Screen Captures of Movie Files in OS X: SnapZ Pro X and iShowU

By Graham K. Rogers

In OS X we can capture screen shots in several ways: using Grab, a utility that comes as part of the original installation, and with hot-keys in the Finder (Command + 3 or 4). Capturing shots from movies (for example in iDVD) is not permitted. It is also not possible to record video of screen actions when demonstrating how tasks are carried out, but there are third party utilities that do this.

Modern Times screenshot

I have been trying out SnapZ Pro X, and iShowU. The former is a more sophisticated program and allows more fine tuning. The latter is designed for the single task of video capture, but in my hands there were problems.

SnapZ Pro X is $69 (2600 baht) but may be used in demo mode for 30 days, or 100 captures. That 30 days cannot be extended by keeping the application open as works with some demo software. iShowU is $20 (750 baht).

Installation of SnapX Pro X is straight forward. It becomes a startup item so that it is always ready (with hot-keys). It is one of the few OS X applications that has an uninstaller. When activated, a panel for image type appears. Selecting "Movie" and then pressing Return, starts the capture sequence.

SnapZ Pro X screenshot

SnapZ Pro X screenshot

For once, sound effects were valuable: many programs have clicks and bells and whistles that come out of the kindergarten. A voice announced, "action" and when I decided that I had enough for the video clip, pressing the hot-keys produced the announcement, "cut". As file saving finishes, the voice announces, "It's a wrap." 1 minute 48 secs was 17.6MB while 4:24 with no sound came in at 9.8Mb.

As I had it set up initially, the file from the screen capture was almost full-size itself, while normally one might expect a half screen. This can be changed. The software allows individual screenshots in a number of file formats. I activated iMovie and then exported in the correct size for an iPod, which reduced it to about 30% of the original. I also added a soundtrack using GarageBand.

Clearly, the end use (and mode of transmission) will be part of the choice in saving files. If text is used, the area cannot be too small: the information becomes difficult to read because of its size or it is blurred. Selection of a small screen section helps in this case.

I tried a DVD capture which was just as easy. A 23-second scene from Chaplin's Modern Times cost 69.7MB. It was also possible to make a still capture from DVD. These can be saved in several formats.

Installation of iShowU was also an easy click and drag. First time use, displays a screen that offers to set up the utility. If online, any updates are found and there is the option to download.

iShowU preferences

While SnapZPro X is a PowerPC application, iShowU is a universal binary, so works natively on all Macs. Captures in the unregistered version have green watermarking text over the screen: a valid form of encouragement.

iShowU start screen

A menubar icon is used when the program is active so captures can be made without the application's panel visible. It is also useful to learn the commands to start or stop the capture, which will save recording of the mouse-travel back to the menubar. The capture is within a box that is a predefined area. The box follows the cursor. On occasion, the box was visible on the recorded capture.

With both of these utilities, it is good to plan sequences and rehearse so that cursor movements are economical and do not look as if they are random or the product of guesswork.

iShowU was not as straighforward in use. I was dissatisfied with the captures on the PowerBook: playback speeds of the captures were too fast: from beginning to end in an instant. To check if the problem was due to also running SnaZPro X on the same disk, I installed this on the eMac too. Whatever I did, however, playback was random in terms of speed. Only on a rare occasion did the playback appear at something close to how I would want anyone to view captured actions.

Restarting QuickTime gave me the most acceptable speed, but sequences like these are viewed several times. Unlike SnapZPro X clips, I could not make these work in iMovie. In metadata, file length was shown as zero. It was possible to capture a scene (I used the same DVD) using iShowU but again, playback was rapid and the file length shown as zero. File sizes were larger than those made with SnapZ Pro X. On the iShowU forums several users had the same query: it may be that playback is a problem with the latest version.

Made on Mac

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