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Review: Adobe Captivate and TechSmith Camtasia Studio

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

Macromedia Captivate by Adobe and TechSmith Camtasia Studio 3.1 are similar software tools with uniquely different strong points. If you’re creating a quick-and-dirty software demo, or a PowerPoint presentation to post to a Web site, Camtasia is a better tool. On the other hand, if you’re creating interactive demos or training, or a complex software demonstration, Captivate is superior.

Even where they meet in the middle, operating paradigms and interface are so different that they will intuitively appeal to different users. If you’re a video editor, you’ll find Camtasia easy to learn and use, and Captivate unnecessarily complex. On the other hand, if you’re skilled in Macromedia Director or Flash, you’ll find Camtasia a blunt instrument and Captivate more intuitive and precise.

Beyond these, however, are certain functions at which one product excels and the other either doesn’t perform or performs poorly. For example, Camtasia excels at capturing streaming video, which Captivate does poorly. The situation reverses if you’re creating a quiz, where Captivate offers a much richer toolset.

If you plan to offer both software demonstrations and written instructions—say, in PDF—the ability to print out Captivate slides is an irresistible timesaver. If you need to zoom in to the software screen that you’ve captured, Camtasia is your only choice. In fact, the more time you spend with both tools, the more you begin to realize that if you’re creating a range of training, demonstration, and presentation projects, you probably need both tools.

How They Work
Let’s start with basic Camtasia-like capture functionality to provide a good offset to Captivate’s extensive "object-oriented" features. Then we’ll return to Camtasia and detail its additional functionality.

Like most screen-capture utilities, Camtasia captures a video of the screen as you navigate around it, plus audio if you enable narration. The result is a single video file containing all your points, clicks, and navigations through the program and the associated audio.

When it’s time to edit, Camtasia Studio lets you add tracks for components like captions, callouts, picture-in-picture, quizzes, and the like. But they’re not captured with the video, and your mouse clicks and movements are stored as an un-editable portion of video file.

Rather than capture one long video file with embedded mouse movements, Captivate captures a series of screens, each containing one significant mouse click and movement. For example, a simple two-minute capture might produce the 20 screens shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 (below): Rather than capture one long movie, Captivate captures a series of screens, each containing one significant mouse movement.

Figure 1

In its most basic mode of operation, Captivate stores the image background and mouse clicks and motion separately. However, one of the product’s strongest features is the range of additional content you can also automatically capture. This is shown in Figure 2.On the bottom of the Figure is a screen from Sorenson Squeeze, which was the application we captured in most trials. Here we’re showing how to select a file for encoding. While editing a slide, Captivate displays the captured screen on the bottom, topped by a timeline containing the components captured by Captivate or later added during editing.

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