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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video must be priceless – and there are times when a video is more convenient and effective than simple words. Ever find yourself in that kind of position? Maybe you want to guide someone through fixing a problem or you want to share your experience with another. You could do that with screenshots, but go a step further and start using screencasting tools for Windows instead.
A screencast, also known as a video screen capture, is a recording of your computer screen outputted in video format. In other words, a screencast is to a screenshot as a video is to a photo. It can include the audio sounds from your computer, or a voiceover using a microphone, or both. When a screencast is broadcasted live over the Internet, it’s called a stream – that’s beyond the scope of this article.
It might seem like a difficult task, but screencasting is surprisingly easy thanks to the software available. I’ve done my share of screencasting in the past and here are my best recommendations when you don’t want to spend a cent.
Open Broadcaster Software, commonly known as OBS, is the absolute best screencasting and streaming tool when it comes to free. There’s just no contest here. As the name would imply, OBS is first and foremost a video streaming tool so others can view your screen in real-time. However, OBS has the option to do a “local stream,” which takes your “stream” and outputs it into a video file instead. Voila, screencasted.
Features that you’ll find useful in OBS:
- Add image and text overlays to your video output.
- Multiple sources for picture-in-picture (such as putting your webcam in the corner while the rest of the output sources from your screen).
- Multiple scene layouts so you can transition back and forth easily.
- API system so you can take full control of your videos with self-made plugins.
- 32-bit and 64-bit versions available.
- Open source for those of you who enjoy prodding around the workings of a program.
The sheer flexibility and feature-richness of OBS is both a blessing and a curse. For screencasting novices, the learning curve will be rather steep. OBS does provide a settings estimator which will approximate the right settings based on your computer specifications, so that will ease the process a bit. Once you’ve got it set up, OBS is a breeze to use.
Don’t confuse CamStudio with Camtasia Studio, which is a premium screencasting program that will set you back a few hundred dollars. CamStudio is entirely free and allows you to create robust screencasts without much trouble.
Features that you’ll find useful in CamStudio:
- Screencast your entire screen, a specific region of your screen, or a particular window.
- Autopan will cause the screen capture to follow your mouse.
- Cursor highlight for when you want the viewer to track your mouse.
- Capable of recording system sound and microphone.
- Screen annotations in various stylings.
For a more in-depth look at what CamStudio can do, check out Tim’s CamStudio overview. Keep in mind that there have been a few updates since his post, so you can expect to find even more in the current version of CamStudio.
Screencast-O-Matic is a quick and easy solution for casting your screen if you don’t want to mess with loads of settings and setup. It’s web-based so as long as you have Java installed you can begin recording your screen with a single click. If you prefer a desktop version, Screencast-O-Matic has that too and it’s just as simple to use.
Features that you’ll find useful in Screencast-O-Matic:
- Free video hosting for those made with Screencast-O-Matic (15-minute limit).
- Capable of recording screen OR screen and webcam, but not webcam only (Pro).
- Supports MP4, AVI, and FLV formats.
- Can publish directly to YouTube.
It’s too bad that the free version is capped at 15-minute recording segments, has a small watermark, and doesn’t record system audio (only microphone). For $15, you can get a 1-year Pro subscription which enables the following features:
- No recording time limit.
- Removes the watermark when publishing.
- Allows for webcam-only recording.
- Zoom and draw while recording.
- Can publish directly to Google Drive, Vimeo, and more.
Maybe I’m biased because I’ve been using OBS for nearly half a year already, but it is hands-down the best free screencasting tool I’ve ever used – even better than XSplit, which I reviewed last year. If OBS is too much for you, CamStudio is a wonderful alternative, and if you just need a quick screen clip, Screencast-O-Matic gets the job done.
So what do you think? Know of any other free screencasting tools for Windows that I may have overlooked? I’m always on the lookout for the best Windows software tools, so please share them in the comments!
Image Credits: Screen Player Via Shutterstock