How to create the best at-home videoconferencing setup for every budget
Even if it previously included a lot, your life undoubtedly includes videoconferencing far more today than it did a few weeks ago. Why not take advantage of the situation as it is unlikely to alter very soon? Although technically capable, the typical MacBook webcam is not spectacular. But you may improve your performance in a variety of ways by investing little or a lot of money. Here is some guidance on how to make the most of what you already have or what to get if you really want to maximise the quality of your video and audio, regardless of whether you simply want to improve your daily virtual stand-up, are preparing to present at a virtual conference, or are planning a new video podcast.
Put a light in the proper location and turn it on.
Turning on any available light and placing it behind the camera so that it shines on your face is one of the simplest ways to enhance the appearance of your video. If all of your available lights are fixed in place that could entail shifting a lamp or your computer, but it can make a significant impact. Check out these screenshots from my Microsoft Surface Book 2 in the examples below (which actually has a pretty good built-in video camera, as far as built-in video cameras go).
In the picture below, a lamp is turned on and positioned above and behind the Surface Book to shine directly on my face while the one above shows just the room’s ceiling lights on. It has changed enough to give the impression that I am genuinely there at the meeting in question rather than just being taken off guard while filming it.
Observe what is behind you.
While it would be unreasonable to expect you to set up your surroundings for each video conference you join, it is still important to take a moment to examine what is visible in the picture. Finding a location with a limited backdrop and discernible ordered design is ideal. Try to avoid filming in front of an open window, and shut any doors that are in the picture. And if you’re surrounded by a lot of debris due to a pandemic, simply shovel it out of the way.
Know the sound settings on your computer.
Find out where your device’s and operating system’s input volume settings are. If you’re doing something unusual like sitting farther away from your laptop to try to fit a second person in frame, it’s usually not much of a problem because most apps and systems set pretty sensible defaults, but you might want to turn up the input audio slider to make sure anyone listening can actually hear what you have to say.
Regardless of the programme you’re using, it’s definitely directly adjustable. However, on a Mac, you may also try going to System Preferences > Sound > Input to see whether the volume is directly changeable for the device you’re using and if adjusting that gets the desired result.
Get a standalone webcam.
The built-in camera on the majority of laptops and all-in-one computers won’t be outstanding, and you can nearly always get better results by investing in a separate webcam. Due to the high demand for an improvement in videoconferencing quality at the moment, it could be difficult to locate them in stock. However, if you can get your hands on even a low-cost upgrade option, like the Logitech C922 Pro Stream 1080p camera I used for the footage below, it ought to assist with sharpness, low-light performance, colour, and other issues.
Purchase a simple USB microphone.
Another fast and reasonably priced option to significantly improve your setup is using dedicated external microphones. I used the well-liked Samson Meteor USB microphone in the video above; it has built-in legs and separate volume and mute settings. This USB-connected microphone comes with everything you need, should function right away, and delivers excellent sound that is fantastic for singing.
Purchase some headphones
Any kind of headphones will improve your video chats and conferences since they reduce the possibility of your microphone picking up sounds from your own speakers during an echo. Earbuds are less noticeable in your real video picture while big over ears versions provide better sound quality.
Utilize an HDMI-to-USB interface and a dedicated camera.
It’s worth looking into purchasing an HDMI-to-USB video capture interface if you currently own a standalone camera, including just about any consumer pocket camera with HDMI out capability, in order to transform it into a far better webcam. Although the Sony RX100 VII, which I’m using in the video below, is undoubtedly at the top of the consumer pocket camera market, there are a number of alternatives that should provide images with a similar degree of quality, including earlier RX100 models from Sony.
Make sure the HDMI interface you choose states clearly that it is compatible with video-conferencing programmes like Zoom, Hangouts, and Skype on Mac and Windows without the need for additional software: As a result, those operating systems will automatically identify them as cameras without the need for any further software or driver downloads. This indicates that they most likely have UVC capabilities. The Elgato Cam Link 4K I used here is probably not readily available everywhere since they are likewise in more demand as a result of COVID-19. Instead, investigate substitutes like the Magewell USB 3.0 Capture device or the IOGear Video Capture Adapter. You may even perhaps upgrade to a live broadcast deck like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
Purchase a wired lav microphone.
Your audio game can be improved with a simple wired lavalier (lav) microphone, and it doesn’t even have to be that expensive. Even if your computer doesn’t have a 3.5mm input connection, you can still use a USB version to connect to it directly. You can get an adequately performing wired lav for as cheap as $20 on Amazon. The Wireless GO transmitter and receiver package I discuss in the next section works nicely with Rode’s Lavalier GO, which is a fantastic mid-range alternative. The biggest drawback of this is that, depending on the length of the cable, your range of motion when using one may be severely constrained.
Obtain many lights and strategically place them.
Although purchasing a few portable lights that you can relocate to where you need them most is a fine, affordable way to start, lighting is a rabbit hole that can quickly get quite deep. You may get a variety of lighting systems on Amazon that are appropriate, or you can get by just fine with a few of strategically placed and well calibrated Philips Hue lights in gooseneck lamps.
Use a fast lens and a camera with interchangeable lenses.
An interchangeable lens camera is the next level up from a good small camera. This gives you the option of adding a beautiful, quick prime lens with a large maximum aperture (often known as a low “f” number”) to get that out-of-focus background effect. This gives you, the subject, a natural-looking separation from whatever is behind you and gives the image a cinematic sense that will wow your coworkers at your monthly all-hands meeting.
Buy a wireless lav microphone
A wireless lav mic is superior to a traditional lav microphone. It also allows you more freedom in terms of the audio interfaces you use to actually get your sound into the computer since you won’t have to worry about running into the end of your wire or having it tangled in other connections in your workstation. The RODE Wireless GO is a fantastic choice in this situation since it offers superb, versatile sound and can be used alone or in conjunction with a mic like the RODE Lavalier GO.
Use in-ear headphones
At this point, you should still be wearing headphones, but the ideal sort to use are in-ear monitors that do their best to blend into the background. You may invest in a set of specialist broadcast monitors like those made by Shure or a very nice set of Bluetooth headphones with the newest Bluetooth standard and minimal latency. The Bang & Olfusen E8 totally wireless earphones, which I’ve used extensively without experiencing any latency, are a terrific alternative as well as Apple’s AirPods Pro.
Implement 3-point lighting
Really, it’s time to simply start taking lighting seriously at this point. Picking up at least two Key Lights or Key Light Airs from Elgato is the best compromise in terms of optimising especially for streaming, videoconferencing, and whatever else you’re doing from your workstation, in general.
These are Wi-Fi-connected LED panel lights with built-in diffusers that can be controlled with cellphones or desktop software and have a low learning curve. They also come with highly durable articulating tube mounts with desk clamps. You may change their brightness and temperature, making them either more “blue” or more “orange” depending on your requirements.
You can put up a normal 3-point lighting arrangement with three of them, which is perfect for interviews or individuals speaking straight into a camera, or pretty much any virtual conference, meeting, event, or webinar purpose you can imagine.
Purchase an HDMI broadcast switcher deck.
Most cameras can be turned into webcams with the use of HDMI-USB capture adapters, but if you’d really want to have more possibilities, you may upgrade to a broadcast switching interface like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini. The ATEM Mini, introduced last year, offers a tonne of functions that, up until then, were essentially only accessible to video professionals, and does so in a way that is simple to use and at a price that is frankly astonishing considering how much this machine can actually accomplish.
The ATEM Mini may significantly expand your video capabilities when used alone and in conjunction with a suitable camera. It enables you to create still graphics, switch to computer input to display films, work live in graphics programmes, explain code, and conduct presentations. Using a hardware button designated for this reason, you may set up picture-in-picture views, lower thirds, and even fade-to-black.
However, you can add a second, third, or even fourth camera to the mix if you really want to get the most out of the ATEM Mini. This is likely much too many cameras for most applications; ultimately, there are only so many ways to film a single person speaking. However, if you’re doing anything lengthier like making a speech or a lengthy presentation, it’s a fun and engaging way to break up a stream if you get creative with camera positioning and themes. The more recent ATEM Mini Pro, which has recently begun to market, also has built-in streaming and recording capabilities.
Use a shotgun mic of broadcast quality.
Two separate audio inputs on the ATEM Mini actually offer you a lot of freedom there as well. For example, you could utilise an iPod touch as a convenient soundboard by connecting one to the output and using it to cue up intro and title music as well as sound effects. And if you have the proper interface, you can also route sound from a high-quality microphone.
I advise switching to a professional, broadcast-grade shotgun mic for the best streaming quality with the fewest necessary video tradeoffs. The Rode VideoMic NTG is a solid entry-level solution that can be put on cameras with some flexibility, but the greatest results will be obtained with a device like the Rode NTG3m fixed to a boom arm and positioned out of frame with the mic end inclined down towards your mouth.
Including accent lights
You have your 3-point lighting, but as I previously said, lighting is a seemingly never-ending rabbit hole. Accent lighting is a great way to enhance the professionalism of your film, and it’s also rather simple to put up utilising tools that are already in your possession. If you’re already a Hue user, you can get by with almost any of their colour lights. Philips Hue is perhaps my favourite method to give any scene a bit more life. The Hue Play Smart LED Light Bars, a recent Philips offering that can daisy link up to three together on a single power adaptor to produce fantastic accent wall lighting effects, are practically built for this usage.
Of course, none of this is required for simple video conferences, online meetings, or hangouts. However, if you believe that remote video will play a larger role in our lives in the future, even as we resume some semblance of normalcy in the wake of COVID-19, then it’s important to think about what components of your system to upgrade based on your budget and needs. Hopefully, this article will be helpful in providing some direction.