Review: Camtasia Studio 8 raises the bar on interactive video creation
At a Glance
Over the years, TechSmith's Camtasia has evolved from being the go-to program for software demonstrators to a full-featured education/information video tool. With version 8, Camtasia Studio ($299, 30-day free trial) has not only added new features—including multi-track video editing and embedded hyperlinks—but has been rewritten from the ground up with new optimized code and greater potential impact.
If you watch a YouTube video explaining how to edit in Photoshop, write in Word, or do anything else in a program, that video was very likely created with Camtasia Record, the original core function of Camtasia Studio. Capturing and showing screen-based activity, such as cursor movement, menu choices, and other interface interactions remains quite straightforward. Click the Record button, and everything you do on your computer monitor is recorded, until you click the Stop button. The results are quite smooth, even when capturing complex on-screen media. That's because Camtasia's new capture engine is optimized for high-definition video, and can now record at 30 frames per second. (Version 7 had a tendency to slow down to 5-10 frames per second.)
But once you get into the video editor, Version 8 is clearly an entirely new kind of program. The new multi-track interface can import video from other sources, including MP4, MPG, MPEG, WMV, MOV, SWF, BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, WAV, MP3, WMA and Zipped Library. (However, Camtasia Studio imports only one video and one audio track from a .mov file, rather than multiple tracks. Also, only SWF created from Jing or previous versions of Camtasia Studio can be imported.). You can even display several video windows in a single screen and have them play at the same time. You can name and group tracks. What's more, batch edits such as animations, zoom/pan, and other effects can be applied to an entire group, saving lots of time and effort.
The Canvas is no longer just a playback view of your project. You can now work directly with any object (including video windows) on the Canvas, clicking and dragging to resize and reposition. When dragging, alignment guides appear to help you line up elements to other objects. However, there's no single-click command to resize a window that fills the canvas, which would be useful. Anything (video windows, graphics, callouts, etc.) on the canvas can be animated over time. In our tests, we were able to create some very slick visuals, such as applying a perspective angle to a video window, using the rotation control.
Anything on the Canvas can now be a clickable hyperlink (to either external URLs or locations within the video). While this interactivity greatly increases the potential impact and educational value of a video, the only way to share it is by exporting the MP4 with TechSmith's SmartPlayer. YouTube, Facebook, and other social networks don't support the player, which means the hotspots won't work on such sites. If you want to use the interactive video on your own Website, the solution is to let TechSmith host your video on Screencast.com, which will then provide iframe code you can embed on your Webpage. (Your purchase of Camtasia Studio includes 2Gb of storage and 2GB of bandwidth per month free on Screencast.) Both the player and the embedded code automatically determines if the device can run Flash or needs HTML5, and will serve up the video that will best perform on that device (such as iPads, iPhones, Android tablets, and most Android smartphones, as well as laptop and desktop computers).
Although Camtasia has had the ability to include interactive quizzes or polls in your videos for some time, it was cumbersome and less than fully helpful because the aggregated quiz results used to be emailed to the host or teacher. Now the TechSmith server works behind the scenes to gather the data and provide reports to the host/teacher. For instance, teachers can know who took the test, and how they did on it.
Other improvements include expanded libraries of themed assets designed to look good together, including more free downloadable animations, backgrounds, banners, buttons, callouts, motion, music, and graphics from TechSmith's website. Transitions no longer mess with the timing of the video (as they tended to do in version 7); instead, they drop right on top of the tracks, keeping everything in place as you originally designed it.
Though Camtasia Studio is far richer and deeper than before, we found that it was quite easy to get started and work creatively within a very short time. That's because the interface is intelligent and simple to navigate. In addition, TechSmith offers useful, well-designed video and PDF tutorials, starting with links provided while you download the program. Then, when you first launch Camtasia, it plays a tutorial in the canvas, with the tracks and clip bin fully populated by the tutorial's content, so you have something to experiment with right away.
Camtasia Studio version 8 is a major step up in easy-to-create interactive videos. The results can be quite stunning even for non-professional users.
Note: The Download button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.