I was a teacher a long time ago. I learned that too much knowledge is written about, yet too many people have a genuine need to get information through audio and visual channels.
So let’s rocket forward to today. I’m now an Information Security Analyst. I’m part of a program that attempts to persuade people to use more secure business practices. We do a lot of our work through written words, primarily English, shared with an international user base. Some days I find myself experiencing the same feelings I had as a teacher. There are lots of emails and memos and web pages that go out. They assume that people love reading, that they understand English very well, and that words can convey which graphical user interface (GUI) elements are used in what sequence. But what if there were a better way?
I’ve been excited about digital video technologies for a long time now. A lot of people create learning videos done with Java and other technologies. One vendor calls himself the "Video Doctor" and offers suites of CDs and DVDs dedicated to teaching Word, PowerPoint, and other computer tools. In the past, doing these videos yourself took a lot of money. You needed sound cards, microphones, and expensive software. And so did your video viewers...er...customers. But today is different.
Desktops and laptops now feature built-in sound cards and microphones. Computers can render animation and videos as easily as they once displayed text-mode, word-processing documents. But what about the video recording software? Is there a cheap video authoring piece of software you can use to provide quick video training for your users? Is there a video rendering architecture in place on every PC in your organization?
And if you had a video recording tool, how might you use it? Does everyone in your organization know how to kick off a manual update of your anti-virus software if needed during a big outbreak? Are you implementing new application functionality and wish you could demonstrate it instead of writing pages about it?
Windows Media Encoder (WME), a free utility that is available on the Microsoft website, can do video file conversions (refer to my article on Pocket PC video). More importantly, it can record PC operations while adding any spoken notes you want to add. This article will demonstrate how to use WME to record your own training video. It will discuss some practical tips and hints for good video production. In the Tips section provided at the end, you will even learn how to provide multilingual information. Ready?
Oh, and I’ve created a companion video for this content. If you’re hyperactive like me and you want to skip to the how-to, access the video here. Before you do this, visit the Authoring Utilities website and get and install your copy of WME. You’ll find some exciting new content and new utilities out there. After you get started burning your own videos, you may want to get other utilities, too. You might want a copy of the book Windows Media Resource Kit if you want to get an in-depth view of what’s possible.
Configuring Your PC for Video Authoring
There’s nothing more disappointing than staring at a video that has no sound. Before you record your first video, you need to ensure that you have enough disk space (video files love disk space) and a working microphone. Of course, you can check the disk space by opening the My Computer icon and checking the properties of the drive you’ll record to.
Checking the microphone is as simple as opening a little known Windows utility called Sound Recorder. Stroll through your Programs and Accessories until you find it. Open it and try to do a small recording. There will be a red dot that indicates record. The square button ends recording. The controls are very similar to Media Player’s. If you can’t record your voice with this application, you must work to debug your media settings and/or try another microphone. For a quick primer on Sound Recorder, watch this brief video tutorial.