Need to do videoconferencing? You need this info…

There has been a lot spoken lately about both online learning and online video conferencing. I covered learning yesterday (in terms of creating materials using video) and so today I’d like to look quickly at video conferencing.

There are a number of ways of doing this of course, with the most popular (not necessarily in order at the moment) Facetime (iPhone), Facebook, Skype and the latest darling, ZOOM which is excellent for conversations with multiple attendees.

All have two things in common – video and audio.

Whilst this might be the bleeding obvious, I mention this as there are subsets of each that need looking at in order to make the experience as comfortable and successful as possible for all parties involved in the conference.

Lighting

Lighting is used on film sets and TV for a reason; to make the image look good. If your video conference is with family and friends, it may not be that important, but if you are doing work with clients or peers (or superiors), then it makes sense to have a good as possible image portrayed don’t you think?

Avoid an overhead light as is in most household rooms. It’ll cast nasty shadows, especially on your face.

Ideally have 2 soft lights BEHIND the camera (left and right) and a soft light behind and above you as a filler.

3 Point Lighting Setup

Camera Angle

We’ve all seen it, especially lately. Correspondents for news services who are forced to work from home using Skype (or other system) to file their video stories. And the camera, probably the one in their laptop, is pointed upwards, unfortunately often giving a view straight up the person’s snout.

Not a good look.

Additionally, it is also not ideal as low camera angles mean that someone is looking “down” at you, projecting a sense of superiority and power. What you want is the camera at eye level or even better, a fraction higher. Because of this, I suggest using a dedicated blogging camera on a small tripod giving you more options in terms of camera angle and location.

Many smaller camcorders such as the Panasonic HC-V180 have a wide angle lens (28mm) and HDMI out letting you plug it into your computer for video capture.

Panasonic HC-V180

What’s In The Frame?

WHERE you sit also important. You don’t want a lamp stand coming out of the top of your head, a TV playing over your left shoulder or an open door in view showing people walking around (who can forget the infamous toddler bursting into to room during an important video telecast by Professor Robert Kelly on the BBC a few years back?)

So make sure your viewed area is uncluttered and looks professional, and make sure you are undisturbed – put a sign on the door and yes, if necessary, lock it!

Tip: Software called X-Split V-Cam uses AI (sort of) to automatically remove or blur the background, letting you either replace it with another, or simply fuzz out the existing to varying degrees,  leaving the subject – you – intact. It’s inexpensive and works with many video conferencing apps where it acts as the “virtual camera” for the app. That is, you connect your recording device to X-Split and this then funnels the video to your video conferencing app. Simply choose X-Split as the video conferencing apps “camera”.

X-SPlit Video with differing backgrounds

Dress

Like your environment what you wear is important. The wrong colours or patterns can flare or strobe the image making it unbearable to watch. Stick with solid colours (except red, black or white) so light greens or blues are good.

And don’t be tempted to wear the suit coat, tie and dress shirt but only a pair of black stubbies or boardies on the bottom half.

One day you gunna get caught … as they say in the classics…

Audio

Righto. Best ‘till last.

Very few of the sites that have covered this subject mention audio in anything more than passing. You know, speak slowly and clearly, that sort of thing.

But how many Skype broadcasts have you watched and heard lately where it sounds hollow, echo-y and thin?

Most of them I’d venture.

Like the camera, many people use the inbuilt mic in their laptop, and as the room in which they are recording (or outside environment) is not conducive to good audio, it sounds awful in most cases.

Invest in a decent mic system especially if you’re are doing video conferencing in your professional capacity. A Lav mic as used by TV newsreaders (the small ones attached to a collar) are best, especially if they are wireless such as the Sennheiser XSW-D system.

Sennheiser XSW-D Lav System

 A good set of headphones, or inbuilt ear buds if you like those (I don’t, can’t stand ‘em) is almost a must.

Sennheiser HD660

You may prefer to use a headset however, combining the headphones and mic into a single unit. And here there are lots of choices with both wired and wireless Bluetooth units from many manufacturers including Sennheiser available including gaming headsets.

Whatever you use, don’t forget that the audio is EQUALLY as important as the video, if not more so. If your fellow conference attendees cannot hear what you are saying, it is all pointless when you think about it.

Preparation

I keep meeting notes and the like on a Microsoft OneNote page on screen next to the preview window. That way I don’t have to take my eyes off the screen to reference what I might have as an agenda or other material. Its also useful to be able to type up anything important gleaned from the meeting on the same page while again, not having to take my attention away from the screen (assuming you can touch type of course).

Microsoft OneNote

If you are not aware of Microsoft OneNote, you should be, regardless of any video conferencing. It is simply the most useful piece of software EVER created – even better than the spreadsheet – as it works like you do with searchable notes, handwriting, images, audio, video, screen shots, embedded data etc all in tabbed pages you design and set up.

Better, it works – AND syncs automatically – between Windows, iOS, Android and iPhone/iPads.

And it’s free.

Conclusion

How long is this BeerVirus going to last? Who knows? My guess is around 6 weeks or so. But that is not an educated guess, more based on hope really.

What I am pretty sure of though is that many, many people will discover this working from home lark using telecommuting can actually work and be just as, if not more productive, and cost less.

I’ve been doing it for over 20 years now, and many of my peers are not that far behind proving it can and does work.

But like anything else, to do the job, you need the best tools you can get. Cheap stuff will fail at the worst possible time, so if you plan to be in this for the long haul, invest in properly good kit to do it – computer, monitor, mic, headphones / headset, camera/camcorder and of course NBN/router combo (we use DLINK and are very happy, along with IPStar as our provider).

Our DLINK Modem / Router
IPStar

If you would like any further advice or help, don’t hesitate to contact me via david@auscamonline.com, our Facebook page at Australian Videocamera, Twitter (@auscamonline) or Instagram (Australian Videocamera).

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