Software Presentation Tool -- CamStudio (version 2.0 -- Last Freeware Version)
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If you have been reading my reviews, you may have noticed a progression. I started out by adding screen shots of the programs I review. Then I started adding Macromedia Flash files using Wink (previously reviewed). Now I am adding video files. After I had been using Wink for awhile, I happened to find CamStudio that also does software presentations. Both programs record movies of your computer desktop as you demonstrate a computer program. Both are primarily used to create tutorials on how to use software in a visual presentation. I normally use these programs in a slightly different capacity in that I demonstrate the features of a program without providing directions on how to use it. CamStudio has an advantage over Wink in that it records your voice where Wink does not. It will also record your image from a camera while you are demonstrating a program (although I haven’t used this capability).
I had some difficulty setting up the microphone on my computer. It wasn’t a problem with CamStudio but my own ignorance. I kept getting something that sounded like static in my recordings. The microphone plugs into a pink jack on the back of the CPU. Little did I know that I had two pink jacks! I have a Sound Blaster card which produced the best sound. The jack for it was positioned along the same row of jacks as the ones for my speakers. To resolve the problem, I switched to the pink jack on my Sound Blaster card. The sound improved considerably. Later, I discovered yet another jack that I haven’t tried that is next to my modem line that is labeled “Mic” (although it not pink like the other jacks). Anyway, if you have bad sound quality, try looking for another microphone jack on the back of your CPU.
My first recording using CamStudio was 7 ½ minutes long and a whopping 157 megabytes in size. CamStudio comes with another program called “SWF Producer” that takes the *.avi files produced by the program and converts them to Macromedia Flash *.swf files. After using SWF Producer, my recording ended up being a 35 megabyte Flash file. After adjusting the settings on SWF Producer to produce the smallest possible file, I still ended up with a 30.6 megabyte file. (I found out later that CamStudio has a problem with Flash files that I discuss below). Although the Flash file was considerably smaller than the original *.avi file, it was still much too big for streaming video on the internet. Streaming video files for the internet should be less than 5 megabytes so that your visitors don’t have to wait so long to download the files. At this point, I thought that CamStudio might not work out for me. Then I decided to check out the Free Vlog web site. In their tutorials, they recommend compressing video using Windows Movie Maker. Movie Maker comes with Windows XP service pack 2 and should already be installed on your computer. It is usually opened by clicking on your Windows Start button, selecting “All Programs”, then “Accessories”, then “Entertainment” and then “Windows Movie Maker”. If it is not there, try looking in other options in “All Programs”. Unfortunately, the tutorial provided by Free Vlog is for a version of Movie Maker that I don’t have. I am using version 2.1 but figured out how to use it. I ended up with a video that is 5 megabytes in size which was acceptable for streaming internet video. I decided to create a tutorial on how to use Movie Maker to compress your video. If you don’t use Windows XP, the Free Vlog web site should help you compress your video using other programs. The site also has tutorials on how to do other things as well.
Click Here to View Tutorial on How to Compress Video
Windows Movie Maker will convert the *.avi file produced by CamStudio to a *.wmv file. This is actually a good thing because it is possible to select codecs for *.avi files that visitors to your site may not have (see my review of the K-Lite Mega Codec Pack for an explanation). The *.wmv file type will play fine with the Windows Media Player that comes preinstalled with just about every version of Windows. For this reason, the *.wmv file type is probably a better choice for streaming video for the internet because anyone that has Windows should be able to play it without any problem.
You need to know that CamStudio will allow you to create any size of a screen capture area; however, the video must be in a 4:3 aspect ratio when using Windows Movie Maker. If you use Windows Movie Maker to compress a video that is not 4:3, it will squeeze your video to make a 4:3 shape which will result in distortion of the image. I normally use a 320 x 240 screen capture area in CamStudio. If you want to use a different capture area, just multiply the screen height times 1.333 to get the screen width.
CamStudio includes two different versions of media players though they don’t have all that many features. A feature that I do like is the video will play back automatically after you save the file. Another great feature is “autopan” that I use all the time. It makes the video capture area follow the cursor to wherever it goes during the recording. It is possible to record the entire screen, but the file size of the video will be much larger.
There is a known bug with viewing Flash *.swf videos generated by CamStudio. The video cannot be viewed with Netscape or Firefox. When I tried to view a Flash file using Firefox, I found that audio was produced but there was no video. The same Flash file worked file with Internet Explorer. When a Flash file is created, CamStudio also creates a companion html file. CamStudio’s home page (link below) says the problem is with the companion html file and provides a way to edit it so it works correctly. Instead of using the Flash options, I prefer to compress the *.avi files produced by CamStudio and convert them to *.wmv files using Windows Movie Maker.
Other than this bug, I found CamStudio to be free of problems with one small exception. Screen annotations are saved in a layout to a fixed location on your screen. I would have preferred that the annotations would follow the movements of the screen capture area when using the autopan feature. As it is, you can make a screen annotation appear in a location on your screen that is not even being picked up in your recording. I consider this to be a minor problem that can be overcome by some advanced planning.
The program includes a very good help file that is accessed through the program’s Help menu option. It is very comprehensive. Anyone should be able to read it and understand how to use the program.
If you don’t especially like talking over a microphone, Wink is the software presentation tool for you. Wink also produces much smaller file sizes than CamStudio. Wink produces Flash files of ½ a megabyte in size or less. CamStudio’s files that are usually 4 or 5 megabytes in size after being compressed. I have to admit, however, that I find CamStudio to be more fun to use.
CamStudio is compatible with Windows 95, 98, ME, NT4, 2000 and XP. The download consists of a single compressed file, camstudio.zip. When unzipped, two files are produced, CamStudio20.exe and CamStudioCodec10.zip. Unzipping the latter file produced the files camcodec.inf, camcodec.dll and some text files. Right clicking on the file camcodec.inf and selecting “Install” will install the CamStudio Lossless Codec v1.0 onto your computer. Double click on CamStudio20.exe with your file manager to install the CamStudio program. After installation, the executable for CamStudio is Recorder.exe.