Hands-on: Robust Camtasia Studio impresses

You want a powerhouse screen recorder and editor with Webcam and audio mastery, editing flourishes, and a multitude of production options? Camtasia Studio is itching to oblige.

5-star review

With five applications bundled into one, Camtasia Studio truly is a full-fledged screen recording workshop. It's what I use to record and edit screencasts for my day job, and for my needs, it far surpasses free competitors.

That's not to say it's the best toolbox for your job. For many casual users, that honor could belong to freeware like CamStudio (reviewed 9/17/07,) and Hollywood producer types may swear by Apple's Final Cut Pro. But for Windows users in need of strong capturing, editing, and production features, particularly PowerPoint crossfunctionality, Camtasia has quite a lot to offer.

Place, trim, and add zoom effects in the timeline. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Camtasia is loaded with features for nearly every recording aspect, with the exception of one major hole that's nonexclusive to the product (more on that later). Opportunities for technical audio and video tweaking abound to serve more advanced users, but the studio is designed to also welcome new and intermediate users by emphasizing creative project work and planting text and video tutorials and tips throughout.

Cursor flourishes, zoom and pan effects, and transitions lend an inventive or professional sheen to amateur videos, depending on how crazy you get with callouts and sounds. The editing tools can trim and arrange audio tracks as well as video, and there's even a lesser-known standalone audio editor included in the package.

Back to that gaping hole in Camtasia's screen capturing performance. The app chokes on streaming video, either playing it back in jerking, choppy segments or blacking out completely. It's a problem endemic to screencasting software in general, where configuration clashes with hardware accelerators meant to optimize games and video graphics. The Web site has some troubleshooting tips for select media players and Windows XP.

Production settings
Tiered options guide novices through and let advanced users specify technical details. (Credit: CNET Networks)

When your video project is ready to leave the cocoon, Camtasia's extensive production options are tiered to three user levels. Users can trust Camtasia's autorecommended output settings, pick among presets that include PowerPoint-to-iPod conversion, or customize settings from 10 video and audio output formats, plus an iPod file.

Within an output profile, compression type, frame rate, color spectrum, filters, and Web optimization settings are all immensely tweakable. There's also a wizard to walk you through batch production for churning out multiple projects.

In addition to the recorder, producer, and standalone audio editor is the MenuMaker, which creates appealing tables of contents to launch certain files from a CD. Camtasia Theater, a SWF Flash movie player and nothing else, is the least useful and flexible of the family, but it does its modest job well enough. At most it's a sprinkle on Camtasia Studio's already heavily decorated cake. And it's one serious pastry that amateur Windows video editors with the available funds should consider slicing into.

TechSmith's Jing Project (read review) offers an online outlet for grabbing screencasts and autouploading them to TechSmith's Screencast.com, where Camtasia videos may also be stored.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.