ScreenFlow 4 (review)

For education, software demos, iPhone app demos, promotional videos, and online training, there’s Camtasia and ScreenFlow on the Mac. Camtasia is available for Windows PCs too, but ScreenFlow has more refinement and elegance, and is more user-friendly with better OS X integration.

ScreenFlow 4, the Interface

ScreenFlow 4 comes with a free subscription to Telestream’s new ScreenFlow Total Publishing Solution offering that enables you to sell online training (cooperation with Leaping Brain). But it wouldn’t be a major upgrade if that was all to it, now would it? There are about nine major new features and improvements, and a larger number of what I would describe as tweaks and minor improvements. Enough to thoroughly test.

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  • Chroma Keying
  • ADA captions
  • ProRes 4444 support
  • Vimeo 1080p support
  • Timecode display
  • Nested clips
  • Audio filters don’t load editors
Price (approx.): €79.85

When you start ScreenFlow 4, you’ll be greeted with a new recording window. The window now allows you to set a recording timer. The timer lets you automatically stop a recording after a defined time interval. Boring WebEx presentations come to mind.

ScreenFlow supported multi-layered tracks for a long time, but if you used them to the fullest, that quickly became a mess. Nested clips solve that problem. A nested clip is much like a compound clip in Final Cut Pro X. You can combine several layers together and edit these on a separate timeline. The benefit is cleaner organisation, the disadvantage — as with compound clips — is that you lose some editing context.

ScreenFlow 4

Hidden under a new collapsible “Video Filters” menu is the whole list of Quartz filters that Mac OS X provides for. Here you will find an option to create a chroma key. Creating a chroma key is super-easy… from the point of view of the application. This means you’ll be able to use one mouse click to get rid of a green or blue background. It can’t be much easier than this.

ScreenFlow 4

However, this sounds much easier than it is. The background should be lit evenly, it should cover the entire area you want to mask, etc. In practice, chroma keying is something I would rather leave with the experts. Also, it can look quite silly if you can’t get it 100% right — which is a challenge, especially when the background hasn’t been lit properly.

Still, it’s there when you want it.

Video filters in my opinion are nice to have, but they’re not essential. There are audio filters as well in ScreenFlow 4. All Core Audio plug-ins available to your system are listed. I tested it with iZotope Ozone 5, only to find that you can’t work with iZotope’s editor. Instead, you’re presented with an endless list of parameters. Without the editor, there’s no way you’ll find the right combination of settings to get the effect you wanted.

ScreenFlow 4

At best, you’ll be able to use the built-in filters such as the equalizer, which is good. It’s still disappointing, though, that the editors of other filters aren’t available. It could well be the culprit here lies with the OS or with iZotope instead of with Telestream, but that doesn’t make it less disappointing.

Media can now be dynamically updated when it’s edited outside ScreenFlow. This was a much needed improvement, in my view. The same applies to the ability to export audio only.

A great new feature for multi-lingual movies or videos that also work for the hearing impaired, is closed caption support. Telestream has a vast experience with broadcasting technology and management, and this reflects on the closed caption support you’ll get from them. It’s ADA compliant. The best part of this, however, is that you really don’t need to do much. You don’t need to set a font — actually, you can’t; ScreenFlow takes care of that.

You just add text, select a language and optionally decide whether to export the captions to a SRT file.

The caption system is cleverly designed. You must turn it on explicitly — it’s an extra bar in the timeline. Once you do, a bar divided in equal parts of approximately three seconds shows up. Each subdivision of three seconds represents a caption text container. It’s very easy to extend (or shorten) the duration of each caption. one area with faintly dark-grey diagonal “overflow” bars shows you the margin within which you can extend or shorten time durations as your captions must not be longer than the whole duration of the video.

When I first exported a “captionised” test video I expected the captions to turn up in the QuickLook rendition of the movie, but they don’t. Captions, it turns out, must be activated expressly. In order to see them, you must load the movie in QuickTime Player (or on the Web in YouTube with captions enabled) to see them.

ScreenFlow 4

To me, the best ever new capability is the export to ProRes 4444. That’s ProRes with an alpha channel. This allows you to import a ScreenFlow movie in Final Cut Pro X or another editor where you can have transparent areas.

For example, imagine that you’ve captured your mouse scrolling through a number of menus, opening and closing them, all in ScreenFlow 4. You get rid of the desktop background using a chroma key — this works like a charm, of course, as you can set a uniformly coloured blue or green background easily.

You now export to ProRes 4444. This keeps the transparent areas intact. You now load the ScreenFlow movie in Final Cut Pro X and have the main character of a demo or presentation walk through the menus as if he were Tom Cruise in Minority Report. All with little or no effort.

Another one of my favourites now is that you can export selections. Audio on its own — I mentioned that earlier. But also a selection of the timeline.

Finally, and this works like a charm too, is Vimeo export from within ScreenFlow. Not just Vimeo standard quality, but Vimeo 1080p high quality. The option that Vimeo greys out, even if you’re a Plus member, if you dare to export a 1080p movie from within Final Cut Pro X.

ScreenFlow 4

What’s minor in my opinion? The Freehand callout feature. Good to have, but not mind blowing. A user-definable canvas size for new (empty) documents. Improvements when Show Keys Pressed is turned on (including font choice and fade options). The ability to set a default action duration. J-K-L scrubbing support. The ability to add starting and ending transitions in one action.

And support for x264 export — although that one is actually quite important. And come to think of it, so is everything else if you want to use ScreenFlow 4 as a basic editor. If you take all the new and improved stuff together, ScreenFlow version 4 is major in every sense of the word. Combined with the Leaping Brain offer, you now have a very powerful instrument to sell screencasts with.