Phil Bull (philbull) wrote,
Phil Bull
philbull

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Making Screencasts

This is quite a long post, so skip to the bottom for all of the goodies.

I've been playing with screencasting for the last few days, in my 'spare' time around exams. I'm pretty excited by the possibilities of screencasting as a form of documentation - you can watch someone else do whatever you're trying to do, all from the comfort of your own home.

As such, I'd like to try and integrate Ubuntu Screencasts into the system documentation and wiki. Unfortunately, there don't seem to have been any new submissions since December last year.

Tools

I've been using XVidCap, for which there is a Debian package. I added a 'test user' so that none of my customisations would get in the way, and then logged in as that user using gdmflexiserver -n, which puts the session in a window on my own desktop.

By dragging a rectangle around the nested X session, you can record a lower-resolution screen in full. See this screenshot for some idea of what I'm talking about.

Successes

It's pretty easy to record a screencast with XVidCap; I've managed to record 8 since Thursday. All I needed to do was press record and then perform a few actions on-screen, slowing myself down a little so that people would have time to see what I was clicking. I used Tomboy to provide introductory text and bullet points of what I would be covering in the screencast.

After that, it was just a matter of uploading the video somewhere. YouTube makes this pretty easy.

Failures

I have quite a strong Potteries accent, so even without dialect I don't sound very understandable. If I ever appeared on TV, I'm pretty sure that they'd subtitle me. I'm therefore the world's worst instructional video narrator.

My voice isn't the only problem, though - it turns out that there aren't any properly usable video editing applications for Ubuntu. The closest I've come to finding something which fulfils my needs is Kino; it can add text and transitions to videos, and doesn't crash all of the time. However, it has a cramped interface, I don't like the way the 'timeline' is handled and it insists on converting everything to DV format! Give my hard disk a break, guys.

The other offerings are either incomplete (Pitivi, Diva) or crashy and confusing (Cinelerra).

Another issue is the method of delivery - videos are big files, and can take ages to download. The original videos look good; text is legible and you can actually see what I'm doing. If you put them on YouTube or Google Video however, they turn into a mess of pixels, despite downloading much faster.

The end result

I've uploaded one video, without narration, to both Google Video and YouTube. You can also download the original (4MB, MPEG), which looks much better. If you turn up the volume, you can hear traffic outside. Whoops.

In addition, I have a collection of unpublished videos, with the following titles:

  • Editing a Photo

  • Editing menus

  • Install and Remove Software

  • Install Updates

  • Rotating a Photo

  • Using Workspaces

  • Working with Removable Media


Next steps

I'd love to get screencasts properly integrated into the documentation. They wouldn't be shipped on the CD (they're far too big for that!), but a See a video of how to do this link at the bottom of relevant topics would be a very cool new feature for Gutsy.

Another idea was to create an 'Ubuntu Tutorial DVD', which would have a load of screencasts covering various topics. People could hand-out the DVDs with Ubuntu installation CDs, which I'm sure would help new users to get started a lot faster.

A final point is that of translations. It would be easy enough to dub over a video in a different language, but the interface would still be in English. This would require someone to re-record all of the videos with a different locale set...
Tags: documentation, potteries, screencasts, ubuntu, video, xvidcap, youtube
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