When giving an online presentation, whether via Hangout, Webex, GotoMeeting or Jitsi Video Bridge, a screen sharing function is how the slides are presented. Screen sharing goes beyond the common death-by-PowerPoint scenario, allowing software demonstrations in real-time.
In most cases the use of screen sharing defeats a view of the presenter. This can make for a frightfully dull audience experience. I’ve long wished for a convenient way to show slides or demo software without completely losing sight of the presenter. I’ve done this myself using tools like Wirecast or vMix, but these are costly and complicated things to setup. That’s beyond the reach of most people.
In a post late last year I challenged the WebRTC community to take up this idea. WebRTC remains a battle with many fronts. They may yet bring forward such capability, but the wheels of progress turn slowly.
Happily, I’ve recently discovered an extension for Chrome called “Reflect.” Authored by Bryce Thorup, Reflect grabs your webcam stream, displaying it as an overlay on your monitor. Thus when sharing your screen, your audience can see both the slides (or software) and your webcam.
It’s been a year or more that tools like Google’s Hangouts have supported the ability to share a host computer screen with the viewing audience. This was rightfully heralded as “a very good thing indeed.” However, it’s current incarnation is considerably less than ideal and seems to be stalled. I’d like to lay out a challenge to see if anyone is interested into taking this to the next level, which is something that we’ve tried to do with a few VUC calls earlier this year.
Here’s the fundamental problem; people use screen sharing to give demos of software and share documents, which includes giving presentations a la PowerPoint, Keynote, etc. Currently, Hangouts, Jitsi Video Bridge and the like show either the screen share or the camera. In the case of slide presentations there can be very little activity in view as the presenter speaks to the points shown on the current slide. This creates less than compelling visuals.
Several times over the past few weeks I’ve had to create screencasts or asked to advise how they are best created. There are a variety of approaches to this task, but I’ve found that my preferred technique is perhaps uncommon, and worth sharing.
Over the years there have been many times when screencasts were the most appropriate method for conducting user training or addressing specific support issues. At different times I’ve used various software tools in these pursuits. Techsmith’s Camtasia Studio was the most common solution in years past, although Adobe Captivate was also notable.
More recently I’ve sought a lower-cost solutions and settled upon the freeware CamStudio as a passable solution. CamStudio is apparently the open source progenitor of Camtasia Studio.
There are also a myriad of free, online services that do their magic by way of a browser downloadable applet. I have little experience of these as I prefer another approach entirely.
As in other matters, I’ve long held the belief that a more hardware-centric approach can hold a distinct advantage. This has become increasingly true as common PC screen resolutions have come into alignment with frame sizes common in HD video production. A screencast that looks as good a broadcast TV is likely going to be more than adequate.