I like to think that I am familiar with most authoring tools. In fact, I make it my business to do so. So how did I not discover ActivePresenter until two months ago, when it is already up to version 8? In fact, it first came out in 2008. It is available to be installed in both Windows and on Mac OS X and editions are available in English, French, Polish, Vietnamese, Russian, and German. Its creator, Atomi Systems, is based in Hanoi, Vietnam, and its price point is very attractive. There is a free version, a standard version that costs $199 US and a pro version priced at $399 US. You can also download a full trial version with no expiration date that will include a watermark in your exported projects. You can see which features are included in each version here.

This review is based on the pro version and it contains so many features that it would be impossible to cover them all in one review. There’s no need, though, because ActivePresenter comes with a full 387-page user manual PDF that you can open from its help menu. The product is updated often with new features enhancements and the manual is updated each time the product is.

Get started

Last month I compared ActivePresenter’s software simulation features with those of Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline. In fact, in many ways, ActivePresenter resembles both Captivate and Storyline and to some degree Trivantis Lectora. As these are popular tools, I will sometimes use them as a means of comparison to illustrate ActivePresenter’s feature set. Let’s start with the most obvious similar features. Look at Figure 1, which shows the opening dialog options.

The opening dialog

Figure 1: The opening dialog

As with Captivate, Storyline, and Lectora, you can:

  • Start with a blank project
  • Choose from one of the templates offered
  • Import a PowerPoint

Just as in Captivate and Storyline, you can also:

  • Record a video demo, or
  • Record a software simulation

Finally, as you can in Captivate and Lectora, you can also create a:

  • Responsive project

There are also several samples, some of which are responsive, that you can watch and download to build upon.

At the bottom of the dialog, you also have ready access to lots of ActivePresenter tutorials on YouTube, a link to the support center, and a wealth of preferences, seen in Figure 2.

The preference dialogs

Figure 2: The preference dialogs

Major features

Let’s touch on some of the major features in ActivePresenter. Many you’ll recognize some if you’re already a Captivate, Storyline, or Lectora user. Others are unique to ActivePresenter.

The Timeline

ActivePresenter has a timeline (Figure 3) that you can use to have objects appear and disappear from the stage or canvas. However, you can create as many timelines as you wish on any slide, and name them as well. The additional timelines do not activate automatically: you use events and actions to make them work. They are used mainly for animating objects but are not limited to such.

The ActivePresenter timeline

Figure 3: The ActivePresenter timeline

The timeline also includes several other options not seen on Captivate and Storyline’s timelines:

  • Change the audio volume for portions of the timeline
  • Normalize the audio volume for the slide
  • Change the playback speed
  • Split or join audio and video
  • Insert closed captions
  • Insert keyframes
  • Apply transitions
  • Split the timeline where indicated into two slides

However, whereas the Timeline does show the z-order of objects, with objects higher on the timeline displaying over those below them, it does not allow you to drag objects up and down to change their z-order. You need to right-click or use other options to change the layer order. Also, unlike Captivate, ActivePresenter doesn’t allow you to attach an object to the end of a timeline so that it remains there no matter any changes you make to the slide timing.

The Filmstrip

ActivePresenter’s filmstrip (Figure 4) is similar to that in Captivate and Storyline. It also:

  • Lets you show slide thumbnails in a column or in a grid, or just slide titles
  • Shows you the time for each slide in the column or grid, but not when showing slide titles

However, it doesn’t:

  • Show titles under the slides in a column or a grid
  • Have a duplicate option (though you can copy and paste)

Filmstrip as titles

Figure 4: Filmstrip as titles

Dialog boxes

The dialogs in ActivePresenter are intuitive and similar those you find in Storyline, Lectora, and Captivate with panels that can stay up or be dismissed. See Figure 5.

ActivePresenter dialogs and panels

Figure 5: ActivePresenter dialogs and panels

Other features of note

Object states. Notice in Figure 6 that you can have object states in ActivePresenter, as you can in Captivate and Storyline (and to some degree in Lectora). However, you cannot delete or add other objects, and in most cases you can’t replace the object in one state. You can change the look of an object in a state and you can replace one image for another. You can also change the text in one state with other text in another state.

Object states

Figure 6: Object states

Containers. Containers are primarily used for responsively-designed projects and they come in two forms: flex boxes and grid boxes. However, you can also use them in projects that are not responsively designed. Figure 7 shows the two options for flex and grid boxes along with several predefined slide layouts.

Flex and grid boxes

Figure 7: Flex and grid boxes

Interactions. The types of interactions (Figure 8) you can include on any slide can be seen in Figure 8. Note that Storyline’s levers and dials are not part of the included interactions in ActivePresenter. You can also make most objects interactive by adding an event to them.

Interaction types

Figure 8: Interaction types

Media and annotations. Included is a good number of options for media and annotations, as you can see in Figure 9.

Media and annotations

Figure 9: Media and annotations

Questions. All standard question types are included in ActivePresenter, including choosing randomly from question pools. Note that you can also import questions from GIFT-formatted text files, as you can in Captivate, or from comma-delimited CSV files, as you can from both Captivate and Storyline. (Figure 10)

Question types

Figure 10: Question types

Transitions and animations. Included are most of the standard transitions and animations that you will find in PowerPoint and other authoring tools. There is also a Zoom-n-Pan option.

Variables and advanced actions. Create your own variables or use system variables that are included in ActivePresenter. Add events to screen objects, based on On Click, On Rollover, On Rollout, On Swipe Left, On Swipe Right, On Swipe Up, and On Swipe Down. As a result of an event, choose from a number of actions, as seen in Figure 11. You can also create advanced actions, with or without conditions, using the same actions. Finally, you can also include JavaScript in ActionPresenter, and its manual includes a lot of methods you can include to communicate directly with your project file.

Action options

Figure 11: Action options

Equations. If you need to include mathematical equations in your projects, there are many preset choices along with all standard notations for you to build your own equations. See Figure 12.

Equation symbols and structures

Figure 12: Equation symbols and structures

Export options. There are several options for exporting your projects, as you can see in Figure 13.
Export options

Figure 13: Export options

Final thoughts

As I noted at the start of my review, there are many features in ActivePresenter, so I’ve had to cover most at the surface level. It’s an impressive set of options for a product that costs less than most. It may not have virtual reality options as Adobe Captivate does, or slide layers as Articulate Storyline does. I didn’t find any sets of character photographs or drawings of people, and I didn’t see a library of imported media either. These and other options that exist in other tools may dissuade you from looking at ActivePresenter. On the other hand, there are some features in ActivePresenter you may find attractive that don’t exist yet in the other tools discussed. As there is an unlimited trial version available (with watermark), I encourage you to try ActivePresenter. Even if you purchase a license, you have a lot of features packed into this authoring tool.