Captivate 3 review
VERDICT: Improved recording capabilities, richer design and interactivity and deeper integration with PowerPoint see Captivate build on existing strengths.
Adobe Captivate is a Flash-based solution for computer-based training (CBT). The use of Flash provides an immediate and massive advantage as it means that Captivate’s output is automatically viewable by anyone with the Flash player installed – roughly 98% of users with an internet connection...
Successful and efficient delivery is virtually guaranteed then – but what exactly can Captivate deliver?
Key to CBT is the ability to record screen-based demonstrations and, based on its Flash underpinning, you might assume that Captivate automatically records all screen activity to an embedded SWF video format. This is an important option and you can now quickly force such full motion recording as well as set it to be automatically triggered by certain actions such as onscreen drag-and-drop and painting/drawing. By default however, Captivate is far more intelligent, recording activity as slide-based screenshots overlaid with mouse and keyboard-based actions. This doesn’t just result in higher quality, lossless output and smaller, web-friendly downloads; it makes everything far more editable.
Captivate 3’s recording capabilities are more intelligent than ever
This editability proves particularly useful when adding a narration to your demonstration as it means that you can easily change onscreen timings accordingly. When synchronizing audio to video, Captivate 3 now lets you record your narration while previewing just the current slide or the entire project. In addition Captivate 3 adds support for line-in and system-based audio alongside the microphone. The end results Captivate enables are far more professional than you can ever hope for from less editable screen-and-audio recording approaches.
Interactive quiz-based handling has been seriously improved
Captivate’s slide-based system has another major advantage as it makes it much easier to add instructional elements. In fact by default Captivate automatically adds captions and highlight boxes as you record so that much of your work is done for you. Even better, because Flash is an interactive medium, rather than adding instructional elements, Captivate can automatically add end user elements such as text entry and click boxes with hint and failure pop-ups so that you can rapidly create trial run simulations and even assessments. With Captivate 3’s new multimode recording you can even create demonstration, simulation and assessment all in a single session.
Captivate 3 takes intelligent screen recording even further with its ability to simultaneously record your onscreen actions to a script file. This means that you can simply run the script to re-record your presentation to automatically reflect any changes made in the user interface. Currently the system only works for web-based demonstrations recorded in Internet Explorer 6 and you have to accept its inherent limitations – while you can edit the script to skip existing actions and to let you insert new ones you’ll be as well starting again from scratch for major web application redesigns. Many users will never use Captivate 3’s rerecording capability but for others, say those producing multiple language demonstrations of localized versions of a site, it will prove a godsend.
Captivate’s slide-based approach and Flash-based handling of interactivity also come into their own when adding quiz elements. When you select the Insert > Question Slide command there are now have eight question types on offer including new drag-and-drop sequencing and hot spot options. You can also now automatically shuffle multiple choice answers and set up re-usable pools of questions from which questions are drawn at random. Captivate 3’s handling of branching has also been enhanced and the integration with Learning Management Systems for tracking end user scores has also been improved.
Captivate’s control over slide-based recordings and quizzes is advanced, but the general handling of slide content and design has always been surprisingly poor with obvious failing including the lack of outline and master page views and of in-built animation capabilities apart from some cheesy text effects. You can’t even enter text directly onto the slide. Disappointingly all these failings remain but Captivate 3 does see two major advances in terms of end design. Firstly, the range of slide transitions on offer has been boosted from version 2’s two measly fade effects to include wipes, squeezes, dissolves and so on. You can also now add “slidelets” which are mini slides-within-slides that appear when the end user mouses over a hotspot. Slidelets can include text captions, images, SWF animations and even FLV video and really help bring Captivate presentations to dynamic life.
The biggest practical advance when it comes to slide handling is Captivate 3’s greatly enhanced support for importing PowerPoint projects including those from the latest PowerPoint 2007. Previously you were limited to importing static bitmap representations of each slide, but now Captivate 3 supports most transition and animation effects. It’s important to realise that slides are imported as full-motion SWF video so aren’t editable within Captivate which means that to make changes you’ll have to go back to PowerPoint and then re-import. It’s not an ideal system – after all Captivate’s greatest strength is the editability and control that it offers - but it’s still a huge step forward.
In particular, by enabling PowerPoint to act as a natural slide authoring partner, Captivate 3 fills in the few obvious gaps in its otherwise comprehensive feature list.
EASE OF USE 5/6
VALUE FOR MONEY 4/6
Tom Arah is the webmaster of designer-info.com. He has been a professional designer working with computer software since 1987. He also offers training and consultancy and since 1997 has been the contributing editor covering design issues for PC Pro, the UK's biggest-selling (and best) computer monthly.