Screen Recording Software: What Should You Look For?

Screen recording is an increasingly important utility for capturing and sharing knowledge within the enterprise and education.

For businesses, screen capture tools make it easy to record product demos for sales and partner enablement programs. They can be used as part of an employee onboarding program to show new recruits how to use internal tools. They can be employed by engineering and customer support teams to record and share best practices and how-to videos.

And in universities around the world, screen recording software is being used to record lectures, flip the classroom, proctor student exams, and more.

What Should You Look For In Screen Recording Software?
In recent years, the market has been flooded with screen recording tools that offer a range of features. But when it comes to the core capabilities of recording what’s shown on your screen with high quality and sharing it with other people across your organization, what should you look for?

I recently sat down with Eric Burns, Panopto’s co-founder and chief product officer, to discuss what makes for great screen capture. In the conversation, Eric discusses how screen capture works, what you should look for in a high-quality screen recording tool, and what differentiates web-based screen capture software from tools that run locally on your laptop.

Screen Recording Software video icon - Panopto Video Platform
 
When you record your screen, what’s actually happening under the covers?
Let’s start with the process of rendering what you see on your screen. Regardless of your whether you’re using a PC or Mac, this in and of itself is a relatively complex process. It involves the use of your laptop or desktop’s video hardware to build a “scene” from different components, including your desktop, the applications shown on your screen, and the content within each of those applications.

Once this scene has been rendered, a screen recording application reads the contents of the screen into its memory. There are several ways to do this programmatically, including the Windows Graphics Device Interface (GDI), the Windows Media API, and DirectX on Windows, and AVFoundation or OpenGL on the Mac.

At this point, you’ve captured a single image of the screen. If all you want is a static screenshot, your job is basically done. To capture a recording of your screen, three additional things need to happen:

  1. This process needs to be repeated many times – ideally 30 times – each second.
  2. The sequence of screenshots needs to be compressed in your screen recorder’s application memory.
  3. The resulting recording needs to then be written to your hard drive.

Screen capture has been commoditized in recent years. Is there any real differentiation between screen recording tools?
Most screen recording apps look similar on the surface, but there are a lot of functional differences in the way they capture content and in the efficiency and quality of the resulting video.

First, these tools differ when it comes to their frame rate.
Frame rate is the number of times each second that a screen image is captured for use in the recording. The faster the frame rate, the smoother the resulting video looks. Ideally, you should look for tools that offer 30 frames per second (fps) recording.

Interestingly, the ability to capture high fps video from screen is becoming more difficult. As computer monitors have increased their resolution from 1080p a couple of years ago to 4k (which is increasingly common on laptops), capturing more and more pixels puts greater strain on screen recording apps, and requires them to be written more efficiently.

Second, these tools differ in their ability to record multiple screens.
There are two scenarios in which this becomes important – recording while connected to a projector, and recording complex multi-monitor demonstrations.

If you’ve ever used Presenter Mode in PowerPoint, you know that when you’re giving a presentation while your laptop is plugged into a projector, what you see on your laptop and what your audience sees on the projector are different. You see the presenter’s view which includes speaker notes and the sequence of your slides, while your audience simply sees your current slide. Some screen capture tools limit you to recording what’s shown on your laptop, when what you want to capture is shown on the projector.

Similarly, if you’re recording information that spans multiple monitors – such as complex financial software or a software development environment and its runtime – many screen recording tools limit you.

Advanced capture tools like Panopto don’t place this limitation on you. They enable you to select which monitor, and how many monitors, you want to record.

Third, some screen recorders enable you to live broadcast the contents of your screen.
While many screen caps are meant for on-demand viewing, there are times when you want people to see what’s happening on your screen in near real-time. For this, tools like Panopto allow you to flip a switch that records the content of your screen and simultaneously broadcasts it to internal or external audiences that can scale up to tens of thousands of viewers around the world.

Fourth, screen capture tools differ in how easily they let you share your video. Many of these tools simply create a local video on your hard drive. It’s then up to you to determine:

  • Where to post the video,
  • How to set permissions so that your intended audience can access it,
  • How to convert the video to ensure your audience can view it on whatever device they happen to be using.

Each of these can be nontrivial tasks.

To simplify the sharing of these videos, tools like Panopto automatically upload your recordings to a centralized video content management system (VCMS). There, the video is automatically transcoded so that it can be viewed on any device, and its permissions can easily be set.

Finally, an often overlooked part of screen capture videos is the need for search. Once your video has been uploaded to your organization’s VCMS, how will people find it, and more importantly, how will they find the specific content they’re looking for inside it? Traditional video search is done based on manually-entered tags, an error-prone process that sometimes helps you find a specific video, but doesn’t help you pinpoint specific points in a video where a topic is mentioned.

Panopto has taken a different approach. Every screen recording is automatically indexed for any word spoken and any word shown anywhere on your screen. This enables people to search for specific words inside your videos and fast forward to the precise moment where they appear.

There are other important differences in screen capture tools that we discuss in the interview, such as what distinguishes web-based screen recorders from those that run locally on your hard drive.

If your business or university is looking to share knowledge using video, screen recording is a great place to start, and Panopto’s got a great set of tools to get you started. Contact our team for a demo, or request a free trial of our software.

Published: June 11, 2014