If you can no longer physically get together, then digitally. Online communication in image and sound is called video conferencing or United Communications (UC). Grab a computer and monitor with a communication package and a matching network and you’ll come a long way. In most cases, just set up at home or at the office and can be operated by a layman.
Zoom and Teams meetings are the order of the day. For work, school, press conferences and entertainment you name it. Unfortunately, for the more critical user, it often doesn’t look downright irritating. Dark out of focus persons. The sound crackles, is distorted or cuts out. Internet connections falter or drop out. Phones ring and cups ring. Or the cat walks across the keyboard and children pull on mom or dad. In more serious cases, the hose shoots off the dishwasher, help flood, or something. In any case, everything can be done a lot better in the AV field!
The hardware for Video conferencing
Video conferencing can be done using deskstops, laptops/notebooks, tablets and mobile phones. The computer part of this hardware takes care of the digitization of image and sound, plus communication over the network.
A desktop PC usually does not have a built-in webcam or microphone. (An exception is an All-in-One). This deficiency can be solved in several ways. Buy a computer monitor with a built-in camera, in some cases also with a microphone. Otherwise, connect an interface for a camera (camcorder, system camera or webcam) and external microphone to the USB port. This gives you a better grip on the quality of image and sound.
Laptops, tablets and smartphones already have built-in cameras and microphones as standard. The quality of the cameras varies from pretty good to mediocre. Although the internal microphones are getting better, they are very sensitive to misdirection and environmental interference. You can also still receive calls on your smartphone when you are in a meeting.
Sufficient and pleasant light
All those dark heads with some ugly shadows in the picture. That’s not a face. An extra light or more ambient light makes the participants in a video meeting not only more visible, but also a lot more appealing.
In the simplest case, turn on the lighting in the room. Ambient lighting works well, but don’t overdo it. An extra light, for example a video LED light, makes a big difference. Preferably with a diffuser to eliminate shadows and ugly details. Ring lights such as those used for selfies also work beautifully. An additional advantage is that better light improves the sharpness impression and color fastness.
A blurry, too large or too small participant’s head in the picture is not particularly attractive in video conferences. The participants can usually see how they appear on the meeting screen, but often do not really pay attention to this. Sometimes there is also more to see than intended, such as a Belgian mayor in underpants during an interview. So pay attention to this…
A loose, firmly installed, orientable camera with focus and zoom function can lift the meeting image to a much higher level. Complete with zooming and close-up without wobbling. And also at the right eye level! This is already possible with a good quality webcam. With a camcorder or system camera on a tripod and HDMI or USB output, it starts to look like a real video studio. A PTZ camera with tracking software is suitable for critical monitoring of participants.
Use a good (swivel) chair and sit upright. Saggy is no face or standing uninterested. If you want to do it completely neat, put down a neutral background. This loosens up the participants and keeps all kinds of disturbing objects out of the picture. NB Make sure that the clothing worn stands out sufficiently against the background.
The microphone and headset
Naturally, UC conferencing is more about good sound than visuals. Creaking, distorted, faltering and unintelligible sound are therefore out of the question. As is known, built-in microphones on monitors, laptops and smartphones are not ideal for conference speech and interviews. A separate external microphone does this much better. And you can connect it via the USB or other audio output. With cameras and HDMI, the included sound can be used.
It is ideal to provide each participant, or at least the chairman and panel members, with a tie-clip microphone (Lavalier). Wireless is absolutely beautiful. If there are several people in a room, a mixing panel is required. A handy alternative is to switch between a Podcast studio. Just a USB microphone on a tripod or special stand with microphone boom also works fine. Copies of a few tens are already doing quite well. A headset is useful because of the combined functions of microphone and headset. Headphones also prevent the computer speakers from creating an ugly echo. Also note the mute function. To prevent the participants from shouting all at once, only allow the people who are speaking at that moment (unmute). Cut off the rest (mute). Note: Notify other housemates to be quiet during a video meeting.
Overloading the available bandwidth on the streaming AV network causes poor picture or sound and frequent loss of participants or complete loss of participants. There is a lot you can do about it preventively.
Full or regular HD already offers more than sufficient image quality for video conferencing. 4K is really not necessary and that makes a big difference in the number of data packets that go over the network. The sound will not quickly be the bottleneck, but do not switch on or on more than necessary.
Use a smart software package for streaming AV over the network. This software automatically sets the ideal bitrates, etc. and continuously monitors the flowing communication process. This prevents delays (disruptive delays or lagging sound) and stuttering. Packages such as Zoom, MS Teams and OBS already do this automatically. Also make sure that there are no other bandwidth guzzlers on the same network. For example, demanding gamers or Netflix at home. WiFi6 is currently very reliable in the smart home or office. However, Ethernet remains more stable than wireless.
As soon as several people are in a meeting room, for example a board or a panel, you will have to approach it like a small AV studio. Everyone at the right time and with sound in the picture. That soon means multiple cameras and microphones and timed (effect) transitions.
It all sounds complicated but can still be done by a single person with an AV mixer. For example with an Atem Mini that quickly switches between the connected HDM cameras (with or without a transition) and microphones. Depending on the model, the output signal is USB (acts as if the mixer is a webcam) or directly onto the streaming network.
It is and always remains possible that third parties want to watch your video conferencing inadvertently. There are also fun pants that break in with, for example, practical jokes and porn pictures. Fortunately, Zoom, MS Teams and OBS are pretty well protected against this. But what about your own network in the smart home or office? Pay attention to the correct encryption at the modems and routers!
And of course you will also be in the meeting with images and sound. Now a cat jumping on the keyboard is not a disaster. But there are sometimes visible documents (see the cabinet formation) on the desk, there are no naked children running through the image, etc. A warned videoconference counts for two in this case.
Additional options of Video conferencing
There are several useful additional options for video conferencing. For example, recording it for the minutes or as a later reference. An opinion or voting module. With this you can immediately show the opinions, knowledge and a mood on the screen.
The better software for UC can also bring presentations and video clips into the meeting in real time. For example, OBS is a master at this. The same can also be done via a studio mixer by connecting a player to it.
Final verdict – Video conferencing
Turn your video conferencing into a sparkling AV whole. This not only makes meetings a lot more effective, but also much more attractive. And it takes relatively little effort and money because all can be realized.