Paper is dead wood
Traditionally the training manual comes in paper form. But with people processing visuals 600,000 times faster than text, it’s time to start thinking about video tutorials. Whether you’re explaining how to upload an image or how to rename a page, it’s quicker and easier in video form. Here are a few tips to make your screencasts sharp, concise and flexible.
It’s all about the Retina!
Sorry but yes, the answer is Mac. A retina display is an Apple offering, boasting higher pixel density. For example, my PC monitor offers a max resolution of 1920x1200 (which is fairly standard, for PC). Whereas my macbook offers a whopping 3360 x 2100! Check out the difference in scale below.
Why does this matter? Flexibility.
There may be times when you want to focus on a certain part of the screen. For example when you’re talking through a particular tool panel or properties window. This is possible when recording at a high resolution. Natively your screencasts are so much bigger than a standard video so you can zoom up to 75%.
Is that it? No.
Mac renders text differently from a PC. It uses something called subpixel rendering which results in text looking punchy and smooth. Dare I say it, even sexy. Err can’t believe I just said that! Robot girlfriend next.
Alright then, which software?
I use Screenflow (mac only) which is really easy to use, gives me great results, and offers lots of useful tools. It costs $99 though.
Some cool Screenflow tools:
- Cursor click effects – handy so the viewer can easily keep track of where the cursor is clicking.
- Keystrokes on screen – useful if using keyboard shortcuts. You could voice these BUT remember visuals are easier to take in!
Compression is a process you put your video through to decrease its file size. Why? Because it’s not practical to upload uncompressed video to the web. But won’t I lose quality? No. Why? Watch this video.
Whether you want to compress your screencast off the bat, really depends on whether you want to edit further. The below diagram should make more sense:
That said, a 3360 x 2100 screencast (uncompressed) is big. I exported a 10 second clip and it was 490mb. So if you haven’t got a beastly hard drive, do your editing in the screencast software.
If you’re not going to use the size, i.e. you’re just going to shrink it to 1920x1200. Resize it in the screencast software before exporting it out. The same clip resized to 1920x1200 was 163mb, under half the size.
What settings do you use?
In Screenflow, I’ve created my own preset. It’s based on ‘Lossless Pro Res with Alpha’. All I’ve changed is the frame rate from 30fps to 25fps. This is because I regularly use screencasts in our promotional videos which run at 25fps. I’ve also changed the ProRes Profile from 4444 to 442HQ. Simply because the file size is smaller with no noticeable difference in quality.
If you’re looking at exporting for web, I’d recommend ‘Web - High’. If you experiment with ‘Web - Low’, you’ll see that the quality is, in fact, very low.
Paying for software isn’t an option, I want the free sh*t
Obviously there are numerous pieces of free software. For example Quicktime offers a screencast mode. As you’d expect, it’s more limited than something like Screenflow. For example when exporting, you can’t specify a frame rate or a file format. However, if you’re just looking to do something basic, you can achieve good results with Quicktime.
What if I’m all about PC?
Don’t worry, there is still hope. With a regular PC monitor (1920x1200) you can still produce a solid screencast, but don’t zoom in! Alternatively you could buy a high resolution PC monitor (basically a retina screen for a PC). The only thing you will lose is the ‘smooth text,’ but you could say that’s a nicety.
Software wise, give this a read. I previously used a piece of bought software called Camtasia but to be honest, I find Screenflow more user friendly. Screenflow’s user interface is more basic but does everything you need.
What about audio!?
What do you think this is? The ‘How to record quality screencasts’ blog? Ah, actually it is. Ok, I will cover audio in my next blog. This is a two-part series, it turns out!