CXO

Product Review: Camtasia by TechSmith lets you produce computer-based training videos

What kind of great training tools could you create if you could put a video camera in front of your computer and capture all the keystrokes and mouse movements on your screen? TechSmith's Camtasia is software that lets you do just that—without the camera.


What’s the best way to explain how to do something on a computer? TechSmith believes the answer is video screen capture, and their Camtasia software does a fine job at doing just that.

Camtasia: Easy training and so much more
TechSmith created the Camtasia software, whose start-up screen appears in Figure A, for use in quite a few different areas. Camtasia can be used to create presentations, introduce a new product to customers, develop top-notch tutorials for just about any kind of computer user, and much more. Camtasia saves files in .avi format, a standard video format on all Windows machines. Any of the videos can be viewed via Microsoft Windows Media Player or RealNetworks RealPlayer G2.

Figure A
TechSmith’s Camtasia lets you record activities that take place on your desktop in a video (avi) file.


However, Camtasia doesn’t stop at just video. The end user can also hear audio, such as mouse clicks and keyboard taps, and, to top it off, the voice of the person(s) who made the video. This audio track helps students better understand what’s happening onscreen.

For instance, when I was testing out Camtasia, I started recording and then composed and sent an e-mail message. The program recorded everything that happened on my desktop, including when I made typographical errors and backspaced to correct them.

Tools and gadgets
Camtasia provides many different options for creating computer-based video. The “director” can choose from recording a simple drop-down menu to a full-blown screen demonstration of multiple programs. It all depends on what the user wants to record with the software.

Camtasia comes with the Camtasia Producer, an add-on to the Recorder that allows the person creating a video to make a presentation, tutorial, and more. Producer lays out a project on a storyboard, much as the video production team on a television newscast would do on their projects. The director can then save the collected videos together, creating an extremely useful video presentation.

To do audio within Camtasia, another piece of software is included as well. DubIt, an audio component of Camtasia, allows audio clips to be recorded, saved, and added into the Recorder and/or Producer. With DubIt you can also create slide shows for presentations to be used within Producer or as a stand-alone project.

The downside of the software
While Camtasia has some superb qualities, there are a few things that drag the software down a bit. What really hurts it is that any user that wishes to view videos created by Camtasia must have the special “codec” created by TechSmith. TechSmith does have a link to the codec on its Web site, and it can be downloaded without charge—but it’s still a hassle.

The second drawback is the fact that, at this time, Camtasia only supports Windows 9x, Windows NT, and Windows 2000. I checked the TechSmith Web site and couldn’t find any information on versions for Macintosh or Linux.
A codec is a piece of software that allows compressed audio or video to be played on a computer. Different companies have different kinds of codecs, and most codecs can be downloaded from a company’s respective Web site.
Overall evaluation
I found Camtasia to be an excellent piece of software. It makes recording video shots of your computer extremely simple, and it is very easy to create a tutorial or presentation from those videos. The software is very simple to use; you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get the program to run. I also liked the interface because of its simplicity and ease of use. The thing this program needs most is an executable package that has the codec included so that end users do not have to go and search on TechSmith’s Web site for it.
Have you come across a great piece of software that you couldn’t live without for your training? If so, send us a note.

Ed Engelking is a regular TechRepublic contributor. He's also the co-owner of UCANweb.com.

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