TechSmith raises the bar with version 6 of Camtasia Studio, which was released Wednesday. While the essentials remain the same in this feature-stuffed software for creating and producing screen recordings, a few well-placed adjustments and capabilities make their mark in creating overall faster screencasts.
Among the changes, support for high-definition (Blu-ray) video, independently editable audio and video tracks, and time-saving hot keys are the most critical.
The ability to produce HD-quality screencasts (for the Web and mobile phones) is cool for those with HD computers, but on the technical side, the HD-friendly format (MPEG-4 AVC format with H.264 compression) produces videos faster and in dramatically smaller files than the Shockwave format (SWF) that was Camtasia Studio's default before this release. Videos play back in Flash, so you'll be making Web demos, for instance, that use less bandwidth. You will lose a smidge in quality with the format (about 10 percent, TechSmith estimates), but it's of little notice to the untrained eye.
The brand-new ability to edit audio and video tracks separately is another noticeable improvement to Camtasia Studio 6, and one you'd find in professional video production software like Final Cut Pro for Mac. This is a huge boon for anyone who needs a few passes to get their recording right. If you made a mistake in a previous version, you'd have to restart your narration and screen recording until you got it right. Cropping a video clip in the timeline also meant chopping off your narration along with it. This new division of labor lets you sub in sections of tape and video without wrecking the entire timeline.
Camtasia Studio 6 also scores big with hot keys, introduced for the first time in this version. By pressing a single letter on the keyboard, you'll be able to split the video (S), and add zoom (Z), transitions (T), callouts (C), captions (A), markers (M), and extended frames (E) in the video timeline. We've tried this and it's instantaneous.
A handful of loose tweaks also tightens up Camtasia Studio 6. For instance, the splash screen and recording module have gotten a visual scrubbing. The recorder, which seemed unfinished in the last version, is now much more dashing in a dark module set with large icons for recording areas of the screen. The new design lets you turn cursor effects on or off anytime during your screencast. You can also quash the perpetually blinking and often distracting corners found in version 5.1 that signified when the recorder was on.
In the realm of advanced editing, the 'tilt' feature adds perspective to a screenshot and can be used effectively (but judiciously) in combination with zoom and pan effects to make it appear that you're gliding into the center of the video. A new slider control lets you decide the effect's duration. Our one peeve: it's buried in the Advanced portion of the Zoom and Pan menu.
The last added feature we'll mention is new support for dropping any self-contained MOV file into the video timeline. The ability to splice and intersperse video with PowerPoint slides, screen recordings, and scenes from the imported video has been available for AVI, WMV, and MPEG-1 formats in past Camtasia Studio builds. Version 6 brings the valuable capability to MOV files, while support for MPEG-4 formats has been unfortunately shelved for another day.
Camtasia Studio 6 costs $299 new, $149 for an upgrade, and has a free 30-day trial that we'll post here.
The steep price tag makes Camtasia Studio 6 better suited for pro bloggers, businesses, academics, and avid amateurs, but those able or willing to make the investment will find a classy screen-recording application that continues to advance its flexibility, speed, and ease of use. Those looking for quick and dirty screencasts should look to CamStudio's freeware.