Ever watched a video that’s a recording of someone demonstrating something on their PC and narrating what they’re doing? There are tons of them on YouTube, and it’s a terrific format for tutorials, demonstrating Web services and can even be useful in that big presentation you have with the boss tomorrow. Watching them is easy. But making your own? Seems like a tricky proposition.
The category of software that we’re talking about are “screen recorders”, and there’s no question that The Big Kahuna of screen recording software on the PC platform is Camtasia, from TechSmith. It’s terrific — I use it myself — but it’s also expensive, at $299.
There are other solutions, including some that are web-based, but the challenge isn’t to find one that works, it’s to find one that’s really easy to work with and does just enough of the job to accomplish your goals, not overwhelm you with options and complexity. After all, if your goal is to narrate what you’re doing on screen, you don’t want to learn something new, you just want a “record” button and the ability to save the output video in a format that YouTube understands.
That’s why we had a look at Screen Recording Suite from Apowersoft…
A low budget but quite capable solution, Screen Recording Suite is priced at a very reasonable $39.99 and offers everything you need without all the bells and whistles of Camtasia and other high end solutions.
To be fair, it’s also a bit rough around the edges, as you’ll see, but with a little experimentation, you’ll be surprised at the results you can obtain.
To me, the core challenge with screen recording is getting everything in sync and having the output of the program be a usable format.
By default, Screen Recording Suite produces output in Windows Media Video (WMV) format and that file format is 100% compatible with YouTube, so you can quite literally press record to capture your screen activities while you narrate to your computer’s mic, press stop, and immediately upload the resultant recording onto YouTube.
Here’s how I recorded my first screen capture…
Launch Screen Recording Suite and the main control window appears:
As you can see, you can record a custom specified area, the entire screen, a specified window (for example, a browser window or the window of a specific application), around the mouse or even record from your web camera. You can also take screenshots, but there are other apps that accomplish that task so I didn’t even test that portion.
Want to pretend you work with Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission force? You can also set up the program to record at a specified time in the future. Actually, I haven’t yet figured out when this option would be useful, so if you have any ideas about when a scheduled screen recording would be useful, leave ‘em in the comments!
Our task is to record the screen while explaining what’s going on (a fun example of this, by the way, would be making a video game walk-thru to help others get past a particularly tough opponent or around a tricky puzzle). To record the screen, simply click on the “Start” button on the top left.
Before we go down that road, however, let’s check out the options and ensure everything’s set up properly. Click on “Options”.
The default settings are fine here. Notice that the program adds a 30px yellow circle around the cursor during screen recordings so that people viewing the video can follow what can otherwise be an impossibly tiny little arrow. I find this capability surprisingly useful, so I’ve left it as is (you’ll see it in the demo later on the page).
Notice that the text of the very last option — “Prompt hotkey hints before recording” — isn’t quite fitting in the window? That’s what I mean about rough edges. It’s an aesthetic thing, though, so if you can live with the interface not being pixel-by-pixel perfect, it’s really not a big deal and doesn’t affect the functionality of the software.
The second tab to check is “Video file”, because among other things, it’s where you can set the device from which the program should be recording audio:
Once the audio source is set properly, I found that there wasn’t anything else I needed to change, though you can certainly explore the different file output formats available. For my testing, WMV9 (Windows Media Video 9) was fine.
Closing the options, I was back to the main window and ready to record. To do that, I clicked on “Start” and the main window vanished, to be replaced by a little reminder window:
I hooked up a small Plantronics external mic to my Dell laptop to get better audio than from the built-in microphone. You should definitely test out your options: some computers have surprisingly good internal mic setups.
One deep breath and I was ready to record.
To start up, I simply clicked on the “I know” button, which caused the reminder window to disappear. Screen Recording Suite is now recording audio and video, though there’s no visual indication that it’s happening. Just start talking and doing!
When done, pressing f7 stops the recording and brings up this window:
Like most people, I’m curious about what was recorded, whether I sounded reasonably coherent, and whether the captured video actually illustrates what I wanted to explain. A click on “Play” confirmed it did indeed capture the audio and video desired.
Once the playback was done, a few options were presented:
The Suite also includes a video conversion program which you can use to change video formats if you’ve recorded in the wrong format. My demo was recorded in Windows Media Player 9 format and it’s all I need to upload the new video to YouTube.
What does it look like? Here’s an embedded YouTube video that’s the result of my quick demonstration recording, as uploaded:
Tip: Click on the gear icon on the lower right, choose “1080p”, then click on the “full screen” button on the lower right. Now play the video again.
Nice, eh? For $39.99, Screen Recording Suite is a smart addition to your library, even with its rough edges, and I think you’ll be surprised just how many applications you’ll find for this simple screen recording utility.