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Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Review for Lecture Recording

By: Mich Donovan

In a review of the Wacom Companion 2 last year, I concluded that it was ultimately overpowered and overpriced for the utility of simply recording video lectures. This was despite the fact that consolidating our Lecture Recording Kit into an (almost) single device came with a lot of benefits. In evaluating Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, it seems like its the best of all worlds.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

In the time since that Companion review, our production and editing processes have evolved where the kit plays a less central role in creating the online courses. A large portion of the materials are now shot with 4K cameras and edited in Final Cut – a big leap from the webcams and Screenflows of years past. This leaves the kit with a more focused purpose: allow faculty a frictionless way to record presentations on their own time and to get those recordings to us.

Software consolidation helps with that goal. On Windows, Camtasia has an add-in for PowerPoint that allows the user to control nearly the whole recording process without needing to go into Camtasia. Additionally PowerPoint’s pen tool allows for a much more intuitive interaction compared to Omnidazzle on the Mac (though there is less flexibility in the style of the annotations). These two features mean the only software the faculty have to worry about using is Powerpoint, a tool with which they are probably already familiar.

Given the existing Mac-focused ecosystem in online courses, one concern was the workflow between faculty and the editors. Camtasia, again, makes this pretty easy. Though the editing projects are not cross-platform, the capture recordings (called .trec’s) are. After completing a recording, the faculty member can save the .trec directly to the NAS, where it can be imported into a Camtasia for Mac project with no conversion needed. Not only are the screen recording, webcam video and audio accessible, the mouse and window data from the screen recording are kept as well. One potential con is losing Keynote’s full abilities. The presentation software has been popular in recent course productions due to its robust animation tools, though it may not fully translate when exported for PowerPoint on a PC.

Most of the pros from the Wacom Companion are also true of the Surface: a hybrid tablet/PC that eliminates a lot of setup/calibration, integrated pen utility within PowerPoint, flexible and intuitive OS. However, the most inexpensive Surface model undercuts its Companion counterpart by about $400 at time of this writing, with a starting point of $899. Its lighter too. All things considered, the Surface Pro 4 is the cheapest and easiest way to record an annotated presentation I’ve yet seen.

Some other notes:

  • With the Logitech 920, webcam capture in Camtasia maxed at 720p for 30 fps for the standard video compression of RGB24. Recording at 1080p drops the fps to 5. The internal camera recorded 1080p at 30 fps but there was a loss in image quality.
  • Microsoft’s OneDrive would be worth looking into as a file sharing/collaborating tool.
  • The keyboard cover is not included. While the tablet has nifty handwriting recognition and an on-screen keyboard, the tablet would be almost unusable for non-tech-savvy faculty without the keyboard. It costs an additional $130.
  • Another hidden cost compared to Mac-based recording kits: Camtasia Studio is $299; Camtasia for Mac is $99.
  • There is a MiniDisplayPort which would support an additional monitor, one USB input, and one headphone jack.
  • In testing the PC to Mac transfer for the Camtasia captures, not all results were initially successful. While all recordings could be successfully moved, and opened from a PC, some recordings could not be imported on Camtasia for Mac. A reason was not discovered. While more recent tests have all worked fine, this issue should be tested some more before any purchase.
  • 6/15 Update: There appears to be a known issue with Camtasia not capturing video/audio from the Surface Pro’s built-in webcam/microphone. Using an external webcam like the Logitech C920 will still work, however.
Categories: DDMC Info


  1. I know Windows OS based tablets fit more wide applications for typical EDU use (having to teach/demo an app that’s Windows only for example). I’m curious what you think of the iPad Pro? There’s a few instructors interested in using the tablet as a ‘wireless’ whiteboard to use in class.

    1. I’ve not yet had a chance to work with an iPad Pro though I am interested in evaluating one. I know that some faculty here have used standard iPads in class for this kind of use and its been a helpful tool for them. Unless there’s specific apps or functionality unique to the iPad Pro, I would think most instructors would find a standard iPad satisfactory for a wireless whiteboard.

      1. Hi Eric – for MOOC production, iPads present several problems. The largest issue is demonstration of actual applications and websites. Many sites will not function on an iPad as they will on a traditional OS and the number of applications is limited. Also the animation for Powerpoint and Keynote may not function the same on the iOS version. File management is also a challenge on the iOS as it is highly dependent on your choice of application – for example, if you use iCloud to store your Powerpoint presentation, you might be out of luck and have to transfer it to OneDrive to open – making things more complex for the instructor. We’d also need to test the availability of annotation tools. Another issue is the inability to use an external microphone and webcam. Holding the ipad in a position to annotate on it and using the built in camera would not work very well. Finally, I don’t believe the iPad will support two displays. That would be a big factor for us as the instructor usually will put their notes/presenter display on the laptop screen and then work on the Cintiq. We’re hoping to mimic this behavior with the Surface Pro by purchasing an inexpensive external monitor. I’m a big Mac guy (the company not the hamburger) but am dismayed in general of Apple’s movement toward making OSX more like iOS when I had hoped we’d be seeing OSX on a tablet.

  2. I’m a grad student at Texas A&M. I spent two weeks trying to get Camtasia Studio 8 to work on the Surface Pro 4. It would not record the camera or audio–only the screen. (Note: The preview window during configuration shows the camera correctly.) Camtasia reports no errors, but the final recording would only have the screen without camera video or audio. Camtasia technical support verified that the Microsoft media drivers for the Surface Pro 4 are buggy and that MS has confirm the bugs, but that fixes for the problem are probably a long time coming. Have you successfully recorded camera and/or audio with Camtasia on the Surface Pro 4? If so, do you have any special configuration or drivers? Thanks for sharing.

  3. I wonder if you really did a real-life test of Camtasia on the Microsoft Surface. I installed the latest Camtasia Studio 8 on the most up-to-date MS Surface Pro 4 and IT DOES NOT RECORD AUDIO OR WEBCAM VIDEO. Yes, Camtasia will record the screen and capture PowerPoint presentations, but no audio or webcam. This was not just a problem with my particular device or installation either. I contacted Camtasia and they explained that both the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4 have driver problems with prevent them from properly recording from the microphone and/or cameras. They said it is a problem Microsoft needs to resolve. All that was done in April 2016, months after you posted the review. Conceptually your idea is nice, but if you had actually tested all aspects of Camtasia while recording a lecture, including audio and webcam, you would not have been successful. I have my fingers crossed that Microsoft will update drivers and that TechSmith will release a working version soon..

    1. While using the Surface Pro 4 hasn’t been seamless for us, I haven’t had that particular problem. Just tested again this morning and Camtasia successfully captures both video and audio from an external Logitech C920 webcam. This is on version 1511 of Windows 10 Pro OS, with a fresh install of Camtasia Studio 8, version 8.6.

      Update: I did try filming again with the built-in webcam which did give me the issue you described – clearly something Microsoft needs to resolve. Either way, I’d recommend using the external webcam which will give you better video quality and better options for framing and placement. Here’s a test video to prove it actually works 🙂

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