There are lots of commercial screencasting products out there. Without linking to any of them in particular, most cost anywhere from $40 to upwards of hundreds of dollars depending on the company and functionality. Most, though, do the same general thing: they allow you to record video and usually audio of what you are seeing for later posting. Be it as video of some achievement, reporting on an event, or even as a way to teach how certain programs work, they all are geared towards capturing video and audio.
However, while there are a wide array of programs to buy, free and open source tools are rather limited. For Windows, the one program I’ve used the most is CamStudio (2.7.2). I usually pair it with Audcaity (2.0.5) for editing audio and VirtualDub (1.10.4) for basic video editing needs. Those are the three I will be covering in this post.
(Note: Be sure to click Advanced when given the option to do so each time, unselecting the MySearchDial and Bing options, and then declining all offers as well when installing CamStudio for the first time. You don’t want any of those, believe me.)
When running CamStudio, you will be greeted with some fairly straightforward options and others that are slightly hidden away.
The first drop-down menu, File, offers the very basic “Record,” “Pause,” “Stop,” and “Exit,” echoing the same as the row of icons below it. The red circle is the record button. The bars are for pausing, and the blue square is for stopping once recording has been started.
Region is where you select how much of and which screen to record. Usually, I use the “Fixed Region…” option, which allows for, after the record button clicked or option has been selected, you to draw the area you would like to record. It is an easy way to limit the viewing area to only some smaller subsection of the screen, like only recording the contents of a webpage and not all the various toolbars that might surround it.
The “Window” option can also be quite useful too when the need is to capture everything a certain program does. The same with “Select Screen” to capture the entire contents of only one monitor in a multi-monitor hardware setup.
The Options menu allows access to just that, program options. From here, you can choose what video codecs to use (Video Options), if the cursor should be recorded or not (Cursor Options), or even which audio input devices to use and how they should be configured (Audio Options).
The audio recording options are also within this same menu. The default action is for CamStudio to record no audio, but the other two options, recording from a microphone or the speakers, are also available. Depending on your own needs at the time, each have their own uses.
From within the Options menu is the Program Options sub-menu. This covers what happens when recording is done, such as how to name the file and where it should be saved, as well as, once settings are changed, if they should be saved upon exiting the program. Two additional sub-menus to note here are the “Temporary recording directory” and “Output directory” ones. The first is where the video, as the recording takes place, will be saved. The second where finished videos should be saved by default.
For either the temporary or final directories, there are three options. CamStudio will default, for each, to its “Temp Files” and “My CamStudio Recordings” directory accordingly. However, both or either can be set to a user-specified directory if needed.
Tools menu allows access to the Annotation options, using either Screen or Video variations. While each have their uses and can add to a screencasting experience, they are also more advanced features and often require some advance knowledge of where certain things like shapes or even some text should be. And while I’ve experimented with including such things myself in videos, I’ve often found many of the default options, with my own spoken audio, to be highly effective in delivering content.
The Effects menu, like that of Tools, allows for adding time stamps, captions, or watermarks to the video. In certain corporate environments, such options can be quite useful, marking videos as property of certain organizations or as part of some group. However, for most users, these are extras that do not add as much as they might subtract from some recorded experience.
The last thing to note is the ability to change what file format the resulting video will be in when recording is finished. The default is AVI, which is a good general one to use if uploading to a video sharing site like YouTube or Vimeo after recording. However, for those videos with portable devices in mind, MP4 might be a better option. And, for those that might be web-based, but not for iOS devices, the Flash (SWF) option works too.
Well, once you have chosen all of your options according to your liking, you can finally begin the recording process. It is as simple as picking the Region you want, if you have not done so already, and clicking the red circle.
While CamStudio is recording, it will show the current dimensions at the bottom. (Here, I have used the Fixed Region option and selected the CamStudio window itself for a few seconds as an example). It will also list the current file size, frame, and details about the codec in use. To stop the recording, once you have what you want, click on the blue square.
If you have not set a user-specified directory to save the recordings, you will be prompted to name the file and where to save it.
At this point, if you do not want to edit the audio in any way, you are done. Congratulations on a successful recording!
However, if you want to remove some noises from the audio or do some editing to it, another tool will be needed. This time, VirtualDub.
Unlike both CamStudio and Audacity, VirtualDub does not come with an installer. Instead, it comes in a folder and it is up to the user to place the files somewhere useful. For me, I’ve found placing the folder on my desktop, since I use the program on a fairly regular basis, was the best. However, the Documents directory might be another good choice too, depending on your own organizational style.
Within the folder, the program to run is the application file VirtualDub itself.
VirtualDub has many great features and some quite advanced functionality. However, because this guide is focused on screencasting, I will be limiting what I cover to match those needs and glossing over much of what can be accomplished through VirtualDub itself.
As the first step towards editing audio, we need to open the video file within VirtualDub. From the File top-level menu, choose “Open video file…” and then find it. (Unless changed to something else, CamStudio defaults to saving its files to Libraries->Documents->My CamStudio Recordings in Windows Vista and later.)
Once loaded, VirtualDub will show the number of total frames in increments along the bottom with the current frame on the left and the next frame in the video on the right. For screencasting usage, we are going to ignore the video editing for the moment and go back to the File menu.
From the File menu, this time we want the “Save WAV…” option. This will allows us to strip out the audio from the video file so that we can edit it before re-attaching and then making a new file. For now, choosing this will prompt us to save the audio file to a location.
While it doesn’t matter too much where this WAV file is to be saved, it should be in a place where we can find it easily for the next step of editing the audio.
We will leave VirtualDub running in the background now and move to the next tool: Audacity.
Like VirtualDub, Audacity has a large set of functionality, much more than can be covered in one blog post, let alone in only a few paragraphs. For its usage as part of the screencasting workflow, though, we will being a small subset of its abilities. First, of course, we need to load the file.
Using the File menu, choose “Open…” and then select the WAV file created from VirtualDub.
When an audio file is loaded in Audacity, it shows up as represented as sound waves. By controlling different aspects of these waves, the sounds can be tweaked, either making then louder or normalizing them down to a smaller range. For this guide, I will be using the Effects and File menu only.
In the recording in these images there are smaller waves in the middle around the center line. This is actually background noise from the room in which I did the recording and is a pretty common problem for most recording settings too. To get of rid of them, we select a portion that is only noise (not the larger sound waves) by highlight a section with the cursor.
Once chosen, go to the Effects menu and choose the option “Noise Removal…”
With this menu open and the section of audio selected, click on “Get Noise Profile.” It will save what we told it was noise to get rid of.
This time, use the cursor to select the whole file or press Ctrl-A.
Now, unfortunately, we need to open the Noise Removal menu again to apply the effect. Go back to Effects -> “Noise Removal…”
This time, the “OK” button will be enabled and we can get rid of the noise across the whole file based on the sample we chose.
The noise should be gone throughout the file, having been removed at all points.
If wanted, we can do more editing via effects now, like using range compressing, applying a high-pass filter, and other advanced techniques. However, to keep things simple, I will show one other editing technique.
Remember, since this audio will need to sync with the video it came from, deleting sections is a bad idea, as it will throw of the timing. Instead, what we can do to get rid of breathing, coughing, or other short noises we might not want on the audio is to select some section and then silence it. The icon that looks like it has waves on both sides with a flat line in the middle does that.
Once we have the audio the way we want, we need to export it. To do that, go to the File menu and then “Export…”
Just like with VirtualDub, we get to choose where to save this new audio. Its exact placement doesn’t matter too much, just like last time, but it does need to be in a location where you will remember it for the next step in a moment.
Finally moving back to VirtualDub, we need to attach this new audio to the video. For that, we use the Audio top-level menu and the “Audio from other file…” option.
Select the file created from Audacity and click on “Open” attach it to this video.
Before we can save the final video, we need to make sure the video options are where they need to be as well. Make sure that the “Direct stream copy” option is selected to bypass any codec converting or video compressing happening. We want VirtualDub to package the new audio with the old video without any extra processing being done.
As the final step in this whole long process, from the File menu select “Save as AVI…” to save the video file, with the new audio, to a location.
This new file will be the product of the screencasting, the audio editing, and the summation of all the work done on it.
Once it has been processed and saved, which can take some time depending on the amount of video and audio in question, close Audacity, choosing to save the project if wanted, and then VirtualDub as well.
As the very last step, close CamStudio now too, if wanted. If it is not running in a window, it is probably in the system tray. Either double-clicking on it from there and using the File -> Exit method or using the right-click context menu from its system tray locaiton and choosing “Exit” will close it.
Congratulations on your screencast! May you make many more!