Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Free Expression screen video capture software from Microsoft

I have tested various screen capture products in the past, always looking for the free version. It's a request I often get where an academic requires some form of screen capture in order to incorporate a vodcast as part of their repertoire of teaching materials for the VLE,  a virtual learning environment or simply as a video tutorial. 

I have used Adobe Captivate, TechSmith Camtasia Studio (very good) but these are all pay versions. What about free ones? There are those in various guises, some very basic like CamStudio which works well, however, as a user you have to know your video codecs to get the best out of most, and other ones are typically locked down with limitations. One of the better free versions I have come across is kindly provided by Microsoft, called 'Expression 4'.

N.B. those of you running to grab the free software, ensure you go to this download page (avoid the trial versions unless you want the pro version trials...). Please check the system requirements before installing. During installation the free version may ask you for a key, just click past that without entering anything.  For Windows 7 PCs, this should work as above, however 

Windows XP users 'may also' be promoted to install the .NET Framework 4 in addition to expression (a lengthy task).  Ensure that the .NET install file is renamed to include .exe at the end to ensure it runs.  .NET takes  a while to install, so leave plenty of time. Then reinstall Expression 

Capture interface
Personally I think Microsoft have been very generous, it comes in two parts, the screen capture encoder allows audio and video to be captured simultaneously (and even allows you to choose which microphones or audio output you require within the settings menu - shown below). The editor also provides some very useful  options with the ability to output in a range of formats (I would recommend leaving it as default, which is WMV format - make a note of where you are saving your files!) 

The main limitation for the free version appears to be the 10min capture limit.  Personally I don't think that is bad at all, as it gives most people time to take a breath and record a new section, each segment can be assembled together later.  The Capture interface provides: microphone on/off, main volume control, webcam (if you have one), settings, your previous capture list, and of course the record (as shown above).  When selecting the record option you are presented with an area to capture, either full screen or custom.

Choose the audio you want to capture!
I tend to encourage users to adopt PowerPoint 2010 for it's excellent tools (familiarity) and providing an all round lecture experience for their students outside of the classroom, it's also an approach being used to good effect in distance learning projects such as the Hydrographic Academy. Video compatibility if often an issue, fortunately, Expression 4 (free version) outputs in WMV, which allows them to be embedded straight into a slide with ease. WMV is also rather good for YouTube uploads too ;) 
Fortunately  the encoder also works on Windows XP (at the time of writing this post) However - I'm not sure how good it will fair on older systems? ...You may wish to try it and see...

To add to this arsenal of tools, I must not forget the excellent free Windows Live Movie Maker (Windows 7 and greater), which all adds up to some pretty powerful tools for editing an creating professional teaching and learning videos. Output your screen videos from Expression as WMV, you can then easily drop them straight into Movie Maker timeline, add titles, streamline and then upload straight to your YouTube. Of course it also has options to create stand alone WMV or even produce your own DVD if you want to go the whole hog.  

Happy editing :)