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HOWTO make a screencast on Mac OS X

Created on and categorized as Technical.
Written by Thomas Steiner.

HOWTO make a screencast on Mac OS X

The last three days I have made three screencasts, and with this blog entry I would like to share my experiences in a HOWTO style. A screencast is like a guided tour through a software program. Its main goal is to give a quick overview of what the software can do, and occasionally also of what it cannot do.

Workflow

I work on a MacBook. Most of the things I have learnt about screencasting on Mac OS X, I have learnt from Jesse Newland's blog entry on screencasting (thank you, this is an awesome introduction).

Jesse basically describes the following workflow:
  1. Think of what you want to show, and write a script of what you want to say.
  2. Remember the script and learn it by heart.
  3. Learn how to enunciate.
  4. Record the screencast and recite your script as often until it is perfect.
  5. Publish the screencast to your web space and blog about it.
While this might sound like a good plan to you, for me it is not appropriate in one point: learn the script by heart. Already back in school I failed awefully at learning poems by heart.

In consequence, I suggest the following workflow:
  1. Think of what you want to show.
  2. Record the screencast without sound as often until it is perfect (usually you will succeed after two or three runs, as you can fully concentrate on the screen).
  3. For each scene think of what you want to say.
  4. Loop over each scene and record the audio separately until it is perfect (usually you will be done after many, many runs, as you probably will notice that in the beginning your enunciation on recorded voice, well, sucks).
  5. Combine sound and video to a complete screencast and publish it to your blog, and to YouTube (or any other video sharing platform). This allows others to easily embed your screencast in their own blogs, but in contrast also allows users to download the full quality files.

Required software

As mentioned before, I work on a Mac, so this list covers Mac OS X software:
  • For video recording my colleague Patrick Chanezon pointed me to iShowU ($20), a software that is amazingly intuitive, and perfectly appropriate for screencasting. It also ships with default settings that you rarely ever need to touch.
  • For highlighting the mouse cursor, I used Mousepos? 2 ($14.95) from Boinx Software. It puts like a spotlight effect around your mouse cursor, and also displays your mouse clicks visually. In addition to that, it can highlight your key strokes. I did not activate this feature, though.
  • In some ways Mac OS X is a real cripple, there just is no sound recorder, however, I had good experience with Monkeybread's Sound Recorder (freeware), a totally foolproof piece of software that just does what you expect from a simple sound recorder.
  • For video editing I used Mac OS X's own iMovie (shipped with Mac OS X), a simple, however still mighty (for my needs) video editing software. It has transitions, supports still frame extraction, allows for basic clip editing etc., short, it is simple enough to be learnt in about one hour, without lacking really essential features.
  • Once your screencast looks and sounds good to you, you can export it from iMovie as a Quicktime movie (shipped with Mac OS X). I think that Quicktime is a pain in the butt on other platforms than Mac because it is huge, and because it claws itself into your systems like a tick bite (on a Mac you cannot get rid of it either, but because it is Mac, people do not hate it, like they hate for example Window Media Player [note my subtle Mac criticism]). That is why I also encourage you to post to YouTube, there it is just Flash which is relatively light-weight and universally available.

Technical encoding details

I published the videos in full quality, and in a lower resolution for people that hate huge files. I used:
  • Resolution: native (720x480), and 320x240 for YouTube and low resolution
  • Multipass processing: enabled
  • Codec: H.264
  • Audio: 44,1 kHz, 16-bit, Stereo
In addition to that, the YouTube folks give these recommendations.

Update: Matt Hickey has a tutorial on HOWTO optimize your video for YouTube.

If you would like to share your screencasting experience, I invite you to leave a comment, and also to link to your screencasts. Get started, 3, 2, 1, [Rec]!

Image from boinx.com