helpful and you’d like to learn more screencasting techniques, do read about The Screencasting Handbook and join up.