Create CAD Training Videos Using the Latest Technology24 Jul, 2013 By: Robert Green
When it comes to tools and methods for making your own recordings, much has changed in the past five years.
Five years ago, I wrote a two-part series about creating your own CAD training videos. I postulated that video learning would become much more common (it has) and that more CAD managers would be using video technology to manage their staffs (they are). However, I haven't seen nearly as much use of the medium as I had expected, and one reason is the learning curve required to become proficient at creating your own videos.
Over the years, the tools I use to create videos have changed substantially, and my methodology for building great training exercises has evolved. So in the next few editions of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll take you through the process of creating your own videos — from setting up your recording environment to honing the final product. Here goes.
Choose Your Studio
Let's be clear: You’re not going to build a multimillion-dollar recording studio. You will, however, need to create an environment that enables you to record videos with proper screen resolution and noise-free, high-quality audio. To do this, you’ll need a quiet space to record and the equipment and software to get the job done.
My preferred "studio" is simply a large desk in my carpeted office. The carpet absorbs ambient noise, and I keep all the doors closed and the phones muted to prevent interruptions. You’ll have to think about where you can set up your studio in your office or, if noise can’t be avoided there, you may wish to record at home.
Now that you’ve decided on a location, you can start assembling the components of your studio. Of course, you can opt for a minimalist or luxury setup, but I’ll strive to describe a compromise that enables great results without breaking the bank.
Computer. You need a computer that is robust enough to handle the CAD software you’ll be teaching; nothing is worse than watching a training video where the software clunks along and/or crashes. The recording software I use doesn’t place much load on the machine during recording, so a good, fast CAD machine is almost always adequate for creating videos.
I use two different computers for recording videos, depending on where I am:
- On the road. When recording live presentations, I use my VAIO Quad-Core i7 laptop running 64-bit Windows 7 with 8 GB of RAM and a 32-GB ReadyBoost cache. This inexpensive laptop allows me great mobility and good recording performance while on the road.
- In the office. For work in my studio, I use an eight-core workstation running 64-bit Windows 7 with 32 GB of RAM and a solid-state drive (SSD) to reduce disk delay to essentially zero. This setup provides very fast, glitch-free recording and video production.
Software. In addition to the CAD software you’ll be demonstrating, you’ll need an audio/video recording software application; I use Camtasia Studio by TechSmith. Camtasia is an industry standard and one of the very few video-editing tools that is comfortable in the Windows and Mac worlds.
Camtasia can produce videos in a variety of formats (Windows Media, MOV, QuickTime, Flash, etc.), and it supports a variety of consumer and professional audio formats and interfaces. Camtasia isn’t free (or even cheap, at $299) but it does everything I’ve ever required to make professional videos. You could cut down a tree with a $30 axe, but it is a whole lot easier with a $300 chainsaw.
To test out the software for yourself, download the fully functional 30-day trial version.
Audio hardware. Narration is very important part of training videos, so high-quality audio is an integral piece of the overall experience. A good microphone is a must. I recommend a USB-interface microphone such as the Blue Snowball, Blue Yeti (that’s what I use, as shown below), or an MXL 990.
USB microphones bypass your computer’s low-quality analog microphone jack in favor of a super-clean digital recording interface. Getting the volume levels properly adjusted on the USB microphone requires a little tweaking, but you’ll be rewarded with much better sound.
Tip: For better audio capture with a full-size microphone, invest in a pop filter (illustrated above) to reduce sibilance (hissing sounds), plosives (hard consonant sounds that are created with a burst of breath, such as the p in pit), and exposure to moisture (from your breath) that can damage the microphone’s diaphragm element.
You can find a variety of USB boom headset-style microphones at most any office or computer store these days. Headset units are great for presenters who want to stand up and move, while the desk-based units provide better audio quality for those who remain at the keyboard.
Tip: Make sure to get a headset unit with a microphone boom that can be positioned close to your mouth. Look for units that offer superior noise rejection to eliminate background sounds from your recordings.
Set Video Recording Parameters
Higher graphics resolution is always better — right? As a user I tend to agree with this statement, but as someone who produces training videos I have to think about my viewers and be considerate of their hardware environment. It is for this reason that I now record everything at 1280 x 720, which is suitable for playback on virtually any computer or a 720p HD monitor. The reasons I’ve arrived at this conclusion are:
- If I record at higher resolutions, my videos can’t display on low-resolution monitors unless I do some extra production work.
- If I use video compression to reduce a high-resolution video to display on a low-resolution monitor, it takes a lot of processing time and always creates distracting glitches in the final video.
- Many people like to watch training videos on an iPad 2, which is even lower resolution than 720p, making the video-compression problems noted above even more acute.
- Recording at lower resolutions keeps file sizes smaller and easier to move over networks later.
Video Storage and User Access
Ultimately, you’ll be creating a video library of substantial size. The logical questions are, Where will all these videos be stored, and How will your users access them? The decisions you make may very well affect how your videos will be produced and shared.
Here are a few example scenarios:
One office location. In this case, videos will likely be housed on a local-area network (LAN) that can move even large files with ease. These environments aren’t sensitive to file size, so you don’t have to worry about achieving compact file sizes or using streaming video technology (such as Adobe Flash).
Multiple office locations. In this scenario, videos will have to move over a wide-area network (WAN), which can suffer from limited bandwidth and slow transfers. These environments mean you'll need to think about streaming video, minimizing files sizes, or both. The bottom line is, users won’t watch your videos if it takes forever to download them over the company WAN.
Creating your own training videos does take a little thought, planning, and setup, but it will reward you with truly custom training that your users can take advantage of at any time — without asking you for help! I truly believe it is worth the effort and highly recommend that all CAD managers consider the possibilities for their own office environments.
In the next edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll explain how to set up the Camtasia recording software and your studio to get the best results and maximum flexibility, and show you how to create video output in a variety of formats. So get going with your planning and get ready to crank out some video! Until next time.
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