acadia senior college
Visual Materials Research Tools

In working on this class, I have found it essential to be able to
  1. capture screenshots from PDF files and videos for use as illustrations in presentations
  2. download videos from the web
  3. be able to view and handle videos and DVDs in ways that facilitate careful analysis.
This page presents a short list of the most helpful tools I've found. The screen-shot techniques are unique to Mac and Windows; most of the others -- free downloads -- are available in versions for both systems.

Screen Shots  (Macintosh)
This is built into the Macintosh. Its principal disadvantage is that it can't be used when the Apple DVD player is being used. This is a copyright defense mechanism, which interferes with getting screen shots from DVDs. To get around it, you need another DVD player, or one that can catch screen shots from DVDs; the VLC media player (below) can do both.
There are a number of screen-shot key combinations, each of which captures a different aspect of the screen. The most generally useful of these enables you to specify the rectangular area of the screen that you want to capture.

  1. Press the Command(cloverleaf) and Shift and number-4 keys simultaneously.
  2. The cursor becomes a circle with a cross-hairs.
  3. Position the cursor in one corner of the desired rectangular image.
  4. Click and drag it to the opposite corner of that rectangle and let go.
  5. You'll hear a camera-shutter sound and a file will appear on your Desktop named in one of two ways:
    • in OS/X 10.5 or earlier: Picture 1.png (or whatever number is next available in the sequence of these files if there's more than one already present).
    • in OS/X 10.6 or later: Screen shot date at time.png
  6. You can rename the file and drag it to whatever folder it belongs in.
Note: "PNG" screenshot files are fairly compact and seem to be usable in many ways -- e.g., importing into Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents and including in web pages. If you would prefer a different default format (e.g., jpg), you can change it as described here.

Screen Shots  (Windows)
Pressing the PrtScrn key puts a copy of the entire screen on the clipboard. I've then used the Photo Editor that comes with Microsoft Office to crop this and save it as a graphic file, but most Microsoft Office installations I've encountered on other machines don't have PhotoEditor installed, which eliminates that approach. There are a variety of tools (Vista apparently has one built in) that can be used, listed at

Video Download Helper
This is a Firefox web-browser add-on that makes it easy to download videos from most of the "usual" places at which you'll find them on the web.
Note:  I haven't yet come up with a similar tool for other web browsers. MPEG Streamclip (below) may provide a workaround for these other browsers, at least with YouTube videos.

VDownloader  (Windows only)
This is a free-standing downloading program that can recognize and download videos from many different video sites. There is a brief description of it in the video tools page on the SharpPrinting site.

MPEG Streamclip Video Converter
This marvellous free video player/editor gets around some of the video-format limitations and lack of frame-by-frame control in the VLC player (below), and enables you to easily extract portions of a video.
Publisher's description:  "MPEG Streamclip is a powerful high-quality video converter, player, editor for MPEG, QuickTime, transport streams, iPod. And now it is a DivX editor and encoding machine, and even a stream and YouTube downloader.
You can use MPEG Streamclip to: open most movie formats including MPEG files or transport streams; play them at full screen; edit them with Cut, Copy, Paste, and Trim; set In/Out points and convert them into muxed or demuxed files, or export them to QuickTime, AVI, DV and MPEG-4 files with more than professional quality, so you can easily import them in Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Toast 6, 7, 8, and use them with many other applications or devices."

VLC Media Player
Publishers description:  "VLC media player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, mp3, ogg, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols."
This is a good workaround for getting past the Apple DVD Player's screen-capture prohibition. It can also can take snapshots of video frames and play mp3 sound files, and it can create playlists of video files (handy for class presentations). However, it has disadvantages. I couldn't find a minutes/seconds clock, it doesn't seem to permit movement forward/backward a frame at a time, it failed to play certain clips I needed, and it required extra software to play others. So for most purposes I needed something else, and MPEG Streamclip (above) seems to have filled the bill.

VirtualDub  (Windows only)
Latest stable version:
Another video program recommended by a 9/11 person on the SmartPrinting video tools page, with a good brief description of how to install it. He recommends it because of its ease of use in doing frame-by-frame viewing, but it also apparently is useful for trimming and cleaning up videos. It sounds something like MPEG Streamclip (above), but with a somewhat more limited repertoire of video formats.