Open Broadcaster Software — The Only Screencasting App You’ll Ever Need

One of the most valuable tools for an instructional designer is a great screencasting app. Being able to record your desktop with voice narration frees us to share techniques on our computers in live motion video.

Many of us IDs have learned to depend on tools like Jing, Screenflow, Screencast-O-Matic, and others, but the choices have always felt like a trade-off between full-featured-but-expensive (Camtasia) or free-and-limited (Jing, Screencast-O-Matic). Sometimes apps would be riddled with malware (CamStudio) or would force you to share your video creations on their paid video cloud service (Screencast.com). The new ability for QuickTime to support screencasting came as a relief to us Mac users, but it’s still a barebones and incomplete experience. Not to mention that many screencasting solutions (like Screencast-o-matic) depend on Java technology, which even the Dept of Homeland Security recommends you disable due to its poor security and likelihood for exploits. Yes, for a long long time, there have only been a few good options at all in screencasting, and most of them have been expensive, and closed.

Finally, there is a free, open source app for streaming and recording your desktop that gives you full control over every aspect of your screencasts — Open Broadcaster Software, or “OBS Studio” for short. It has so many features you didn’t know you needed, all in a free, open source, and lightweight desktop application for Mac, Windows, and Linux. I’ve been testing it out and I’m already in love.

What’s so great about it?

It gives you full control over the input sources you want to record, how you want to save your files, and where you want to share your video to. It lets you record multiple incoming streams of video so you can do picture-in-picture video (screen and webcam) as well as multiple streams of audio (so you can talk over audio coming from your computer, like an audio app’s output, for example). These are advanced features that were previously only available in premium commnercial screencasting apps, now available in a free, open, and user-friendly app.

Record Videos or Stream Live

You can use it to either make recorded screencasts for asynchronous learning development, but you can also stream your session live to an internet video streaming service like Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Twitch, or a variety of others. This opens up amazing possibilities for synchronous class demonstrations where you can just “hang out” online, taking questions from viewers and demonstrating techniques live.

In fact, if you haven’t seen some of the creative live education streams that have blossomed on Twitch and YouTube Live, do yourself a favor and check out the Twitch Creative Channel just to see what people are doing with this technology. OBS has grown up with these live streaming services and has a huge following among online gaming enthusiasts. Digging into the toolset of OBS though, you will find everything you need to create rich multimedia screencasts and share them wherever you want.

What’s it missing?

Veterans of Camtasia might lament that OBS does not come with a video editing suite for trimming dead time, adding captions and titles, and building in interactive quizzes. However, you can export the screencasts you make from OBS and edit them in your favorite desktop video editing software. With that said, this is by far the most complete free screencasting tool I’ve ever seen, and I’m excited to push the limits of what it can do.

Going forward

For me, this tool opens up a lot of possibilities in recording multimedia tutorials where I need to combine my microphone audio with sound coming from within my computer. I like to teach hip hop beatmaking with Renoise but was frustrated by QuickTime’s limiting me to only one audio stream. Now I can show people how to make music and ACTUALLY HEAR the music!!

Additionally, I’m excited to try streaming my desktop live to YouTube Live and teaching people over the internet how to make music. This ability was never an option to me before, but OBS makes it dead simple.

Check it out and see how it can add value to your instructional design workflow!

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