For several of my screencasts I used an unusual method which I mentioned here. I made my camcorder be the computer’s display, and dubbed the output to tape1. My reasons were twofold. First, I wanted to capture a lot of raw footage without having to wait for the captured data to get written to a file, which can be slow. Second, I wanted to be able to edit in iMovie. Although I have Camtasia and use it often, I reach for iMovie when I need precise frame-by-frame control, and when I’m laying down audio narration in a precise way. Camtasia isn’t good at those things, and neither is Windows Movie Maker. I’ve tried Adobe Premier but it does way more than I need and the learning curve intimidated me. (It also ain’t cheap.) If there is a basic Windows movie editor that meets my requirements, I’d love to hear about it, and so would my screencasting colleagues at MSDN Channel 9. Meanwhile I’ll continue to reach for iMovie. But moving files from a Windows-based capture tool over to iMovie on the Mac, and then back to Windows where I continue to rely on Camtasia for final production, is a huge hassle. Hence the notion of using the camcorder as a bridge between the two worlds.
For the screencasts mentioned above, I connected my Mac to the camcorder with an S-Video cable, detected the camcorder as a display, and captured at 720×480. It’s a challenge to arrange a presentation in that small rectangle, but — particularly when you’re demonstrating a single application window — it can be done.
Today when I updated the Vista video driver for my Compaq nc8340, which has an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600, I repeated the experiment in Vista. This 20-second screencast shows the results for two different capture resolutions: 1024×768 and 800×600. (With this Windows-based setup, talking to the same camcorder, 720×480 doesn’t seem to be an option.) Both captures get squashed down to the standard digital video resolution of 720×480, and neither is crystal clear, but I think both are usable, though you should judge for yourself. I’d lean toward the 800×600 resolution which I’ve found to be ideal for two reasons. First, it minimizes the amount of video data you have to ship over the wire to your viewers, and that still matters. Second, it forces the demo to focus on where the action is, rather than displaying the full panoply of the modern GUI which can often be overwhelming.
1 One of my goals in writing that post was to assure that a future search for ‘udell pv-gs400 s-video’ would find the reminder to myself, embedded in that post, about how to dub to tape. And now, sure enough, it does.