|Adobe Captivate 2|
| Review: Captivate takes a unique approach to creating training presentations & videos
Feature: Formerly Macromedia RoboDemo, this program automates IT video training
Adobe Captivate 2 is distinctly different in how it approaches the Help training and video presentation tasks in comparison with Techsmith's Camtasia Studio or Qarbon's Viewlet Builder. Captivate provides the best of both worlds - the ability to do both event captures (for efficient filesizes and faster development) and video capture (for demo fidelity) in the same session. Users click on the CTL+F10 to start video capture and CTRL+F11 to revert back to event captures. This is the first of several unique features that sets Captivate apart from its demoware counterparts.
As the screenshot below shows, Captivate has a slide story boards, a fullscreen viewer, and a timeline in its edit window. That Edit Window is one of three tabs that provides a more detailed Storyboard view and a Branching view that becomes important when creating advanced quizzes, simulations, and branching presentations.
Here is the storyboard built up from importing a PowerPoint presentation (via Open Office Impression) with some added video and screen captures done in Captivate Recorder tool (more on this below). This is not a video editor layout but rather a slide/storyboard editor. The Storyboard Panel of slides and screenshot plus inserted video clips goes down the left side panel. The Preview Window is in the middle, the Resources Panel with audio, image, and sound resources is on the right.
This sounds like a video editor. But it is not for one reason - the timeline and all editing extends only for the length of each slide. Captivate is a slide editor - not a total video or presentation editor (look to Adobe Premiere Pro or even Premiere Elements or Camtasia Studio for those capabilities).There is no timeline editing that extends between two slides or images in Captivate - all editing is done within a particular slide, screenshot or video timeline.
Now this layout is an advantage when users have employed the event capture routine which captures individual slides and which automatically adds captions and highlights to those slides(users can toggle this feature on or off). In this situation, Captivate proves to be one of the most powerful and fastest editors to work with among demoware creation tools. For example, Captivate provides one of the most complete set of captioning, notes, and highlighting tools. In addition adding buttons, hotspots and textfields with increasingly sophisticated actions is very easy to do in Captivate as guiding dialogs popup at the point of insertion of these learning objects. So to create a simple demo or a sophisticated learning video is well within Captivates capacity.
However, also realize that many of these same problems arise for event capture demoware like Qarbon's Viewlet Builder or Turbodemo. If you remove or change the duration of slides, across-the-presentation audio narration will have to be edited as well. Also many of these tools do not provide for editing between or across slides. In general, its important to note that creating good demoware is not fall-off-the-log easy; however Captivate's many thoughtful editing features do smooth the creation of good demos.
Beyond Display: Programmed Demos and Presentations
How many times have you been in the midst of a presentation and found the questions you are getting indicate that your audience wants to go somewhere else which you have anticipated but that means - stopping and restarting with a new set of slides. One reason I really like Captivate is I can program my slide shows with a branch key - and do exactly that, branch to a side issue that has become the main issue. Then either stay there or branch back to where I left off in the main presentation when the side issue is dealt with. Captivate makes that possible with its easy PowerPoint imports plus programmable hotspots and buttons.
It is handling these type of programmatic experiences that distinguish Captivate.
Now this is a bit of a gamble for Adobe and Captivate. True, Flash format has from its inception been the leader in providing a container for media: vector and bitmap images, fonts, audio, animations, and video plus code to run it all. Also Flash still provides the best compression for files with most of these media types on board. And even with just video and audio or just images, animations and text - common presentation file contents, .SWF files are frequently the most compressed and often enough by large margins.
And the Flash players are fairly small (around 2MB or less depending on deployment)and very easily downloaded. And the players run on browsers on Linux, Mac, Windows, Solaris, Symbian and other OS. And Flash has dominating and well over 90% market share on all of these platforms including Windows. Finally, Adobe's new Apollo player will allow for .SWF file support, plus PDF, plus it will run on the same range of OS while providing both online and offline operations. In short - what is the beef ? Where is the gamble ?
Also Flash .swf does not directly supports some popular graphic formats including AutoCAD .dwg(and other formats), PowerPoint .ppt (but Captivate does have very good import capabilities), most 3D modeling formats, and most of the rival video formats. Yes, you can get these converted to .FLV or .swf using third party conversion utilities. But that is an extra cost two step. Finally, .swf does not reach to some popular media players like Apple's iPod, Microsoft's Zune, Palm's Treo and others where user have to use conversion utilities from Anvsoft or Wondershare.
Before the Adobe + Macromedia merger, the technology risk was large; now it is significantly less but with major players like Microsoft alert to the danger that is Flash and Apollo (see details on Microsoft's Silverlight); the gamble that more than Flash support will be necessary is still very real. The intro of Apollo and evolution of media software containers over the next 6-12 months will tell the tale.
Meanwhile it is interesting to note that Captivate's competitors all support .swf file output (why not - it has the best cross OS platform reach and standalone plus browser usability). As well only Qarbon's Viewlet Builder and Tanida's Demobuilder provide standalone executables for Linux and Mac as well as Windows like Captivate. So may be the all.swf gamble is really a small risk.
More importantly, Captivate is a platform beyond just screencast demos. It is a robust, programmatic presentation platform that takes PowerPoint et alia to a new level because it can incorporate Powerpoint (or Open Office Impression presentations) with screen captures, images, animations, and videos(the full media gamut)- combine these with quizzes and surveys to create great online or offline learning experiences. Yes, there is some overlap with Authoware and Director Mx. But Captivate takes demos to a new level of eLearning.
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