JotSpot demo, take two

I've spent more time than I care to admit, over the past few days, fiddling around with various combinations of video editors and codecs. It's a long story, much of which I'll reserve for my Primetime Hypermedia column, but here's the short version. The original version of the JotSpot demo was a compromise solution. The capture tool I used, Camtasia Studio, also includes a video editor. I've used it before for short videos -- for example, the LibraryLookup examples -- but when I applied it to the JotSpot demo, which was captured as a 140MB half-hour AVI file, I ran into a world of trouble. Eventually I bailed and tried other editors. iMovie was a logical alternative, but when I shipped the file over the the Mac, iMovie -- lacking the Camtasia codec -- wouldn't read it. On Windows, where I did the capture, Movie Maker handle the editing task competently. But it wouldn't encode Flash, or save to an AVI file that I could hand over to a Flash encoder. VirtualDub could handle the editing and could save AVI, but only in uncompressed form. In the end I settled for QuickTime Pro. It's an awkward interface for editing, but it was the only tool I had on hand that would save in a format a Flash encoder could read.

Currently I'm working with several Flash encoders. Blue Pacific's Turbine Video Encoder is the one I used for the original version of the demo. The quality was poor, though, so I next investigated the Flash Video Kit. The idea here is that, instead of embedding video in a standalone .SWF file, you produce a .FLV (Flash video) file along with a companion .SWF that streams (or progressively downloads) the .FLV file. I gather that .FLV transcends some .SWF limitations on the length and quality of video that's presentable in the Flash player. The Flash Video Kit includes an export plug-in that runs inside other editors (e.g., QuickTime Pro), and a standalone encoder called Sorenson Squeeze. I experimented with both of these and, while I got great results with motion video, I couldn't get adequate compression for my screen video.

Finally I revisited my original setup. As it turns out, I'd made a dumb mistake. When I exported the edited demo from QuickTime Pro -- to the .MOV file that Turbine read and encoded -- I'd used QuickTime's Full Screen setting rather than the Normal setting I should have used. As a result, I'd exported an 1153x853 frame rather than the original 1264x960 frame, creating resizing artifacts that the encoder dutifully reproduced. When I rexported at the correct resolution, here was the result:

JotSpot demo (rerendered)

The size was 28MB, not much larger than the first version. That's because I reduced the frame rate to just 3 frames per second, which is all you need for something like this.

Whew! That was trickier than I expected. And I'm left with a bunch of follow-ups. First, there's a new version of Camtasia Studio available. Would that have eliminated the runaround? I'll find out soon. Second, I'm also going to take another look at Qarbon. Third, I need to find out whether the Flash Video Kit -- and the .FLV format -- can be optimized for use with screen videos. I also need to find out why the MediaPlayback component of Flash MX 2004, although it can stop, start, and rewind a progressively-downloaded video, seems not to be able to seek within one.

I'd like to be able to make screen demos routinely. Like this one, they might run a half-hour or more, and they require a lot of screen real-estate. I hate the thought of producing QuickTime and Windows Media and Real in order to cover all the bases. Flash does seem to be the right playback format. But I haven't hit on exactly the right formula yet. Is the right format SWF or FLV? Should I use a do-everything solution that incorporates capture, editing, and encoding, or should I mix and match? When I figure it out, I'll let you know.

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