How to debug slow playback in Adobe Captivate courses

So you spend weeks slaving over a hot CPU creating a new masterpiece e-learning course in Captivate. You’ve taken all reasonable steps to make your project as web-friendly as possible. You even used images that were resized for the Captivate screen in your graphics program BEFORE you imported them, so that they’re optimised for web playback.  Your voiceover audio output is set to a quality level that is acceptable without showing MP3 compression “whooshiness”.  Etc, etc. 

You thought of everything, and it works perfectly…on your PC.  Then you upload it to your webserver or LMS and everybody loves it…except for a small percentage of users that start complaining like this:

  • “The playback stops and starts sometimes.”
  • Text animations don’t play completely.”
  • “Slides take too long to transition.”
  • “As I’m completing the quiz, it takes longer and longer for the next quiz slide to appear.”

What is really frustrating about these issues is that you cannot replicate them on your own PC and most users don’t seem to have them.  Just a few.  If this ever happens to you, I’ve provided some suggestions below to help track down the cause/s of the issue. 

But please note that the rule of thumb in these cases is as follows:

  • If the vast majority of users are NOT experiencing problems, the fault is most likely NOT with your course content.  So before you waste time making alterations to your course, check out the other possible reasons first. 
  • On the other hand, if the majority of the users ARE complaining about the same thing, then the issue IS most likely at your end and you will need to change something about either the content or the way it’s being delivered (e.g. the under-powered web server or LMS).

Steps to Debugging Playback Issues

  • Get details about end-user PC environments – Contact the users that are complaining and find out more details about their actual PC setup. For example, check that they actually are not using some old clunker PC that should have been made into a boat anchor years ago. Remember that a lot of what goes on to play back video-based content involves the CPU decoding compressed files.  So, for some types of content the CPU speed is actually more important than the amount of RAM. 
  • Don’t believe everything you are told –  If at all possible, actually go and sit with the users that are complaining to watch the behaviour they’re complaining about. It might not turn out to be the way they said, or as bad as they claimed. If you cannot sit with them, can you arrange a screensharing session?  Your IT support people will likely have this facility because they use it all the time to take control of users workstations remotely.
  • Watch the end-user’s CPU on Task Manager – You should be able to do this while the PC is playing the Captivate presentation.  The Performance Monitor graphs should tell you if the CPU is struggling and unable to decode the content fast enough.
  • Have another user log onto the same machine using a different profile – See if they experience the same issues.  This can tell you whether the issue is due to a corrupted user profile.  Conversely, have the same user log onto a different machine, creating a new profile for themselves on that PC to see if they experience the same issue.  If it seems to be their profile at fault, they may need to get their local IT dude to blow away their user profile and set it up afresh. In some cases the issue will be due to not running Captivate with Administrator permissions (or not launching Captivate with Run as Administrator privileges). You can check if this is the issue by having the IT professional who does have full administrator permissions log in with his/her own profile and test the same functionality.
  • Check for server latency.  This is especially the case where a Learning Management System or LMS is involved.  Users will often experience latency issues such as slow transitions from one quiz slide to the next because the course module has to wait for the LMS to respond to each interaction before it can move forward.  If this is occurring for a significant number of users, you can try using the optional SCORM template that only sends tracking data at the end of the module instead of all the way through.  This template comes standard with Captivate but you need to select it from the Template drop-down list in the Quiz > Reporting dialog. 

Bottom line from my experience is this: If 95% of your user-base is playing the Captivate content without issue, you don’t need to change anything.  Chances are that whatever is going wrong for the few that are complaining about poor playback wouldn’t necessarily improve no matter what you did to your project.  You need to isolate what exactly is causing the issue for these users and correct it ON THEIR END.