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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Qarbon Camtasia and Adobe Captivate

Question from a reader, hoping you can provide your thoughts:

I am in the process of selecting an elearning tool that is easy to use, quick to create the demos and does not bloat the file size much. I want to create some online videos that will be a total of about 6-7 hours and upload them on my site. These videos would have software demos, screencasts and PowerPoints embedded inside them. Also every screen would have audio (voiceover with my voice) accompanying it. I will want to have a simple menu system to break up the content into chunks. And I may eventually, but not initially, want to be able to track them under an LMS, i.e., have SCORM tracking.

I have been looking into various tools. Here are some pros and cons I found about them.

Qarbon

Pros:

  • Less File size.
  • Qarbon seems very easy to use.
Cons:
  • I'm finding it a bit difficult to integrate my voice with my demos and pull everything together.
  • Creates as screenshot. To present a moving demo I need to integrate another product called Viewlet cam.
  • Makes it a bit harder to pull everything together.

Camtasia and Adobe Captivate:

Pros:

  • Heard lots of good thing about them.

Cons:

  • Worried about file size for both of them


The more I am researching, the more I am getting confused.

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There are quite a few Software Simulation Tools out there. I understand the confusion though because it's a combination of several different kinds of needs that are often addressed by different Rapid eLearning Tools.

What questions would you have? What might you suggest? What would you do to find a good solution?

Would you consider using a solution that integrates several tools that are possibly best of breed?

19 comments:

Steve Howard said...

What's the concerns about file size? Any info or reference to substanciate your comment?

In my experience, Camtasia's screen CODEC is very efficient. Captivate uses advanced Flash compression techniques to make small files too.

Generally if you have over-large files it's because you captured a very large screen area and/or added lots of audio without making an appropriate compromise on audio compression. Audio files are huge and lots of people forget or never realise this.

Michael Hanley said...

I reviewed and compared Techsmith Camtasia and Adobe Captivate over a series of four blog posts beginning here: The E-Learning Curve Blog: Capture that e-learning demo

I've never used Qarbon so I'm not qualified to evaluate the product.

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Brian said...

I've been looking at a new tool called screenr, seems to have a lot of potential: http://screenr.com

Vic Uzumeri said...

My company has just completed a very intensive pilot development process for ERP elearning materials for a global multinational.

We used Captivate and BB Flashback.

In fact, we have developed a very buttoned-down process that uses both tools - each at points in the process where one outperforms the other.

BB Flashback is especially valuable because it offers a free recorder version that is very CPU efficient and very easy to use - and the native file output is fully editable in their Pro version. That makes it very cost-effective for the capture of ad-hoc process knowledge such as SME walkthroughs, client reviews, etc. You can bring a lot more people into the process without having to buy and control Captivate licenses. BB Flashback Pro (about $225) has a very accomplished editor that can do basic web-based content beautifully.

Captivate is more powerful as a single-point-of-origin for final production of multiple types of teaching output - eLearning, simulators, printed materials.

We recently wrote a set of memos and documents that describe the processes, tools and trade-offs in (possibly excruciating) detail.

BDogs4Ever said...

This is related to your CONS about Qarbon:

1) I'm finding it a bit difficult to integrate my voice with my demos and pull everything together.

-> Qarbon has a built in sound recorder (look for the blue speaker icon) as well as the ability to add voice externally via MP3,WAV, etc. You can add audio to the slide as well as any object or action.


2) Creates as screenshot. To present a moving demo I need to integrate another product called Viewlet cam.

-> Qarbon's ViewletBuilder does have full motion capabilities when capturing scrolling, drag and drops, and keyboard entry. These are displayed on a timeline for easy editing. Their screenshot process (in SmartCapture mode) is very efficient and only captures the important changes to keep the file size down. ViewletCam would be the comparable product to Camtasia for example. This product is half the price and easier to use.

3) Makes it a bit harder to pull everything together.

-> Qarbon is very easy to use and their support is better than anyone else from what I've seen and experienced.

Scott said...

You may want to take a look at the Articulate suite of products. With the release of their new screencapture program, Screenr, it compliments the rest of their tools quite nicely.

It's easy to build interactive modules, quizzes, and now short video segments.

Their support is great too.

Tony Karrer said...

Steve - it used to be the case that Captivate produced fairly large size files. You are right that there are things you can do. See Captivate File Size Tricks. But it's still a concern out there. Does anyone have an equivalent comparison of file sizes between these tools?

Michael - great discussion on your blog. Thanks for sharing that. Did you compare file sizes at all?

Brian and Scott - thanks for the pointer to Screenr. In combination with other tools, might be an interesting part of the mix.

Vic - some good stuff you linked to. Thanks.

BDogs - thanks for the pointers. Hopefully, I can have the person who asked the question drill down a bit from there. Do you happen to have information on comparable file sizes?

Michael Hanley said...

Hello there,

Tony - i didn't focus on file size as I was looking at usability first and business fit more than anything.

Here's the thing with Cap files: most motion-based media files use keyframes. For example, if you're capturing at 15 frames per second (FPS), your capture tool will record one keyframe each second; the remaining 14 frames only store information about the difference between the previous keyframe and the next keyframe, one second later. This is a great way of keeping the file size down.

Captivate, uses a different paradigm, where all the information is stored in a series of "snapshots" (in fact you can hear a "SLR camera click" each time you capture a screen in Captivate). This is a lot of data. Then add in the fact that it includes on-screen interactions, actionscript, audio in each slide...

The upshot of all this is you have very high-quality slides, but potentially massive .cp file size, as well as very large SWFs.

In fact, I gave up on Captivate 2 because it was so unstable - and I was running a Dell with a Xeon processor, a RAID-striped HDD and 2GB of RAM at the time, and only with trepidation did I return to Cap 3.

Even now, on Cap 4, I find that my master .cp files can be a bit on the chunky size.

However, for certain types of learning intervention (i.e. interactive sims and assessments) I find it's hard to beat Captivate. Similarly, it's native interoperability (using PENS) with the Flash Media platform makes user tracking quite straight-forward.

Hope this helps!
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ROW said...

@Tony: Thanks a ton for putting up my question in front of a wider audience and knowledgeable folks.

@Everyone: Let me tell you, I am a Software engineer by profession but novice in the field of e-learning. So request you to pardon my ignorance - of elearning lingo - during the course of discussion.

@Steve: I recorded a 2 mins demo with voice and it took around 5MB in .camrec format. I 'm not sure if that can be called optimal. Extrapolating, it would be ~150MB/hour. Is it ok per e-learning standards?
Also please find the comments of other users regarding file size here and on JoelOnsoftware forum

@Michael: That was a great read. Let me know if you have some optimizing tutorials/tips/tricks for Camtasia/Captivate

@BDogs4Ever: Don't you think that's a bit tedious approach for voice overs. Essentially you are starting on a particular slide and then you have to compulsorily end up on that slide only. It may be you are trying to say something that is coming on the next screenshot, I'm not sure how efficiently and seamlessly would Qarbon handle that transition. To me it looks like, you have to stop midway and then continue with the next slide.

@Scott: I didn't give articulate a try just because I got overwhelmed by their products. It looks like I have to use all the tools in suite to come up with a decent e-learning course. This is something that can be handled by one tool in the case of Qarbon/Camtasia/Captivate. I know Articulate is considered one of the best tools but probably they use it where more sophistication is required?

---
To add on to my question above, I would like to have a resolution of 800*600. what should be the optimum settings for Video/audio in terms of fps and KHz?

Also it would be great if someone can tell me his/her experience with Qarbon vis-a-vis Camtasia. Big G couldn't help much.

Thanks for your help everyone.

Paul Angileri said...

I would say Captivate is a good solution as it has facilities for basically all the features you need. It can be infuriating to run though, as its interface is very slow IMO, and is prone to infrequent crashing. I did a short writeup (http://thereisnochalk.blogspot.com/2009/04/review-adobe-captivate-40.html) on Captivate 4.0 a few months ago that covers some of the features you want to use. Overall I recommend it but I do have some issues with it from a user perspective. It should get the job done for you though. It's easy to insert media, you can do branching very easily, and setting up a menu is no problem.

Skolanet said...

Why don't use free screencasts tools optimized for the web?
There are some constraints but also many advantages:
- ScreenToaster : http://www.screentoaster.com/
- Screenr : http://screenr.com/
- Jing : http://www.jingproject.com/

Jim Lynch said...

A useful "which product to use?" decision tactic is to storyboard a short project, containing all the elements and interaction types you will typically employ. Then download evaluation versions of the products in question and create the same project in each of them. Then buy a license for the one you like best. Qarbon makes this real easy.
http://forum.qarbon.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1007&p=3118#p3118

As was mentioned in an earlier comment, you'll find Qarbon's support far more accessible than any others.

Mike McC said...

I’m not a fan of software demos. Showing someone how to do something is not as useful as letting them do it. I suggest the reader expand his/her search to include tools that provide robust interactivity.

Jim Lynch said...

I agree with Mike - software or web application demos alone are not as useful for learners as interactive tutorials (often called "simulations") that show the user what to do and then have them do it. With tools like ViewletBuilder, those user interaction portions can be scored, or even take them back to the pertinent part of the tutorial on error (doing the incorrect thing).

BDogs4Ever said...

@Tony - In response to your question about comparable file sizes, I don't have one handy but I think its a good idea. I do know that ViewletBuilder's SmartCapture technology is a screenshot based system so you naturally are going to get a smaller output file compared to screencasting programs that record everything (including your mistakes). SmartCapture will automatically take screenshots for you as you walk through an application and auto-switch into full-motion capture as needed for scrolling, drag & drop and keyboard entry. They compare the changes in memory and only store the part that is different. This sequence is displayed on a timeline so you can see each part and they give you the ability to modify every frame in the movie if you want. The editing options are great. When you compile to Flash, you can do SWF compression as well as alter the image quality from Low to High and sound from Low to High to control your file size more.

BDogs4Ever said...

@ROW - When I'm building a presentation (in ViewletBuilder), the audio track on the slide usually matches a balloon or note that I've added so I'm fine with the current design. There are some people that want an audio track to span across a range of slides rather than slide by slide and I know they are adding this option very soon since users are asking for it. I also like to record my audio tracks after capturing an application so I can script out everything and record it till I get it the way I want it. I'm not a fan of recording as you capture (unless I'm doing a screencast that I don't plan to edit much). For polished professional interactive presentations I like to capture, edit, record audio, then publish. When I want to just record and publish fast, ViewletCam works great for me because it will capture the screen and audio from the pc or mic at the same time.

BDogs4Ever said...

Mike McC - I'm with you on creating interactivity for software demos. ViewletBuilder has some cool options for SmartCapture that will automatically add KeyStroke and ClickZone scored events to test the user on a process. You can setup your capture to include/or not auto-annotations, cursors, etc.

Donald Clark said...

Tony, Adobe just posted this on their blog: get the file size you want ...

Basically, Captivate has a setting for adjusting the SWF size - High, Medium, Low, and Custom.

You might want to download the trial version of Captivate and see if the Low setting will work for you. I did a posting of Captivate 4 if you are interested - Adobe eLearning Suite CS4.

Doug Marlowe said...

Tony, I use Camtasia, Snagit, and Swish. In a fraction of the time it takes with Captivate, Articulate, and Flash, I can produce a branchable software simulation that is light, even with the Audio.

With a software sim, think about using a guide on the side rather than a constant voice over guide. The user can always access the helper to explain things when they get stuck. Use annotations in sims to provide more information about a feature/option than can be see in the actual software itself.

AVOID the Please Click next to Continue trap. Linear is a death sentance.