ScreenFlow 2 review

In early 2008, I reviewed Screen Flow 1.0.2, one of the first “screen movie studio” applications for the Mac. At the time, I found the program a solid first effort with some room for improvement. The recent release of Telestream’s ScreenFlow 2 addresses many of my earlier complaints, and offers some additional features that users who record screen movies will find useful.

I tested ScreenFlow 2 on a variety of machines, including a 2.66GHz quad core Mac Pro running OS 10.5.8, a 2.6GHz MacBook Pro running 10.6.1, and even on my OS X-enabled Dell mini (running 10.5.8). On all three of these machines, performance was excellent. I was able to capture audio and video in each application I tested, including RealPlayer, which caused problems for Camtasia for Mac.

Users familiar with ScreenFlow 1.x will immediately feel comfortable in ScreenFlow 2.0—there are no dramatic interface changes. Instead, there are subtle differences in familiar tools, as well as some entirely new features.

Of these new features, the ability to add transitions to your screen recordings is one of the most welcomed. In the previous version of ScreenFlow, you couldn’t (for instance) fade out one piece of a video while fading in the next, or show any sort of transition between the two clips other than a black screen.

In ScreenFlow 2, you can choose from 16 different 2D and 3D transitions, each of which can be applied as a starting or ending transition to a given clip or text box. In addition, if you align two clips such that they overlap on the timeline, a transition will automatically be inserted—ScreenFlow’s preferences are used to set the default transition, and the amount of overlap you create when dragging determines how long the transition will take.

The 16 2D and 3D transitions in ScreenFlow 2.

Adding transitions manually is a simple two-step process. First, Control-click on a clip and use the contextual menu to add a starting or ending transition. Second, Control-click on the newly-inserted transition and change the type using the contextual menu, or open the Transition Inspector to see all the transitions in a pop-up window, complete with examples of how each behaves.

To set the duration of each transition, you drag the small vertical bar that divides the transition area from the rest of the clip (as seen in the text clip at the bottom of the image at right); there’s no way to set precise timing by entering a duration in a box, for example.

The transitions are generally well done, and go a long way to making ScreenFlow 2 an all-in-one solution—titles and clips can appear and disappear using transitions of your choice, and the automatic transition insertion when you overlap two clips is a nice timesaver.

More powerful video tools

ScreenFlow 2 has a new acceleration curve feature that lets you control how actions that affect scaling, rotation, position, and volume are implemented. By default, ScreenFlow 2 uses an acceleration curve that’s linear (not a curve at all)—that is, effects are applied equally over the timeframe during which they’re active. For motion and scaling actions, though, the linear curve may lead to changes that seem very abrupt to the viewer.

Four additional acceleration curves in Screen Flow 2 eliminate this problem; choose from ease in (starts slow then speeds up), ease out (starts fast then slows down), ease in and out (slow at the start and finish, faster in the middle) and none (action happens immediately, in one frame), based on your preferences. I’ve found that I like the ease in and out curve, which provides a nice transition to and from the recording surrounding the action.

ScreenFlow 2 now allows you to create a freeze frame in your video. Freeze frames are a great way to draw a viewer’s attention to something onscreen, or to extend your movie to cover an overrun in your voiceover recording (or so I’ve been told), and they’re really easy to create in ScreenFlow 2. When you insert a freeze frame, ScreenFlow 2 splits your clip, adds a two-second still of the image at the current playhead position, and moves your remaining video to the right on the timeline by two seconds. You can then manually adjust the timing, effects, and transitions on the freeze frame.

A new Clip Inspector, available via the contextual menu in any clip, lets you easily change the speed of each clip—by simply dragging a slider, you can dramatically speed up or slow down a clip. Because you’ll usually be changing the speed of a segment of a longer recording, you’ll first want to split the clip in two places, leaving just the snippet of video whose speed you’d like to change.

While testing the speed changing feature, I ran into a ScreenFlow limitation. Once you’ve split a clip—either to change its speed, or perhaps to delete some unwanted video—there’s no way to merge those split clips back into one (other than undoing your actions). So if want to, say, apply a callout to focus on the cursor, you’ll need to apply it twice if the cursor’s motion happens to span the split in your clip. It’d be great if you could just select two clips and use a merge function to turn them into a single clip again.

ScreenFlow 2 includes some basic video adjustment tools, too—you can change the saturation, brightness, and contrast of any clip in your production. Because these effects can be applied as video actions, it’s very easy to, for example, fade a recording to grayscale over time, and then restore the color at some future point in your recording. While it’s nothing close to a full set of color correction tools, given ScreenFlow’s focus on desktop recording, this limitation shouldn’t affect many users.

When you’re done with your project, you can upload it to YouTube directly from ScreenFlow; just select File -> Publish to YouTube, enter your YouTube user information, and fill in values for Category, Title, Description, Tags, and ScreenFlow will do the rest. You can also mark your movie as personal, and publish it in HD if you wish.

If you’re going to use the HD option, make sure your original movie is at an HD aspect ratio. As a test, I took a very square movie (definitely not HD aspect ratio) and uploaded it as an HD clip. The end result was a square movie that had been stretched to fill the HD screen’s letterbox resolution—in other words, it wasn’t a very pretty sight.

The time required to upload to YouTube will depend on the length of your video, the CPU power in your Mac, and the speed of your internet connection. Using a two-minute demo movie cropped to roughly a 1020 by 1020 pixel square, it took about four minutes for my clip to be converted and uploaded to YouTube (on a 5mbps upstream connection). Once uploaded, YouTube does additional processing that takes a few more minutes.

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