Deliver SAP training through video

Dmitry Kaglik

March 10, 2013

SAP

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User training is one of the most important parts of any project cycle.

Of course, there are different methods of training delivery. Any of them, or a combination, is chosen for each particular project. Which methods do I mean?

  • Classroom trainings – where the number of users is not significant, and they can be easily gathered together.
  • Webinar – the modern modification of a classroom meeting, where the location of users is not that important.
  • Textbooks – this is the most common training delivery method, especially when you need to train a number of people at different times. Textbooks also can be an important part of classroom or webinar training.
  • Video training – this is the “show-and-tell” method of training that does not require a live trainer. When you want to show people how to accomplish something on their computers, nothing works better than video. For example, check the video on BW extractor how-to from BW expert.

Have you ever tried to create video training materials? Possibly a great many of you are unaware that specific tools for this are easily available for everyone. You can capture all the action on any desktop using any of several open source alternatives.

This article picks some applications that cover a range of users’ needs. These applications can run on Windows and even on Linux, and provide basic or advanced functionality. The one thing they have in common is that they’re all free and open source software.

CamStudio

Our first screencast recording alternative, CamStudio, has a long and winding history. The latest version is 2.6 beta, released in October 2010.

Container and codec

With screencast software, “container” specifies the kind of data organization in the file. It should not be confused with codec, which specifies the audio or video stream compression. The most commonly used codec for an MP4 container is MPEG-4, but, technically speaking, almost any type of compression could be used in an MP4 container, including lossless. You can read more about MP4 containers and the MPEG-4 codec on Wikipedia.

CamStudio lets you record a screencast, together with voice or music, in an AVI or SWF file. You can use either one of the standard built-in codecs, or additionally install an external lossless one. The application supports fewer codecs than its rivals VLC or FFmpeg, which we will discuss later.

CamStudio can record the whole screen or a specific window or screen area, and you can choose whether to capture the mouse pointer. You can set audio and video options via the GUI, though the set of options is not as rich as those in VLC and FFmpeg.

If you record your video in AVI format, but later decide you want to use it as Flash Video, you can convert your AVI video into Flash Video, encapsulated in an SWF file, directly from CamStudio.

In addition to these options, which are available in other screencasting tools, CamStudio has some unique features. For example, it allows you to automatically add annotations, timestamps, and watermarks to your recording. You can put your recording on pause, and automatically stop recording after certain period of time.

When you start recording, the CamStudio window can either stay on the screen, or can be automatically minimized. In minimized view, you can click an icon in the notification area to stop or pause the recording. Once you finish recording, you’re offered a chance to review the results in your default media player.

If you are interested, then I can tell you that BW extractor how-to was created with CamStudio.

VLC

VLC, which stands for VideoLAN Client, is a multimedia tool with many available functions, including screencast recording.

To get started, run the program. Open the menu Media –> Open Capture Device. In the new window, select Desktop as your capture mode and specify the frame rate you need.

If you want to capture only part of the screen, you need to specify the parameters you want manually in the More options section. You can also specify whether to capture the mouse pointer, which is not active by default.

When all the options are specified, select Convert from the drop-down list.

The next window allows you to specify the parameters of the recorded file, including filename and codecs.

The default codecs are H.264 for video and AAC for audio, which are standard codecs for MP4 conversion. Although everything seems to be standard, it is a good idea to check the profile details, and set up video and audio codec parameters, such as bitrate and frame rate. I usually use a bitrate of 1200kbps for video recordings, but you can experiment with different values. The high bitrate means a bigger file and better quality. Even though you specify the audio codec details here, a known limitation of the software prevents you from recording audio with VLC. You need to record an audio stream separately and add it to your screencast using video editing software.

Once you’ve entered all the parameters, specified the file name, and configured the codecs, press the Start button to begin recording. To finish it, click the Stop button on the main VLC window.

In addition to recording screencasts, VLC can convert files from one format to another.

Unfortunately, my own experience with VLC shows that recording does not always go smoothly. Sometimes it simply does not happen, and the resulting file contains only a green background image instead of the recorded screen.

Windows only?

The majority of SAP consultants and users work in the Windows operating system. But of course this is not the only available alternative. Mac OS and Linux-based operating systems are also widespread in the world.

Of course, screencast recording tools are available for these operating systems too. VLC, which I have mentioned above, is the best example of a cross-platform application. There are VLC versions for almost any Linux distribution.

Apart from VLC, Linux users can also rely on a very powerful tool called FFMpeg. Unfortunately, this tool is only available in the command line interface, which is compensated by the very wide range of available configuration options.

This article is based on the blog post Four Top Open Source Screencast Applications, published on Linux notes from DarkDuck. Please read that article if you want to learn more about FFMpeg and other Linux alternatives.

Video trainings for SAP

Many of us got used to SAP training materials printed on paper, or at least in the format of text documents. The world is moving fast, and multimedia experience became an everyday thing.

Then why do we still stick to classical training textbooks? Will you consider using video as a part of the training course on your next project?

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