I have been looking for a long time to find suitable programs to produce video tutorials like this one or that one. Most free screen capture programs produce poor quality and editing the resulting video is also a quality challenge.
The particular problem for tutorials is the fact that one often uses text pages (PDF documents or webpages) in the tutorial. That is a real challenge for the screen capture program. Very often you are unable to read the text or it is very fuzzy in the resulting video. Action movies are a lot easier to capture because the quality deterioration is not so obvious.
After trying about a dozen free and paid options, I have settled for two capture programs and two editing options. I also use YouTube and Vimeo for uploads. Since they do an additional conversion, this is another source of quality deterioration. So there is an interest to start with excellent input quality.
Screen capture programs
The program I have been using for a long time is WMCapture. I bought this for $39.95. The output quality is very good but the controls are not. There is no keyboard combination for Pause or Stop which makes it necessary to activate their control window each time. This, of course, shows up in the captured video and has to be cropped each time. I will not go into the operational details of this program because they are pretty obvious. One day I found Microsoft Expression Encoder 4. This produces outstanding output quality and has the keyboard controls I always wanted. If you buy it, you will have to pay $199, but that is not necessary. They have a free download and you can use it forever. The only restriction of the free version is that you are only allowed 10 minutes for each capture. That was never a problem for me because after 10 minutes I run out of words anyhow and have to take a break and regroup. For capturing e.g. YouTube musicals it is usually also sufficient. I prefer the capture over the download because then I run no risk of collecting malware.
Microsoft Expression Encoder 4 (MSEE4)
I will explain the operation of MSEE4 because I found a few tricks that are useful to know. When you start MSEE4, you get this control.
All you usually need to do is click on the microphone icon and then on the red dot. Just be aware that the default settings are 15FPS and both the microphone and the headphone ports are activated. If you have your speakers attached to the headphone port and run e.g. the internet radio, the radio output will also record. This is, of course, handy if you play e.g. a video during your recording. Hence the video sound will be recorded.
If you want to change the settings, you click on the cog wheel and you get these controls.
Here you see the 15FPS frame rate which you can augment up to 60FPS – this is recommended if you record action videos. But it will considerably increase the size of your output file.
Once you are done with the settings, click on the red dot which gets you to this Control.
Click on the leftmost box (under the word “Select”), release the clicker and move the cursor to the top left corner of your screen. Then hold the left clicker down and drag the cursor to the right bottom corner and release the clicker. Now you have selected the entire screen for the recording. If you want to record only parts of the screen, you have to move/drag the cursor accordingly.
When you are done with the screen selection, click on the red dot of this control and you get this last control.
Here it tells you that you can pause with CTL+Shift+F11 and that you can stop with CTL+Shift+F12. That is the function I was always missing in WMCapture. It is very convenient.
When you click OK, a countdown of 3 seconds will start (big 3,2,1 on the screen) and the recording will start.
To end the recording, you press CTL+Shift+12 and the recording stops – or after 10 minutes when the program stops the recording automatically and informs you with a pop-up. Then you get this control.
Here they want you to send the output to the encoder. In typical Microsoft fashion they did not go the easy way and record in a known filetype (e.g. .wmv), but they had to invent this special filetype .xesc. If you want to deal with the encoder, that is fine. But there is a much easier way. The encoder will keep your system really busy. Depending on the power of your system, the encoding takes 3 to 6 minutes for every minute of recorded video. So a 10 minute screen capture can take up to an hour of encoding.
But we will do that “encoding” the smart way. We go to the MSEE4 output which is in:
C:\Users\yourname\Documents\Expression\Expression Encoder\Screen Capture Output.
And it looks like this:
Here we will use a simple trick. We will rename the filetype from .xesc to .wmv.. The result is the same as the result from the encoder. I could not see any difference. The .xesc filetype is more or less the same as the .wmv filetype. Note though that this “conversion” will not work if you rename it to .avi or any other known video filetypes – only .wmv is permissible. After the renaming you will get a warning message which you can ignore – just click Yes.
If you want to be 100% sure that your tweaked .wmv is really good under all circumstances, run it thru Format Factory and convert is from .wmv to .wmv. That is sometimes neccessary for uploads because the upload sites may have problems with this "hybrid .wmv". That way you have no loss of quality and Format Factory has done a genuine .wmv job.
But if Format Factory fails too (which happens on rare occasions), run it thru WLMM as the usltimate cure. None of that is required if you only use the video on a PC or burn it to a DVD. The hybrid .wmv is good enough for that.
Now you have this screen capture and probably a few more 10 minute pieces that you want to edit – crop off the possible MSEE4 pop-up and assemble the pieces. Here again you have a few options.
You can use the Windows Live Movie Maker (WLMM) – but do not use the older WMM which produces really poor output even at the best settings. If you use WLMM at the recommended settings, you can expect a reasonable result. The video does, however, go thru a conversion and it takes a long processing time for the output.
What you really want is a lossless editing. The best program I found for that is Machete. For $19.95, this little program is really good value. They do have a 2 week trial period – so you can try it out. They also have a free Machete Lite which I have never tried.
To get you started with Machete, I will explain the most basic operations. For more complex operations you can refer to their “How to..” documentation.
Cropping a video
Open Machete and follow the steps in the picture.
Once you have set the end point, go to File and Save the selection as… You will notice that the saving is extremely fast. Compare that to e.g. WLMM.
If you later want to assemble your pieces with Machete, you should familiarize yourself with the Key Frame concept which is well explained in the Machete documentation. If you assemble with WLMM, this is irrelevant.
I will assume that you are familiar with WLMM and only explain the assembly procedure with Machete.
You open your first file and set the markers in the front and at the end. Make sure the “runner” is at the end of file1. Then you go to the icon as shown in the picture and insert the second file.
Now you set the marker at the end of this composite so that file1 and file2 are shown as one file. Then you can go back to the icon in the picture and insert file3 – and so on. Just make sure you also set the marker at the end after inserting the last file.
Once you have inserted all files you want to assemble, you go to File and click on Save the Selection as…Now you can select the folder to where you want to save. Saving your whole assembly will only take a few seconds – not hours like in WLMM. And the best part is that we still have the original quality of our screen capture.
I prefer Vimeo as uploading site but I also use YouTube. Both sites will convert your video and that means the quality will deteriorate. But there is nothing you can do about that. After all, we are using their free service.
Vimeo limits you to 500MB per week on the free account. They also allow only one HD video per week.
YouTube allows up to 2GB per upload, but it must not be longer than 15 minutes. They convert everything to .flv which is a highly compressed format with the corresponding impact on quality.