Screencasting and Retina Screen Resolution

The early 2013 MacBook Pro 15 inch Retina display I have been using lately has an incredible amount of resolution. However, when I recently went to make a screencast with this machine I realized that all this beautiful resolution makes for poor looking screencasts.

While this post discusses the MacBook Pro and its Retina display the concepts are applicable to any hardware and operating system: think Microsoft Windows here.

On this Apple OS-X operating system, I mostly use three applications to capture the screencast: Camtasia, Screenflow, and Quicktime. The folks at Telestream make Screenflow and they have a quite good blog on choosing the best screen resolution for screencasts if you want more, but before you click through to that blog let me explain the background a little below.

If the target audience for the screencast has the same Retina resolution, and they wish to view the screencast full screen, then my “poor looking screencasts” statement is false. If the source and target are not equivalent and the target is smaller; then that  statement in the first paragraph of this post is correct.

I can scale the export to a smaller resolution. Perhaps you have seen the fuzzy and/or tiny fonts in screencasts and have also been disappointed with the quality of the experience. Turns out those words and fonts in screencasts are really hard for the video capture programs and scaling them down makes for a poor product.

Size of the file is also an issue for my target audience. I am a University Professor delivering a fair amount of the screencasts I produce via our Universities Learning Management System (LMS) BlackBoard. I upload the files to a server and the student watches them, ideally, from within the BlackBoard Content or Learning Module portals. Lots of bandwidth is used in this round trip.

The quality of the text on the screen is hugely important to the majority of my screencasts. I certainly desire to avoid muddling the learning concept I have in mind with poor quality text and visuals.

When I recently created a screencast the Screenflow the canvas was 2500 x 1600! When I tried to scale the screencast down to 1280 x 800 as I exported it, the result was less clear than I wanted.

I thought easy enough to change the resolution on the MacBook, but I was stymied. I went to System -> Preferences and choose the Displays widget I was presented with choices for scaled resolution. However, when I choose a “Larger Text” resolution and rerecorded the canvas size was still 2500 x 1600.

While I am sure I could learn to use the command line to accomplish a true screen resolution change in Display, I thought that was not a viable fix for my workflow. Instead I found a Mac OS X utility to help from Stephane Madray. This shareware program is called SwitchResX.

Now I can change the resolution to something more reasonable prior to recording. When exported to the delivery format has less, or no, scaling of the screen size then I will achieve the clearest video with the smallest file size.

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