ScreenFlow 1.5. Hands-on experience of screencasting utility for Mac OS X

During the month of April I had to record couple of screencasts for techdays.ru, a MSFT operated web site. The site is all about Microsoft technologies and so were my both screencasts.

I have to confess that I am a real newbee in screen cast authoring field so take my words with a grain of salt.

For the first, 15 minutes long, webcast I went the Camtasia route. The whole screencast, including the audio was recorded with that utility which I was running under the Parallels Desktop virtualization software. Okay, all went well, but I had that bitter feeling that this matter could have been done with less hassle and in a MacOS friendly way. So I went googling for a MacOS utility that could just record the Parallels Desktop's screen running whatever OS I would need at a given point in time and the Universe.

Googling for a solution got some results and I started evaluating them. First of all, there is no Camtasia for Mac OS, and the Snapz Pro X that I own is really good for taking screen captures only. So I started evaluating ScreenFlow 1.5 and, to make the story short, my second, one hour long, screen cast was recorded with help of that power tool.

Here are some killing features that got me hooked.

[caption id="attachment_262" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Screen Flow 1.5"]screenflow-15-2[/caption]

Full screen capture of the entire screen by default

Actually this is the way many Mac apps works - they do not ask silly questions. Instead of asking what screen size I want to record it just captures everything and lets me crop it later if I ever will need to. This is very good approach. I can just start recording the demo and do not worry that these important message boxes pop up in the screen area that is being captured. I just run the demo and I am confident that everything will be recorded as it should. On the sreen shot on the left hand side you can see that I am showing only the window I want. You may notice the gray line at the bottom of the view - the line denotes the actual screen boundary. The actual content that will be exported is on the screen in the center, the rest will be cut off on export.

Callout Actions

It's no surprise that screens are huge these days and the amount of information they can display at a given time is tremendous. This is a fact, like the fact that you will have to reduce the resulting screen resolution of your video to make it web friendly. So we have a dilemma here. We want to show something important and have to ensure that the viewer will notice these important bits of information.

The ScreenFlow's solution to the problem is a Callout Actions feature. The Callout Actions could be applied either to Mouse cursor or the foreground window. Here is how it works. You just record your demo and add callout actions later in the editing phase. To add mouse pointer callout action you slide the timeline playhead to the position where you want visitor to clearly see what's going on under the mouse pointer and press "Add Callout" button. You can set the size of the circle, the zoom factor, blur shaded area, adjust transition speed of the action to make your action to stand out.

Video Actions

I guess many screen cast authors try to deliver as much information to their prospects as possible and sometimes the later get too bored to be able to absorb the information effectively. It's always good idea to split the presentation into several sections and present them one by one so the audience have a chance for a short distraction of attention. While you transition from one episode to another their attention cortex can relax and prepare for the next chunk of your message.

With ScreenFlow you can easily split the video and apply Video Actions and add Captions and annotations. For example, you can apply zoom and pan on the recorded video, you can insert text between episodes or put it as an overlay, you can move it and rotate. And it is really easy to make.

To add a Video Action, place the playhead at the positon where you want the action to start taking place, press "Add Video Action" button. The last step is to perform the desired action. For example, you want to zoom on some important part of the screen, so you just give it the desired zoom factor, rearrange so the needed area is in the view. That's it.
To return to the original zoom factor, you simply add another video action and set zoom factor back to 100%. Piece of cake.

Built-in camera recording

[caption id="attachment_267" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Priceless revelation"]Priceless revelation[/caption]

I think many software developers would love this feature. Why? Well, this is an opposite case to the presentation, when your customers show you the developer how they use your software.

You give your prototype (or RTM version, poor little you) to someone from your target audience and ask to try it in action. The ScreenFlow will record both your customer face and the actions he/she is taking to get the job done. Well, ScreenFlow will even record all the WTF's the customer spelled if your prototype is hard to use. As a bonus, the video is being captured in separate streams and you can move the P-I-P around the main screen so you do not miss a bit of action the customer performed. Just think for a moment, what kind of ROI could bring in this kind of exercise when done properly and at proper time.

Is it perfect?

It almost is, but I have a couple of cons about this product. The first and most important one is lack of voice narration. It's no problem to perform action and speak into mic for a 5 minutes demos. If you did something wrong - no problem, just retake. This becomes real problem when the length of your screen cast is longer than few minutes.

In fact, I spend couple of evenings to just record video for my 1 hour screen cast and spent few more evenings later narrating the commentary over the video. It is really difficult, if ever possible, to do everything at once, hence the two stages.
Another minor, really minor, flaw is lack of drawing tools, which I would use to.. draw on screen :) But this one was corrected with OmniDazzle which is a free app now.

[caption id="attachment_263" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Video prepared with ScreenFlow and narrated with iMovie - a perfect match"]ScreenFlow_iMovie_Export[/caption]

My workflow

1) Prepare and record demo with ScreenFlow. You are free to record several episodes and include them in ScreenFlow project, or just record all at once and split the video into logical episodes on second step.

2) Add callouts and zoom and panning. Annotate with text. Show the mouse pointer, tell it to make a noise when you clicked. Decide whether to show keyboard shortcuts you pressed (ScreenFlow does it in a pretty nice way), or not.

3) Export the movie to Lossless QuickTime

4) Import the result into iMovie

5) Add voice narration

6) Export the movie to some hi-res format using QuickTime option (Too bad, you cannot export using Flip4Mac WMV with iMovie'9)

7) Convert to WMV. Since I was making video for SharePoint developers I used Flip4Mac WMV Studio HD to convert my screen cast into WMV format so it could be published at Techdays site.

Here is the 30 seconds video I made in less than 5 minutes.

[flashvideo autostart=true bufferlength=2 file=http://cdn.rouslan.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/calloutactions-iphone.m4v displayclick=none height=494 width=640 type=video /]

Have a nice cast! :)