Quick Shoot-Out – 4 Free Web-based Screencasting Tools

In an effort to lend support to the upcoming f2f JIBC/VCC Online Course Showcase and make the results of these demos more widely available, we are hoping to capture screencasts of the actual demos to share online.

In order to do this in a way that works cross-platform and doesn’t require an install (it is entirely likely presenters will want to use their own laptops) I did a quick investigation of free web-based tools for doing screencasts. The one other requirement that needed to be met was – no (or little) restriction on the size/length of the screencast. I should also note – I was doing these demos on a Mac. While almost all of these claim to be cross-platform and typically employ a Java or combination Java/Flash applet to do their recording, underlying platform can effect how these allegedly “cross platform” apps work, so you may have different results on PC or Linux.

I was assisted by a few helpful sites in selecting some candidates and settled on the following 4 to quickly try out:

ScreenCastle – http://screencastle.com/

I liked Screencastle for its immediate simplicity – a big red “Record” button on its front page launched a Java-applet with 2 basic commands, record and stop (N.B. pretty much all of these sites.) The recording worked fine enough (though the start/stop bar gets hidden at the top of your screen) and it offers up links to embed, stream or download the video after it has been processed. The embed/stream video worked great and it captures audio off the mic by default too. The problem I ran into was with the downloaded file – an .flv file that when I tried to run or convert on my local machine, proved to have compressed 1 1/2 minutes of video into 1 1/2 seconds! Hopefully this is just a temporary bug, but it won’t suffice for a meeting in a couple of weeks.

Screencast-o-matic – http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/

Despite its somewhat corny name, this turned out to be the cadillac of the lot. The resizeable recorder also offers audio and video from the webcam included into the end result. It ran flawlessly, and then offered me the option to upload the finished product to either their own site or Youtube, or download a copy in a few different formats. The end results looked beautiful. They do include a watermark which can be removed for $9/year, cheap at twice the price. It does have a 15 minute maximum length (extended to an hour for the upgraded version) but my needs fit into that length – indeed, if your screencast is likely to be longer than 15 minutes, maybe reconsider your script!

ScreenToaster – http://www.screentoaster.com/

I acknowledge that I may be having a problem with my local mic/flash configuration, but I never could get this to work properly on my machine if I asked to record the audio. Worse yet, it froze the entire browser. Looks promising – resizable screen, can include webcam input with the screencast, but the crashes meant it was not a contender.

ScreenJelly – http://www.screenjelly.com/

Possibly not fair to other competitors I haven’t discussed here (e.g. Screenr for one) as it limits the recording to 3 minutes, and so was automatically out of the running for my specific needs, but I’ve included Screenjelly on the list because it is a very sweet user experience. One big red record button, the video it captures is of very high quality and seems to not have the upload/processing lag that some of the others suffer from. It integrates with Twitter and Facebook, which makes sense; I see this as a really handy tool for very quick one-offs, to demonstrate a local problem or fix to a friend on twitter, but the lack of longer time means I’ll look elsewhere for a solution to screencasting the Showcase Demos.

The Verdict

Generally, while there were a few bugs and problems, the technology of web- (well, ok, Java) based screencasting seems to be ready for primetime. I often hear claims about the difficulties faculty will have in using the technology to create a screencast unaided, and my experience with these 4 apps shows me this is mostly bunk. This is now mostly “Mom-proof” technology, especially if you go with the winner, Screencast-o-matic (or for shorter clips, ScreenJelly.)But I guess we will see on the day at the showcase; the big test will be whether we can capture the demos without any disruption to the f2f events.

Happy screencasting! – SWL

UPDATEto his immense credit, Stefan from Screencastle replied almost immediately to my email about the problem I was having with sped up video in the downloaded file. He indicated this was very likely a problem on my local machine, so don’t count Screencastle out. Try it yourself, it is a nice, simple to use app, that were it working for me right now I may have considered.