Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Microsoft has a free tool for screen video capture - Windows Media Encoder

At several points in my work career I'd have liked to record a screen video. SnagIt does a fairly poor job with video, and the higher end Camtasia solution costs a few hundred bucks. I didn't know of a real alternative, until I read Jon Udell's article from early 2004 wherein he mentions a free Microsoft utility: Windows Media Encoder 9. Jon writes:
The results were stunning. I set up a new session, pointed it at Outlook's main window, and began encoding.. Along the way I pointed with the cursor to items of interest, opened and closed dialog boxes, and drove the Outlook interface as I normally do. The resulting six-minute video had the same format as my Outlook window, which happened to be about 750-by-620. The file came in at just under 3MB. I FTP'd it to my Website and, because I'd chosen the progressive-download option, playback was immediate. It was also perfectly readable and audible. Elapsed time from the moment I thought of trying this to the end of playback: about 25 minutes. Next time it'll take 10. Why don't more people do this? Because it wasn’t this easy before. Now, it is.
More recently Jon writes of this as a part of "screencasting". I gave it a try. I wasn't surprised to discover that it was a bit bleeding edge -- Jon Udell basically defines the cutting edge. I can confirm, however, that it works. Next time I'll be able to do it in 20 minutes, and eventually it should be pretty easy. Sadly I don't know of an OS X equivalent, though if there were one it would be far more elegant.

The encoder is used for capturing screen video. There's little documentation, but you'll see the "wizard" when you start up. If you use a dual monitor hi-res display try capturing from a "defined window" and try dropping your screen res and colors. Using the wizard I got it to work, when I played with my own settings I got worthless error message with hex identifiers. Video can be saved locally and played in Windows Media Player -- but I had to manually locate and identify the codec update. (The automatic installation failed.) You can also drag and drop the video file into the XP Movie Maker application where you can add a voice track, edit it, combine clips, and save them externally.

I had one annoying and persistent bug. When I was capturing screen video double clicking didn't work. I suspect that dropping the frame rate or extending my click interval would take care of this problem but I just used the click-enter alternative. Also if you have two displays I think it croaks unless you tell it to record from a defined area (I selected an area on one of my displays).

It's not really ready for widespread use, but I think I'll get good use from this 2002 utility.

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