Best Free Screen Session Recorder

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Introduction

First, a word about words:  Snapshot.  Screenshot.  Screen Capture.  Screencast.  Screen Recording.  Screen Session Recording.  Whew!  All of these words or phrases refer to the capture of one (still) or many consecutive (moving) images of your computer's screen.  So just to be clear:  Snapshots and Screenshots refer to one-off still captures of your screen (and Gizmo's has a great review of the Best Free Screen Capture Tool).  This review covers the rest:  Screencasts, Screen Recordings, and Screen Session Recordings software for the Windows platform.  We'll stick with the term 'Screen Session Recordings' for this review.

The uses for this class of software is wide:  tutorials, demos, recordings for technical support playback and review, training, and more.  If you want a simple product just to take a quick screen recording, with no editing and no 'knobs to twiddle,' we've got that in our roundup.  If you want a substantial product that gives you control over a wide array of settings including audio and video quality, lets you edit the project after the screen recording has happened, lets you add icons and information bubbles, and can churn out the results in several different formats, we have that, too.

Note: Testing was performed on both a brand new 64-bit Windows 7 laptop, and an old 32-bit Windows XP laptop.

 
Discussion

Active PresenterActive Presenter ("AP"), by Atomi Systems, comes in both Free, Standard, and Professional editions.  Happily in this case, enough goodies were left standing in the Free version to make Active Presenter my Top Pick.

When you start a Capture, or start up a Project (which you can save for later editing), AP offers you several "Capture Profiles" to choose from.  A "Capture Profile" is the group of all video and audio and cursor and hotkey and annotation settings.  These Capture Profiles can be edited, or you can create new ones to save and re-use. This is unique among the software reviewed here.  Another unique feature of Active Presenter is the ability for the user to work in "Smart Capture" mode, wherein not all the screen frames are captured; capture takes place when you click the mouse or type on the keyboard.  AP intelligently stitches together the movements of the mouse and streams audio on top.  You can also choose to run in standard Full Motion Recording mode.  

Some other highlights of the software's capabilities include:  pan along with the mouse, zoom-and-pan a region, set the frame rate and key frame rate for the video, set the Sample Rate for the audio, highlight the cursor to make it easier to follow, and auto-annotation, where AP inserts call-outs for you, complete with a description.

The editing window is much like you see in mid-level A/V editing software such as Pinnacle Studio: a Canvas section, a Timeline running the length of the bottom, a Resources window for add-ins, and a long list of buttons in the toolbars.  When you record in Smart Capture mode, the multiple thumbnails show up in the Slides area.  One strange and inconvenient issue is that you can't add all the slides to the Timeline at once.  In fact, you can only edit one slide at a time.  This makes editing difficult.  You only get to see the finished, stitched-together product when you export. Further, very unfortunately, AP does a poor job of stitching all the Smart Capture elements together when you do export, leaving you with a jerky, out of sync recording.  As a result, I do not recommend using Smart Capture mode, and recommend sticking with Full Motion Recording (which does not give you the ability to add annotations).

You can export to a variety of formats, including AVI, WMV, MP4, and WebM.  

The software is well organized, and all the key settings are easy to find.  As long as you stick with Full Motion Record mode you'll be all set.

 

Blueberry FlashBack ExpressBlueberry FlashBack Express come in Free and Paid versions, much like Active Presenter, but it offers a smaller subset of it's paid-for sibling's feature set than does Active Presenter.

BB FlashBack gives you the ability to record Full Screen on one or more monitors.  You can record sound and set the sample rate.  You have a choice of video codecs.  You can include the capture of video from a webcam.  You can have BB FlashBack hide all your desktop icons for you while recording, to keep things clean and tidy.  You can schedule start and stop times for recordings.      The software also includes a highlighted cursor, but no panning.

You can output to either AVI or SWF or FLV flash files.

Overall I found Blueberry FlashBack Express to be  a solid product with several unique and very handy features, with no major negatives.

 

JingIf you want simple, Jing is it.  Jing is made by TechSmith, creators of the venerable Snagit and Camtasia screen capture and screen session recording programs.  Installation is quick, and when you start up the application, you won't see any window.  What you'll see is a yellow half-sun icon on the top edge of your screen.  Mousing over the sun reveals three elements:  Capture, History, and Settings.  Clicking on Settings gives you the ability to set a capture hotkey, select your audio input device, and not much else.  To capture, you click on the Capture "sub sun" button, and click and drag from one corner to another to define your recording space.  Right under the selected area is an icon bar.  Click on the Video button and you'll get a 3-2-1 countdown.  You'll know you're recording because the recordable area is bordered on the left and right by a moving film strip.  When you're done, click the Stop button in the icon bar below the recorded area.  Then you're immediately presented with a playback window.  If you like what you see, you have two choices: Share the video with friends via Screencast.com, or save the work as a single SWF Flash file.

There are obvious limitations, including lack of output options, lack of control over video or audio quality, and more.  But if simplicity and speed are your number 1 and number 2 criteria, Jing delivers.

 

 

 

 
Related Products and Links

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Quick Selection Guide

ActivePresenter
4
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
A lot of functionality; ability to save sessions as Projects to be returned to later; editing interface for adding text, thought bubbles and the like; ability to export to AVI, WMV, MP4, and WebM.
Editor difficult to use because users cannot link together all the individual slides that ActivePresenter creates; Smart Capture mode is a promising idea, but poorly executed; no export to Flash
3.91
32.8MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP SP3 or newer
BB FlashBack Express
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
A lot of control over video and audio settings; can capture web cam images and integrate with the screen session; can hide desktop icons automatically during recording; outputs to AVI, or SWF or FLV Flash files; built-in YouTube and Blip.tv uploaders.
The built-in Editor Timeline is a tease: there's nothing you can edit with it unless you purchase a Standard or Pro version; no panning to follow the cursor
4.1.8.2960
12.7 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP to 8
Jing
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Simple to use; lightweight; quick install; ability to post directly to Screencast.com
Almost no access to video or audio settings; only output format is SWF Flash.
2.8.13007
6.5MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP or newer

 
Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Ian Richards. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

 
Tags

screen recording, free screen recording, free session recorder, screen session recorder, screen record software, freeware, screencast, capture

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Comments

by Faziri on 3. August 2014 - 0:44  (117712)

The completely free Loilo Game Recorder is the one that has finally ended my search for a good game recorder. Before this, I've tried Fraps, Bandicam, Gameclaw, OBS, Camstudio and every other popular one. They all had issues. Loilo is small, its performance is good enough to not affect my game too much, it actually manages to capture the game unlike a lot of others, the video is exactly what you see on the screen (no magically appearing fps drops that weren't there or anything), the image quality is perfect. Of course the output file is huge because of the capture quality (motion-jpeg), so I use Freemake to convert it to h264/aac mp4 at the same resolution, which takes about a minute, reduces the filesize to a fraction and leaves the iamge quality untouched.

I can die happy now :D

Edit: you do need to figure out the proper steps to making it capture the game: start the game, alt-tab to Loilo, select the game, alt-tab back to the game, wait for the image to appear (fullscreen game means Windows needs to surrender the GPU and that takes a second), press the record hotkey. It also installs Loiloscope along with itself, but you can just remove it and it doesn't affect the recorder.

by George.J on 3. July 2014 - 7:37  (117111)
by joseph w gizmo on 15. March 2014 - 12:56  (115030)

I've used many of these programs however I came across one application/program that I presently use which I simply find is quite good ... try out oCam : http://ohsoft.net/product_ocam.php

by MidnightCowboy on 15. March 2014 - 15:12  (115034)

Caution! oCam will attempt to make unwanted changes to your system settings, therefore care is needed during the install process. MC - Site Manager.

by mrin on 30. July 2014 - 17:27  (117670)

Thanks for the caution. How can one find out things like this?

by MidnightCowboy on 30. July 2014 - 17:48  (117671)

Trusted download sites such as Softpedia will state in the product description if it is "ad-supported" and then give the type of unwanted components being included.

You should also read the product EULA in full before deciding to install it or not.

Another good option is to Google the product name plus "bundled software" in the query string which should throw up some useful results. This is just one of them for oCam:

"This review is part of our Best Free Windows Software section. .... to modify this; Comes with a lot of bundled crapware; Has no offline installer. .... I have to withdraw my comment about oCam- version 21 is ads-ridden trash ..."

MC - Site Manager

by mrin on 31. July 2014 - 17:36  (117681)

Thanks a lot for explaining this.

by Tomnov on 3. March 2014 - 4:06  (114750)

Couldn't get Active Presenter to record ANY sound on Windows 8.1, found no place to set an audio device or input.

by George.J on 3. July 2014 - 7:36  (117110)

Go to this link: http://atomisystems.com/activepresenter/recording-features/ and then to Audio Narration and click the video. It'll guide you how to set up the audio device.

by Dragonscribe on 17. February 2014 - 19:32  (114509)

Is there any way to edit an swf file? Lots of programs will output swf but I can't find anything free that inputs it for conversion to anything else

by sicknero on 18. February 2014 - 9:40  (114524)

What is it you actually want to do with the swf?

Free Audio Video Pack (used to be "Pazera Suite") will convert .swf to avi or mpg - http://www.pazera-software.com/products/free-audio-video-pack/

The thing is that many swf files are interactive (eg games, educational) and if you convert it to a normal video format you will loose that.

There's a tool here - http://www.free-decompiler.com/flash/ - for decompiling and editing flash content but I've not tried it sorry.

by Dragonscribe on 18. February 2014 - 16:01  (114529)

I want to convert it to mp4 or mpg.

Thanks for the Audio video Pack suggestion. I had Pazera but it didn't recognize swf. I should have checked it for updates.

Along the way I noticed that Youtube upload doesn't accept swf either. A real stumbling block since a lot of use for screen records is to demonstrate software and UI methods for Youtube.

by KrinkleKrunk on 13. February 2014 - 21:42  (114462)

2-13-14
I just downloaded CamStudio after seeing it here. Decided to run it by VirusTotal just out of curiosity.

Unfortunately CamStudio did not fare so well. I will not be installing this program. Studio_Setup_v2.7.2_r326_(build_19Oct2013).exe

Gizmo's Freeware should not be recommending this product.

The screen capture program "My Screen Recorder" got a clean bill of health from VirusTotal. Perhaps I will try that one instead.

by sicknero on 13. February 2014 - 22:15  (114464)

CamStudio is great but they ran into problems some time back due to an ill-advised decision about what software to bundle with their program. Also there is supposedly a rogue version of the program around on the internet which has done their reputation further harm.

You could go to Softpedia (http://www.softpedia.com/get/Multimedia/Video/Video-Recording/Camstudio....) which offers the same version for download ... their link scores 0/53 on VT while the file itself scores 1/47.

Alternatively you could try the PAF portable version (http://portableapps.com/apps/utilities/camstudio_portable) which scores 1/53 for the link and 0/50 for the file.

by Lake Hache on 27. November 2013 - 23:33  (112582)

Camstudio 2 stars?? seriously?? you've gotta be kidding!
First of all, Active presenter and Flashback Express only offer very limited versions of their programs "for free", and the paid versions are rather expensive. [prices edited out by moderator]
Camstudio is free. 100%.
You report some issues with W7 on a 64-bit computer. (It would be nice if you added the version number and the date). I use CamStudio 2.7.2 (Build r326, released in october 2013) with W7 on a 64 bit computer and never had any of those issues, and regarding size, you can choose amongst a pretty big list of different compression methods, and it's pretty flexible, you can add new codecs also.
Camstudio is also, by far, the number 1 free program used by people who make screen recording videos for youtube.
I think giving camstudio (used by more people all over the world than any other free screen recording program) 2 stars is not only unfair, it's ridiculous!

by George.J on 27. December 2013 - 10:33  (113221)

Even though Active Presenter has a paid version, the free version has all the goodies, that you'd ever want from a screencasting software, and is very much advanced than Camstudio.

You could simply read through the Feature comparison of the Free and Paid versions of Active Presenter, and you'll see that the free version has all the important features.

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