As a technical support professional, you know how time
consuming and frustrating it can be to try and instruct someone on how to
perform some task in an existing piece of software or in operating system while
talking to them over the phone. You can never be sure if the person with whom
you’re speaking really understands the actions that you’re describing to them.
Nor can you be certain that the person is actually performing the steps
accurately.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just send them a video
tutorial that answers their questions while demonstrating the exact procedure?
Sure it would, but creating such a video tutorial would be a monumental and
costly task, right?

Actually, it’s a lot easier than you might think when you
use the Windows Media Encoder from Microsoft. And best of all it’s free!

In this article, I’ll show you how to install and use
Windows Media Encoder to create your own video tutorials. As I do, I’ll point
out a few tricks that you can use to your advantage when creating video tutorials.

System requirements

As far as system requirements for installing and using
Windows Media Encoder are concerned, all you need is a current Pentium or AMD
CPU and at least 64MB of RAM. While Windows Media Encoder will work with any
video card, I’ve discovered that a decent video card with at least 128MB of RAM
yield a better looking video.

You can install and run the Windows Media Encoder on Windows
XP or Windows 2000. However, both operating systems must be running DirectX 9.0
prior to installing Windows Media Encoder.

To find out what version of DirectX your system is running, use
the built-in DirectX Diagnostic Tool, which you can launch from the Run dialog
box. To do so, press [Windows]+R, type Dxdiag
in the Open text box and click OK. Once the DirectX Diagnostic Tool loads, you’ll
find the version information at the bottom on the System tab.

If you need to upgrade DirectX, you can download version 9.0
from the Microsoft
Download Center
. Just follow the onscreen instructions for the Genuine
Windows Validation procedure and to begin the download. Once you’ve downloaded
the Dxwebsetup.exe file, locate the folder to which you saved the file and
double-click the executable to launch the Windows DirectX Setup Wizard.

Getting and installing Windows Media Encoder

Downloading and installing Windows Media Encoder is actually
easy. Just point your browser to the Windows
Media Encoder 9 Series page
. When
you arrive, don’t let the fact that Windows Media Encoder is at version 9 even
though Windows Media Player is at version 10 throw you for a loop. At the time
of this writing, version 9 is the most current version of Windows Media Encoder
and it works with Windows Media Player 9 and 10.

Keep in mind that Windows Media Encoder 9 Series is
available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. However, for the purposes of this
article, the 32-bit version is all that’s necessary. As such, just click the
Download Now button and follow the onscreen instructions for the Genuine
Windows Validation procedure and to begin the download.

Once you’ve downloaded the WMEncoder.exe file, locate the
folder to which you saved the file and double-click the executable to launch
the Windows Media Encoder 9 Series Setup Wizard. Then just follow along to
install the Windows Media Encoder. When the installation is complete, you’ll
find the Windows Media Encoder shortcut on the Start menu in the Windows Media
folder.

Planning your tutorial

Like any presentation, creating a video tutorial with the Windows
Media Encoder begins with advanced planning and preparation. The planning will
allow you to create an efficient and polished looking tutorial.

Since you’ll be presenting a series of steps that the person
viewing the tutorial will use to perform some task, your advanced planning will
consist of knowing exactly where the menus, dialog boxes, and settings are
before you begin. That way once you begin recording you can smoothly navigate
from one area to the next as you perform the task. Not only will this result in
a tutorial that’s easy to follow, it will also result in a much more
conservatively sized video file.

For example, I recently developed a video tutorial to help
end users who were having difficulty keeping the cut, copy, and paste keyboard
shortcuts straight when managing files and folders. While using [Ctrl][X],
[Ctrl][C], and [Ctrl][V] for file management is second-hand nature to us old
timers, it’s really not very intuitive. As such, I developed a video tutorial
that showed users how to take advantage of Windows Explorer’s Move To and Copy
To commands.

Thinking that I knew the operation inside and out, I
proceeded to record the video tutorial without any advanced planning or
preparation. As I navigated my mouse pointer from one place to the next, I
paused a couple of times as I looked for the next stop. As I did, my mouse
pointer wandered bit before moving on. While this type of hesitation is
perfectly normal when you’re performing the operation in your day-to-day
activities, it looked kind of sloppy in the video tutorial. After I practiced
the operation several times and then recorded the operation, the video tutorial
was much smoother looking. You can download this sample video tutorial, MoveTo-CopyTo.wmv,
if you want.

Now, keep in mind that you don’t really want to be a speed
demon racing your mouse pointer from one place to the next. Rather you want to
use very determined, but fluid movements.

Narrating your video tutorial

Windows Media Encoder has the capability to record audio
from a microphone attached to your sound card. This will allow you to add
narration to your video tutorial.

In order to get the audio recording to be as smooth sounding
as possible, you’ll want to run a couple of sound checks in advance of the
actual recording operation. By sound check I mean that you’ll want to want to
make a few tests of just speaking into the microphone to make sure that it is
working correctly and that it is placed within the correct distance to ensure
an optimal sounding recording.

To perform the recording tests, you can use Sound Recorder,
which you can find on the Start menu at All Programs | Accessories |
Entertainment. Alternatively, you can launch it from the Run dialog box by pressing
[Windows][R], typing sndrec32.exe in
the Open text box and clicking OK.

Keep in mind that narrating your video tutorials will take a
lot of time both in the preparation stage and in the actual recording. If you’ve
seen any of the Bloopers shows on TV, you know what I’m talking about. However,
if you write out a script with a very conversational tone and practice it along
with performing the task before actually recording the video, you should be
able nail it down after a few attempts.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the compression that
Windows Media Encoder uses when creating the actual output file will slightly
distort the sound of your voice. However, it will still be audible.

Recording the tutorial

Before you actually begin recording your video tutorial,
have the application or task that you’ll be demonstrating ready to go. In my
example, I had Windows Explorer open and ready to begin my demonstration.

As soon as you launch the Windows Media Encoder, a dialog
box titled New Session will appear on top of the Windows Media Encoder window
and essentially prompt you to select one of the available wizards. To get
started, select Capture Screen, as shown in Figure A, and click OK.

Figure A

The New Session dialog box prompts you to select one of the available
Wizards.

When you see the first page of the New Session Wizard, you’ll
be prompted to select the portion of the screen that you want to capture, as
shown in Figure B. Keep in mind the following caveats as you decide which
option to choose.

Figure B

When you select Screen Capture, the New Session Wizard will provide you
with three ways to define the capture area.

If you select the Specific Window option, the Windows Media
Encoder won’t capture any other windows that appear as you run through your
task. If you select the Region Of The Screen option, any part of a window or
dialog box that falls outside the defined region will be cut off. If you select
the Entire Screen option, your system may run a bit sluggishly as you record
the video and you’ll end up with a larger file.

In the case of my example video tutorial, all the action is
going to occur in Windows Explorer, so I selected the Specific Window option.
Make sure that the Capture Audio From The Default Audio Device check box is
selected and click Next.

The next page that the wizard displays will depend on what
part of the screen that you chose to capture. In the case of this example, this
next page will prompt you to select the window you want to capture in the
video, as shown in Figure C. If you want to see the window demarcated as you
record the video, you can select the Flash Border During Capture check box.

Figure C

Because we selected the Specific Windows option, the next page prompts us
to identify the windows to capture.

On the next page, you’ll simply be prompted to provide a
name for the output file, as shown in Figure D. To continue, click the Next
button.

Figure D

Of course, you have to provide Windows Media Encoder with a file name for
the video tutorial.

When you see the Settings Selection page, you’ll have three
options to select the quality level that you want. Since in a video tutorial
explaining how to accomplish a certain task, you want the viewer to be able to
clearly see what is happening as well as to be able to read the screen, you’ll
want to select the High option, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

To get the best looking video possible, select the High option.

On the Display Information page, shown in Figure F, you’ll
have to opportunity to provide what essentially amounts to documentation. Keep
in mind that this information will not be displayed in Windows Media Player
unless the captions are enabled.

Figure F

Optionally, you can add documentation information to your video tutorial if
you wish.

When you click Next, you’ll see the Settings Review page and
can double-check your settings. To continue with the actual recording step,
select the Begin Capturing Screens When I Click Finish check box, as shown in
Figure G, and click Finish.

Figure G

To get started right way, select the check box before you click Finish.

You’ll now see the confirmation dialog box shown in Figure
H, which basically prompts you to confirm the recording operation and informs
you that once the recording has begun, you can pause the recording and return
to the main Windows Media Encoder window simply by selecting its button on the
taskbar.

Figure H

This confirmation dialog box provides you with a few last minute
instructions.

As soon as you click OK, the Windows Media Encoder window
minimizes itself and you can begin narrating and demonstrating the task. When
you’re done, click on the Windows Media Encoder icon on the taskbar and the
recording will pause. You’ll then see the Windows Media Encoder window and can click the Stop button on the toolbar.

After you click the Stop button, you’ll see the Encoding
Results dialog box and can click Play Output File. When
you do, Windows Media Player, or whatever media player is set as the default, will
open your video tutorial and you watch it.

When you return to the Encoding Results dialog box, you can
either click Close to end the recording session or you can click New Session if
you want to start over the re-record your video tutorial. When you click New
Session, the wizard will appear again.

If you wish to record another video tutorial on a different
topic, you should begin by clicking the Properties button on the toolbar and
selecting the Output tab. Then, in the File Name text box type a new filename before
you click on Start Encoding. If you don’t provide a new filename, you’ll
overwrite your first recording.

Rolling out the video tutorial

Because the Windows Media Encoder save its files in the Windows
Media Video (WMV) format, your video tutorial is very easy to distribute as
many media players in addition to Windows Media Player can play the WMV format.
As such you can attach the WMV file to an email message in which you instruct
recipients to save the attachment to the hard disk and simply double-click the
file to run the video tutorial.

Some tricks and tips

As you can see creating a video tutorial is a pretty
straightforward procedure. However, there are a few tips and tricks that will
save you time and frustration

Wallpaper

If your video tutorial will show the Windows desktop, you
need to keep in mind that using wallpaper on your desktop will appear distorted
and can be distracting to the viewer. As such, you’ll want to disable the
wallpaper.

Desktop themes

Fancy desktop themes will also appear distorted and be
distracting. As such, you’ll want to use the standard windows theme.

Color palette

Some video cards offer an astonishing number of colors for
the color palette. However, I’ve discovered that using some of the higher-level
color palettes caused both recording and playback problems. I found that 16 bit
or 32 bit color palettes work just fine.

Screen resolution

When you record a video with Windows Media Encoder it not
only records your actions, it also records the current screen resolution of the
computer. What this means is that if you record a video on a system that is
using a screen resolution of 800×600 and then play it back on a different
system that is using a screen resolution of 1024×768, the movie will play back
in a window that is 800×600 in size and will be very readable. However, I’ve
discovered that the reverse isn’t always true. That is if you record a video at
1024×768 and then play it back at 800×600 the video could be distorted. As
such, it a good idea to stick with a screen resolution of 800×600 when
recording a video.