Quick Shoot-Out – 4 Free Web-based Screencasting Tools

In an effort to lend support to the upcoming f2f JIBC/VCC Online Course Showcase and make the results of these demos more widely available, we are hoping to capture screencasts of the actual demos to share online.

In order to do this in a way that works cross-platform and doesn’t require an install (it is entirely likely presenters will want to use their own laptops) I did a quick investigation of free web-based tools for doing screencasts. The one other requirement that needed to be met was – no (or little) restriction on the size/length of the screencast. I should also note – I was doing these demos on a Mac. While almost all of these claim to be cross-platform and typically employ a Java or combination Java/Flash applet to do their recording, underlying platform can effect how these allegedly “cross platform” apps work, so you may have different results on PC or Linux.

I was assisted by a few helpful sites in selecting some candidates and settled on the following 4 to quickly try out:

ScreenCastle – http://screencastle.com/

I liked Screencastle for its immediate simplicity – a big red “Record” button on its front page launched a Java-applet with 2 basic commands, record and stop (N.B. pretty much all of these sites.) The recording worked fine enough (though the start/stop bar gets hidden at the top of your screen) and it offers up links to embed, stream or download the video after it has been processed. The embed/stream video worked great and it captures audio off the mic by default too. The problem I ran into was with the downloaded file – an .flv file that when I tried to run or convert on my local machine, proved to have compressed 1 1/2 minutes of video into 1 1/2 seconds! Hopefully this is just a temporary bug, but it won’t suffice for a meeting in a couple of weeks.

Screencast-o-matic – http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/

Despite its somewhat corny name, this turned out to be the cadillac of the lot. The resizeable recorder also offers audio and video from the webcam included into the end result. It ran flawlessly, and then offered me the option to upload the finished product to either their own site or Youtube, or download a copy in a few different formats. The end results looked beautiful. They do include a watermark which can be removed for $9/year, cheap at twice the price. It does have a 15 minute maximum length (extended to an hour for the upgraded version) but my needs fit into that length – indeed, if your screencast is likely to be longer than 15 minutes, maybe reconsider your script!

ScreenToaster – http://www.screentoaster.com/

I acknowledge that I may be having a problem with my local mic/flash configuration, but I never could get this to work properly on my machine if I asked to record the audio. Worse yet, it froze the entire browser. Looks promising – resizable screen, can include webcam input with the screencast, but the crashes meant it was not a contender.

ScreenJelly – http://www.screenjelly.com/

Possibly not fair to other competitors I haven’t discussed here (e.g. Screenr for one) as it limits the recording to 3 minutes, and so was automatically out of the running for my specific needs, but I’ve included Screenjelly on the list because it is a very sweet user experience. One big red record button, the video it captures is of very high quality and seems to not have the upload/processing lag that some of the others suffer from. It integrates with Twitter and Facebook, which makes sense; I see this as a really handy tool for very quick one-offs, to demonstrate a local problem or fix to a friend on twitter, but the lack of longer time means I’ll look elsewhere for a solution to screencasting the Showcase Demos.

The Verdict

Generally, while there were a few bugs and problems, the technology of web- (well, ok, Java) based screencasting seems to be ready for primetime. I often hear claims about the difficulties faculty will have in using the technology to create a screencast unaided, and my experience with these 4 apps shows me this is mostly bunk. This is now mostly “Mom-proof” technology, especially if you go with the winner, Screencast-o-matic (or for shorter clips, ScreenJelly.)But I guess we will see on the day at the showcase; the big test will be whether we can capture the demos without any disruption to the f2f events.

Happy screencasting! – SWL

UPDATEto his immense credit, Stefan from Screencastle replied almost immediately to my email about the problem I was having with sped up video in the downloaded file. He indicated this was very likely a problem on my local machine, so don’t count Screencastle out. Try it yourself, it is a nice, simple to use app, that were it working for me right now I may have considered.

10 thoughts on “Quick Shoot-Out – 4 Free Web-based Screencasting Tools

  1. Clint Lalonde

    Hey Scott. I’m cross posting a comment here from my post. If you feel like hacking a bit, ScreenCastle has an api that let’s you add screencasting capabilities to any site http://www.skoffer.com/Home This would get around your time limit – just build your own screencasting app in whatever site you want. Added bonus – there are prebuilt WordPress and Mediawiki plugins, so actual hacking is minimal.

  2. Gail P

    Thanks for the info. I use Screenr myself. I like the fact that it limits me to 5 minutes. My audience gets instruction on using tech tools through my presentations and that is a good time limit for the content intensity. I have used Screencast-0-matic as well and can’t recall why I left. Some tools are not dependable at all though. I linked my ID here to the website addy for that tech tools that uses Screenr.

  3. Barry Dahl

    Hi Scott,
    Just saw your post a few minutes ago and was thinking that I was in a time warp or something. I went to the Screentoaster site and was very surprised to find it operational. They entered the Dead Pool several months ago, but now they appear to have risen from the dead. Very little communication from their end – they’re certainly not run by a P.R. firm.

    If it was a bit wonky, maybe the whole “we’re dead, not we’re not” thing helps explain it. If they (toaster) come back in full force, I think you’ll find it is a worthy competitor with the others. I have used all four of them with reasonably good results. If we could take the best features from each one, then we’d really have something, but I won’t be holding my breath for that to happen.

  4. Richard

    I’ve been on Jing for a while, we got the $15/yr pro version which allows saving in .mp4. So if I do a on-off that has promise, I can edit it in Camtasia and upgrade the production values. Jing was having slow upload times for a while but that seems to be solved.

  5. Peter Wyro

    We’ve been searching for screen casting alternatives and will give screencastle a try. I appreciate the thorough evaluation of the different services that you mentioned.

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