MacOS Screengrabber Death Match

Yesterday night I was looking a for a screengrabber for Mac OS. Something simple to record a video tutorial with, or grab cool scences out of video games. Built-in audio recording would be cool but has lower priority for me.

So I went and I tested the following five screengrabbers: iShowU, Screenography Light, Screenmimic, AlphaOmega Screen Movie Recorder, and Display Eater. All applications were universal builds and ran fine on an Intel core duo Mac with Mac OS X 10.4. In all cases I could just drop the resulting quicktime file into iMovie and start post-editing; if it was a flash movie, I could play it in the browser. (\*) When I mention localization, I am referring to the German one.

Welcome to the Mac screengrabber deathmatch:

iShowU (demo)

The demo version runs fast and makes a good impression. It comes with a row of sample settings (high and low quality) to choose from. The customizable settings are clearly structured and cover what you need (mouse visibility, quality, various Quicktime compression formats). The tool is able to record system audio and microphone input. The interface to specify various recording area sizes is well done too (includes even a "follow the mouse" setting). Minor nit: The de(\*) localization was only partially finished resulting in confusing dialogs like "Wenn Sie alles löschen wollen, then click yes: Ja/Nein?" (not literally, but similar).

The demo leaves a watermark on the movie to encourage you to spend $20 to unlock it -- which it is certainly worth if you regularly record quicktime screencasts with audio.

Screenography Light (demo)

Screenography Light is basically a screenshot utility that is also able to record movies. The application runs in the background without displaying an icon in the dock. You specify a keyboard shortcut to open the Screenography palette that lets you start and stop recording. The only way to specify the recording area is by dragging the mouse, then you hit the "start" button. Hit the keyboard shortcut again to stop recording, and export the movie as Flash or Quicktime. Minor nits: After generating an SWF file, Screenography tried to open the flash movie with QuickTime, which obviously failed; also the generated flash movie does not come with any generated HTML with size settings, so unless you happen to remember the exact values, the movie will look distorted in the browser.

The demo leaves a watermark on the movie unless you pay $10 for the light version, or $40 for the Pro version that also supports audio, and has more options. Seems worth the money if you need a quick and simple tool, and switch between Flash and Quicktime formats a lot.

Screenmimic (demo)

From the start, Screenmimic guides you through the set-up and recording process with an easy-to-use wizard. It records either full screen, a selected screen area, one specified window, or the recording area can follow the mouse. You can also set a timer after how many seconds the recording should start. Screenmimic records audio from the microphone/line-in only. It can export movies in Flash or Quicktime format, with or without a visible mouse pointer. Minor nit: Going through the wizard to start recording will likely annoy me before long; above all, pressing Apple-N didn't re-start the wizard as I expected, so I had to quit and restart the app to record a second movie.

Unless you shell out $65, the demo version records only 30 sec, and it leaves a watermark on the movie. You might want to consider this tool for easy mass-production of Flash web pages, since Screenmimic also generates the embedding HTML code snippet for your movies.

AlphaOmega Screen Movie Recorder (freeware)

It may not look as professional as the other apps, but it does have the minimum set of features, and the workflow is clear. Choose "start recording" from a green dot menu appearing at the right end of the menubar. Next select the screen area by dragging a rectangle with the mouse, and there you go. After you select "Stop recording" from the red dot menu, Screen Movie Recorder immediately generates a .mov file on your disk. That's it.

Cons: Not 100% stable (crashed my Finder once), supports only one file format (.mov), no options at all, no audio, de(\*) localization is faulty.

Pros: Screen Movie Recorder is a no-frills tool that leaves no watermark, it is free, localized, and easy to use.

Check out their homepage, alphaomega have many more small applications to offer.

Display Eater (shareware)

Nice and smooth interface, without having to think twice I recorded a useful screencast. Open Display Eater, click "Start recording", and determine the recording area by resizing a rectangle. (You can also save your custom size setting.) Move the Display Eater window to a spot where you find it again, and hit "capture" to start recording. When you're done, go back to the main Display Eater window and click "stop recording". After recording all the scenes, press "Settings" to specify the movie format (e.g. MPG-4). Then press "save" to convert each scene into a quicktime movie.

Cons: No audio, crashed once, recorded mouse pointer is out of sync.

Pros: Display Eater is a free no-frills recording tool that leaves no watermark, and despite being shareware I encountered no time restrictions in this version (I tried 3 min); it is lightweight, stable, easy to use, and has configurable mouse recording. The author plans to open-source the code one day.

Verdict:

If all you want is a literally quick QuickTime movie, and you don't need any live audio, then you can get pretty far with no-frills freeware. Remember you have the option of adding an audio track using Apple iMovie later. And if your work requires you to output Flash movies, or you cannot do without live audio recording capabilities, you can choose from reasonably priced tools. For the time being I'll stick to Display Eater and see how far I will get.

If you are interested in this topic, read Where's the killer screencast app for the mac? and Mac options for capturing video of your screen.

Comments:

I choose iShowU for my webcast. Not too expensive, works fine and minimum of problems.
I disagree with the idea of adding voice-over some times later using iMovie or an other app. In such a scenario you can easilly get to troubles, when your mouse is too fast for your mouth.

Posted by Satai on March 24, 2007 at 03:15 AM CET #

Then speak out loud while you record the video, to make sure your script fits the length of your actions. (You have a script, DON'T YOU!?) ;-) Or you can cut the video into pieces, and freeze the video for a couple of seconds to catch up with the audio -- but this is quite time consuming and not worth doing for each sentence.

Posted by Seapagasus on March 30, 2007 at 05:52 AM CEST #

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