These days, it seems that just about every computer user need s to make some screencasts at one time or another. Maybe you want to publish software courses on YouTube or on an eLearning site such as Udemy or FutureLearn? Maybe you need to record simple tutorials for the benefit of the people in your company or to make software demos and promotional material? For all of the above, you will need a screen recording tool and, ideally, an editing environment for putting the finishing touches to your videos. If you are a Windows user, the recently-released BB FlashBack Pro 5 could have everything you need to take you from recording to editing to rendering.
If you’ve used previous versions of BB Flashback the first thing you’ll notice about this new release is the redesigned user interface. Not only does this have a new carbon-grey colour scheme but it also places the timeline at the bottom of the workspace (just like most other video editing applications) rather than at the top as it did before. If you prefer the appearance and layout of earlier versions of FlashBack (light colour scheme, timeline at top of the screen), tough luck – there is no way of customising the user interface to adopt the old look.
|The Player (editor)|
Recording and EditingBefore doing anything else you need to record one or more clips from which the final movie will be assembled. The BB FlashBack recorder lets you record your entire screen or (on a multi-monitor system) from one or more monitors simultaneously. Alternatively you can select a specific window or record from a rectangular area drawn on screen with a mouse. You can optionally make recordings with or without sound and you can even record from a webcam.
Once you’ve saved the recording, it is loaded into the FlashBack Player editing environment. Here you can cut out any mistakes, then add captions and annotations such as boxes and arrows. You can also add zooms and pans to focus in on specific parts of the recording. To do that you just draw a box on screen to indicate which bit of the screen needs to be zoomed or panned to. Then you click a button to apply the effects. Unfortunately once applied you can’t resize the zoom area using the interactive box on screen, though you can do so by editing numeric fields in a dialog box [Correction: Blueberry Software informs me that you can resize a zoom area interactively if you first disable 'Apply Effects' and then re-enable the effects after editing].
Pros and ConsAll of which may sound pretty good. However, by comparison with some other competing products, such as TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio 8, BB FlashBack suffers from a number of limitations. For example, the editor provides just one video track (plus various audio and ‘objects’ tracks) and all video clips must be placed sequentially on this track (in Camtasia, the number of video tracks, which can be placed one under the other, is theoretically unlimited). FlashBack also has rather basic annotations (unlike Camtasia, arrows and boxes cannot be ‘animated’ – just ‘faded in’) and it has just three simple transitions: cross-fade, fade-through-white and fade-through-black (Camtasia has 30 transitions as standard including fancy effects such as page-turns, a rotating cube and Venetian blinds). I won’t go into any more detail on the editing. Suffice to say, the Camtasia editor is vastly more powerful in almost every respect. An area in which BB FlashBack is stronger is in precise frame-based editing. Its editing timeline shows each individually captured ‘frame’ and you can edit these one by one. For example, you could select one or more frames and then delete them or crop them (that is, delete the frames on either side of the selection).
|Magnifying glass effect|
I also like FlashBack’s easy mouse-cursor smoothing tool. If you happen to have made a recording in which your mouse pointer moves irregularly around the screen you can tell FlashBack to get rid of all the irrelevant movements by making the pointer move smoothly between two critical points (say a button click and a menu selection). This is particularly useful when creating software demos in which you want everything to look as slick as possible.
Moving MakingCreating a movie from a number of separately recorded clips is unnecessarily difficult, however. You can’t simply drag videos into FlashBack from the Windows Explorer. Instead you have to select them via a dialog box and then ‘import’ them. The importing of video clips is horribly slow.
One thing I particularly dislike is that BB FlashBack insists on loading each separately recorded clip into a new ‘instance’ of its editor. So if I record ten short clips I end up with ten FlashBack windows, each of which contains one clip. This strikes me as weird. Why would anyone ever want to do that? In Camtasia, each newly recorded clip is appended to the end of any existing recordings in a single instance of the Camtasia editor, so that it is ready to be included in the movie you are currently making. When I asked Blueberry Software if there was any way to have newly recorded clips loaded into a single instance of the editor I was told that there wasn’t as “That’s not anything we’ve ever been asked about before,” which (to be honest) I find rather astonishing.
SummaryWhile BB FlashBack Pro 5 provides a decent combination of a screen-recording tool and a fairly simple editing environment, there is no doubt in my mind that Camtasia Studio 8 is a superior product. That being said, if you are making a choice between the two, the deciding factor in favour of FlashBack might be its lower price. Camtasia Studio costs £206.50, compared with FlashBack Pro at £139.20 (both prices are inc VAT).
There are two other, money-saving editions of BB FlashBack: the Standard edition (£62.40 inc VAT) and the Express (free). The free edition does basic screen recording and rendering to Flash or AVI format but does not include any editing features; the Standard edition exports to a larger range of formats (such as MPEG4, QuickTime and GIF) and it also includes the core features of the video editor including the ability to add text boxes, selectively highlight or blur regions and highlight the cursor. The Professional edition has all the features of the Standard edition but adds additional editing capabilities such as frame-by-frame editing, multi-track audio, zoom, pan and cursor smoothing. For full details of these three editions, refer to Blueberry Software’s comparative chart. http://www.bbsoftware.co.uk/BBFlashBack/CompareEditions.aspx
In summary, for demanding users needing to create and edit high-quality screencasts on Windows, I would recommend Camtasia Studio 8. If you only need basic editing capabilities, you can save yourself some money by going for BB FlashBack Pro. But if saving money is your main concern, and you don’t need frame-by-frame editing, FlashBack Standard might be a good choice.
See also, my previous reviews: