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Review: Adobe Captivate 2

Zoom and Other New Features
Probably my biggest objection to the new version is the way Adobe has implemented the zoom function. The classic use of zoom-in screen cams is to zoom in to highlight an important section of the interface—say a dialog box—to provide a closer view. Alternatively, zoom allows you to capture a 1024x768 application, and effectively display it in a smaller window by zooming around as necessary to show the important detail. Adobe’s implementation doesn’t really facilitate either operation.

Specifically, Captivate’s new tool provides two boxes—one to identify the zoomed region (the "zoom area"), the other to display it (the "zoom destination"). This works well if the region you wish to highlight is very small, but is awkward for displaying a dialog box in full screen. Though you can copy and paste the zoom effect from slide to slide for uniformity, the zoom transitions in each slide, derailing any attempt to use the effect in multiple slides. Though there are some workarounds, users seeking to migrate over from Camtasia in particular will find this implementation frustrating.

Also new is the ability to insert a highlight box that can gray out the rest of the screen, a nice attention-focusing result that worked well in our tests. As before, Captivate makes it simple to import PowerPoint slides into a presentation which is a great alternative to building that functionality into the program itself.

Captivate offers multiple workflows for creating narrations, and one of them should work for you. As mentioned above, you can narrate while capturing the screencam, which works well for short, quick-and-dirty-type presentations. Alternatively, you can capture audio slide by slide, which Captivate enhances with a script area in the recording window. In both cases, you can perform simple cut-and-paste operations to the audio from within Captivate, as well as allocate the audio to multiple slides in the presentation.

I found the easiest workflow was to record and perfect the narration in a separate program, import it into Captivate, and use the Edit Audio Timing dialog to allocate timing between the slides. Note that the slide preview in that tool is really tiny, so you may want to jot down slide timing beforehand (e.g., "note to self; at 47 seconds, switch to slide 8") to facilitate synchronization.

In addition to inserting narrations within each slide, you can also insert background music into the project. Captivate includes a helpful control to reduce the volume of the background music when a slide contains other audio, simplifying the mixing of the two tracks.

Delivering Your Project
Once you’ve perfected your slides and audio synchronization, it’s time to produce your file. Here, screencam producers will encounter a couple of frustrations. First, Adobe takes a Model T approach to streaming production, as in "you can encode in any format you want as long as it’s Flash." Second, though Captivate has an excellent bandwidth tool that shows you the size and bits per second of each slide in the project, you can’t dial in the desired data rate. Instead your only options are to reduce the frame rate or increase JPEG compression to meet the data rate, which will require some time-consuming trial and error.

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