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Review: Does Adobe's Captivate eLearning Tool Get A Passing Grade?

The CRN Test Center fills out a report card on Adobe Systems' Captivate 3 eLearning and screen capture product. CRN Test Center brought the product in-house to use it in a variety of settings to test out the interface, types of features, and ease of usage.

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The CRN Test Center brought the product in-house to use it in a variety of settings, to test out the interface, types of features, and ease of usage.Captivate 3 can not only record and create software and scenario-based simulations, but can also create projects by importing PowerPoint presentations and images, or by using a pre-defined template.

CRN Test Center tested the product with online conferencing products, including Microsoft Live Meeting and WebEx. After selecting the software simulation option, the application offered the option for recording full-screen, a window, or a portion of the screen. A square box defined the selected space " which could be adjusted by click-and-dragging the corners. Along with online conferencing, engineers surfed a few online retailers' web sites to create simulations, and recorded a training demonstration on using Eclipse, a programming IDE.

Since CRN Test Center recently took a look at TechSmith's Camtasia Studio 4, the inevitable question arises: how does Captivate measure up against Camtasia? The answer is maddening: it depends on the user. Video editors would find recording and editing straight video files much easier with Camtasia. However, Captivate would appeal to users skilled in Director or Flash. In terms of power, Captivate has a solid edge. While quickly creating a software demo or a PowerPoint presentation to post online is easier with Camtasia, Captivate wins hands down when creating interactive demos, training software with quizzes, and complex software demonstrations. Captivate has much more flexibility in editing, in creating recordings in multiple formats off a single recording, and in handling different input sources.

Captivate differentiates between full motion recording and various recording modes. Users can select training or assessment simulation, or demonstration to customize the finished product. Captivate handles motion recording differently from recording modes. Full motion recording records the input regardless of what is happening on the screen, as if the engineer had taken a camcorder and held it against the screen to take the recording. When recording is complete, Captivate has one file. For a software simulation, engineers stepped away for a few minutes. Captivate continued recording the entire time nothing was happening.

The recording modes capture screen input as a series of independent slides. When the recording is complete, Captivate has a series of video slides, each representing a change in input. While recording a software simulation and the engineers stepped away for a few minutes, Captivate recorded the screenshot, but stopped recording because there was no change on the screen. The software resumed recording when the engineer returned and resumed going through the simulation.

The difference in recording also makes a difference in editing. Engineers made a mistake while recording a simulation by clicking on the wrong button. In order to edit out the error, engineers watched the video recorded in full motion to find the exact spot. Under the simulation recording mode, engineers just had to delete the slide that recorded the wrong button click, and the video was seamlessly edited.

Captivate captures mouse movements independently of the screen. While the recording consists of slides each beginning with a mouse activity (clicking on something), the path the mouse takes on the screen is a separate entity. Captivate automatically smoothes out mouse movement to remove jitteriness or irregular patterns. During recording, engineers moved the mouse around a lot on the screen. During editing, the engineers were able to change the path the mouse took to make it less intrusive and also to make edits less obvious to the viewer. Portions of the video were deleted, and engineers noticed the mouse jumped from one side of the screen to the other because the sections that showed the mouse crossing the screen had been cut. Being able to edit the mouse's movements removed the jumps.

Since the slides can multiply, depending on mouse activity, Captivate can require significant amounts of processing power. The final product can be exported into Flash, which can then be embedded in other documents or on Web sites. The Flash files are much larger than a comparative MPEG file or QuickTime video would have been.

The templates for scenario-based simulations are straightforward and easy to customize for individual recordings. Users can create a pool of questions that would appear in the recording as short quizzes. This is most helpful in training software since quizzes can be used to test the trainee's comprehension of the material. The quizzes are interactive, requiring the trainee to enter a response before the demo continues, and Captivate makes it easy to define the prompts to tell the user the answer is incorrect, and to summarize what the user's performance was. The same kind of prompts can also be created to give hints, such as a little box of text appearing after a certain timed interval to say, "Psst! Click here!"

For training and demonstration simulations, users can edit in rollover boxes, duplicating all tool tips contained in the original screen. By defining rollover boxes, tool tips that usually appear when the user hovers over the original screen object appear when the user hovers over the button in the simulation.

Solution providers can use Captivate to develop training products or simulations for customers. A side note for system integrators who building gaming PCs: This is a nifty tool to bundle for players interested in recording play sessions.

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