Being able to record your screen and watch yourself play, or have someone watch your play and make commentary is a valuable learning tool for online poker players. But it’s much easier said than done as simply finding the right program to record your desktop screen can be a time consuming affair. Once you’ve figured out the right program, it’s all about the tweaks to get the balance between a good-looking capture and the smallest file size possible. PC Users are mainly limited to TechSoft’s Camtasia, which is a very expensive program that comes with all the bells and whistles, but has also somewhat cornered the market. For Mac users there are a few programs out there that work just as effectively and run a lot cheaper – and in some cases free.
Let’s take a look at the three top screen recording software programs available for Mac and break down their advantages.
Snapz Pro X – http://www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox/
COST: $69 USD
Snapz Pro X is the most expensive program and combines the ability to do screen captures (we can already do that for free within OSX) and video captures. The good news about Snapz Pro X is that there’s a nice trial version that lets a potential user check out all the features without hassle.
Once you open the program it’ll be important for you to define the “start” and most importantly “stop” hotkeys for the movie capture, otherwise you’ll be left wondering how the heck to stop recording (there is no simple button to make that happen). Once the program is configured you are ready to roll and select “MOVIE” from the capture menu.
After selecting MOVIE you are asked to define the area (simple click and drag) that you want Snapz to capture and then you’re recording. Do whatever it is you want to do on your desktop (in our case, play some poker) and Snapz will record it all in the background. Once you are done hit your pre-definied hotkey to stop recording and the program immediately takes you to the Export control center. From here you can define the compression codec (Tip: use Apple’s amazing “H.264”) and the quality settings (recommended is on 15 frames per second, and on “medium” for compression quality). Snapz does the rest and in a matter of moments your 660×475 screen capture of a table at PokerStars is on your desktop as a QuickTime movie and only 550k in file size (30 second video).
The pros of Snapz Pro X are that the program is a holistic software solution that allows you to do simple screen captures for stills or videos without using any other programs. The trial version is a lot of fun to experiment with and the final video output is impressive. The only negative to the program is that there’s a huge price tag to go along with it, so if money is no object then this might be your best option.
Screen Movie Recorder 3.1 – http://alphaomega.software.free.fr/screenmovierecorder/Screen%20Movie%20Recorder.html
COST: FREE or optional registration for $18.82 USD
Screen Movie Recorder (SMR) is the only totally free program in this list. There is an option to register the program if you pay approximately $18 in US Dollars, but that is only for contributions if you use the program often. This is definitely the most straight forward of all the programs. Once installed you are taken to the “Preferences” area where you can manipulate a few key capturing settings, like the frame rate (keep it at 15fps) and the destination folder.
Recording your desktop is easy, as users can just “Start Recording” and select the area of their desktop that they wish to capture. For Mac Poker’s screen test, we captured 1 table at a dimension size of 660×475 and for 30 seconds. The good news is this very simple program captured video beautifully and rendered our 30 second capture very quickly. The bad news is that the file size for this recording is a whopping 475mb! That’s much too large a file size to be practical, however, with the help of another (perhaps free) compression utility you can take this file and compress it to make it smaller. Fortunately for Mac users, we do have this compression feature built in if you are using OSX or Leopard in the form of Quicktime and the built in H.264 codec. Simply open up the screen capture file that SMR produces within Quicktime and go to FILE > EXPORT and select the “Move to QuickTime Movie” and then select OPTIONS. From there make sure the Settings button and have the Compression setting to “H.264” and then put the slider on Low or Medium (recommended setting is medium). Also double check that the size is on “current” otherwise your screen capture will come out looking stretched. Using this method and putting the quality slider on “medium” our previously huge 475mb file was reduced down to an amazing 550k!
On its own, SMR is an easy to use and straightforward screen capturing program that is best used by people who already have a video compression program on their computer and need a free tool to capture video. If you’re willing to go through the multiple steps of capturing with one program and then compressing the file with your program of choice, then this solution is easily the most cost effective and the one that I would use myself if I needed to capture and record video from my screen.
MacVCR v2 –
COST: $29.27 USD
This program is to be avoided. After 10 minutes of trying to figure out how to set up the entire program to capture video, all I ended up with was some JPGs, even though I set it to both VIDEO and H.264 codec. We’re not sure if the trial version of the program is limited to simply exporting stills, but either way there’s nothing here to impress us at all, and it’s recommended you avoid this program.
EDITOR’S NOTE (1/2/2009):
We received the following correspondence from Steve C, the developer of MacVCR: