Five screencast programs tested

A Question of Settings

On the start screen, the Advanced button below the sliders lets you define the quality of the video and audio recording in a more detailed settings dialog. You can adjust various options: for example, defining the frame rate in the Performance tab. If you have powerful hardware, you can also select to Encode On the Fly.

The Sound tab lets you set the sampling frequency and the number of channels. If you have a Jack audio server installed on the system, the program will use it if you check Use Jack for audio capture. In the Misc tab (Figure 5), you can define the recording area and select to hide or display the window decorations. Additionally, you can hide the mostly useful tooltips that appear when mousing over an option.

Figure 5: The recordMyDesktop advanced settings tabs are intuitive.

One convenient feature is that recordMyDesktop lets you select most of the options by checking or unchecking a box, which simplifies configuration of the software. Brief info bubbles keep you informed so that you can make the necessary decisions.

Hands-On Test

RecordMyDesktop stores the recorded content in files with the OGV extension, which means they are stored in the OGG container format that uses free codecs. In the test, I appreciated the fairly small file size: In the default settings with 15 frames per second (fps) and an audio sampling frequency of 22,050Hz, a one-minute video sequence took only about 3MB of disk space. At 30fps and a sampling frequency of 44,000Hz, the footprint increased to approximately 8.4MB. Thus, long screencasts have a pleasingly small footprint.

One thing that struck me in the test was that the difference in quality between using 15 and 30fps and a higher audio sampling rate was almost imperceptible compared with the defaults. In both cases, the software ensured uninterrupted recording of screencasts without jitter and dropouts.

A feature I did not like was the slow encoding of the recording. In the default settings, the tool slowly converts the raw material to OGV containers after recording. The encoding can take longer than the actual recording if you also increase the video frame rate and audio sampling rate, even on high-performance quad-core systems working at full CPU capacity. RecordMyDesktop is thus not genuinely useful for longer sequences like training videos.

SimpleScreenRecorder

A new development named SimpleScreenRecorder [3] is by far the most comprehensive screencast program in the test in terms of functionality. You have to add Maarten Baert's PPA to install the software. Instructions are in the Download section of the main webpage.

After launching from the Multimedia menu, the tool shows you a settings window (Figure 6) where you initially set up the recording area. Your choice of screens, a freely definable rectangular area, or a window are the available options. Also, you can define the frame rate and the audio system, where PulseAudio is the default. Additionally, the entire screen is the default grab area; based on the system settings, the program computes the correct resolution.

Figure 6: Configuring SimpleScreenRecorder is complex.

On the second page of the configuration dialog, you specify the file name and directory in which to save the screencast file, as well as the container formats and codecs. The number of alternatives is impressive. Matroska (MKV), MP4, WebM, and OGG are the container format choices, with H.264, VP8, and Theora for video codecs and Vorbis, MP3, and AAC for audio codecs.

You can use Other formats for both the audio and video codecs assuming the appropriate libraries are available on your system. Also, the audio recording rate can be set in kilobits per second (Kbps), with 128Kbps as the default. For ease of configuration, the software displays some very detailed info messages for each of the options when you mouse over them.

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