At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: home video conferencing

Why It may be Time to Upgrade your Webcam

If you still look like a shadow of your true self in Zoom meetings, you should consider using a more powerful camera.

It’s fair to say we’ll be needing our webcams, well… forever. If video conference meetings from home weren’t already part of our daily lives before the pandemic, well, now they certainly are. And no matter what the future holds, virtual meetings are here to stay.

We’ve had two years to figure out how to set up a decent Zoom shot. If you’re still not happy with it, the problem may be your computer’s mediocre webcam. If so, it’s time to upgrade and buy a dedicated external USB camera for your computer.

Can Another Camera You Own do the Job?
But before you start shopping for a new webcam, make sure you don’t already own another device that you can repurpose such as a camcorder or DSLR-style camera.

You just need to make sure that your higher-end camera can offer a ‘clean’ video output via a HDMI connector. Then you’ll need a HDMI to USB converter like the ‘Cam Link 4K’ to integrate the video feed into your computer.

My New Lumix GH5 II
Recently, I bought myself a Panasonic Lumix GH5 II
with a Panasonic 12-35 mm/f2.8 II lens.
(“Why Barrett, you shouldn’t have!”)

And of course, I immediately wanted to jack this Micro Four Thirds, mirrorless camera into my iMac to see what would happen.

Sure, using a higher-end camera with a serious lens as a basic webcam is way overkill, but it works just fine. And the look is beautiful. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

The webcam on my iMac is perfectly adequate, but when I changed over to my GH5 II, the visual difference was dramatic.

Don’t Buy More than You Need
Now, I’m not saying you should run out and spend ten times the cost of a typical webcam to upgrade your Zoom look.

But if you’ve already got a more powerful camera that can also be used as a webcam, then why not? (Previously, I had been repurposing my old GoPro as a webcam via my Cam Link 4K.)

Your Desk will get Messy
Now here comes the big disclaimer…

Yes, integrating a ‘real’ camera into your desktop computer or laptop will creating an amazing image, but functionally, the process is not elegant. You’ve got to put a tripod on your desk and position it right next to your computer screen, so you’re not looking too far off camera when you take a peek at the other folks in your Zoom window.

Then, you’ve got the HDMI and power cables coiling in front of your screen to contend with. It’s a mess. (You start to feel like a battery person trapped in “The Matrix,” even though the cables aren’t actually coming out of your body.)

Even attaching a tiny new webcam to your laptop involves an extra cable and a webcam mount, and it takes a couple more steps every time you prepare for a video conference. Plus, you’ve got to adjust your webcam and test your shot to make sure you’re framed correctly.

That’s takes work… sometimes a lot of work. One might say it’s an absurd effort. And for what?

Nothing beats the ease of simply clicking on ‘join’ and letting your integrated webcam do its job. Whatever your viewers see, they see. If you’re only partially in the shot, that’s better than nothing, right?

What’s so bad with that approach? (And if you really feel that way, please continue taking your blue pills. Your next Zoom meeting in the Matrix is in ten minutes!)

Can You See Me Now?
Frankensteining any camera into your computer is a bit messy… sometimes very messy. But the good news is it’s not really that complicated.

Do you still make an effort to put on a nice shirt for your Zoom meetings, and have you spent more than a few minutes trying to adjust the lighting on your face? Are you still unsatisfied with your shot?

If so, then you’re a prime candidate to consider upgrading your webcam. (And if you’re already in the market for a nice camera to handle your photography and video projects, you can free two birds with one key, like I did.)

I expect you will not be disappointed with your decision to improve your Zoom look. It’s actually a great New Year’s resolution, and one that you’ll continue reaping benefits from throughout the entire year!

The Best Way to Improve your Audio for your Next Zoom Meeting

As much as computers are designed today to handle many multimedia needs without added accessories, headsets aren’t really optional when you join a video conference.

When I coach people on how to improve their Zoom feeds, most of the time I focus on their webcam shots. I think by now most folks know the visual rules to create a good video-conference look, even if they still choose to ignore them.

And let’s face it, it’s a pain to set up your webcam properly with the right lighting and angle. I know that. And I get it when so many people choose to simply turn off their webcams. Why do all that work to create a professional-looking shot when you don’t have to?

Stop Hiding
Now, of course I feel you absolutely should turn on your webcam. If you’re not projecting your own visual, you’re not truly showing up. You’re just a disembodied voice. Granted, adding yourself to a sea of tiny faces in a stack of little boxes on the computer screen may not fit your definition of being ‘present.’ But it’s what the technology offers. Maybe in the future, we’ll be able to digitize our bodies into 3D holograms. (Then, you’ll really need to dress up again!)

The Importance of Clear Audio
Whether you choose to hide in the Zoom shadows or not, you do need to be heard. That much is not up for debate. And if you sound like you’re in an echo chamber or in a distant hallway, you’re simply not going to be an effective participant in your virtual meetings.

Ultimately, how you sound is more important than anything else. And that can be difficult to track on an ongoing basis. (You can always see your webcam shot, but unless you actively test your audio signal in your settings, you wouldn’t otherwise know.)

How to Improve your Sound
The simple rule you should follow to project clear audio is to always wear a headset or earbuds. Sure, you can rely on your onboard computer microphone, but that’s going to offer a more muffled and distant quality to your voice. So, wear your headset!

And you’ve got to make sure over time that your computer continues to recognize your headset and not default back to its own microphone. (Set-it-and-forget-it is a recipe for “I can’t hear you very well!”)

Headsets have become Invisible
And if you’ve taken the important step to turn on your webcam, you can’t then play the vanity card and leave your headsets behind. Sure, you can choose to wear wireless earbuds like AirPods, which minimize the hardware you’ve got attached to your head. But I think by now, everyone is used to seeing people wearing headsets on Zooms, even when formally presenting to an audience. Hey, TV sportscasters have been doing it for decades. It’s not dorky. It’s fine.

No, headsets aren’t really invisible, but they’re entirely expected under the circumstances.

Can You Hear Me?
If you don’t want to fully show up to your Zoom meetings by not turning on your webcam, that’s your choice. But if you’re projecting bad audio, you just can’t play in the Zoom sandbox with others.

So, please wear your computer headset!

The Secret to a Successful Remote Work Experience

Here’s my #1 insight as an employee who never physically met a colleague during the pandemic.

I just left a great job where I worked with a lot of talented people. I always felt connected to those colleagues. We talked regularly, explored the creative process in real time and produced strong video storytelling together.

But I never met any of them in person. Not once.
(Well, I actually did meet one in the New York City office during my interview process right before the world shut down.)

That, of course, was due to the pandemic and some coincidental timing during this chapter in the journey of my career.

Connectivity Denied
I came on board a few weeks into the pandemic.

Like many employees during the forced separation of our Covid-19 experience, my colleagues and I worked from home and relied on the magic of technology to stay tethered.

In many ways, it was remarkably straightforward. Email and instant messaging have been in place for years as the main way to communicate in the corporate environment. So that translates perfectly into any work-from-home scenario.

Using the phone can certainly keep you connected, but the art of the phone call has been on the decline. Many people prefer not to use voice comms when tapping down their thoughts and using an emoji or two will do just fine.

But, of course, I experienced no in-person group meetings in corporate conference rooms. No one-on-ones in the same space. No water-cooler chats.

All of that in-person connection opportunity. The ton of visual communication cues. The raw physical experience. It never existed.

Initiating a video conference meeting (like Zoom, Teams or Webex) was really the only tech tool available to replace the massive gap.

The Power of Video Conferencing
It’s not like remote work and video conferencing from home never existed before. But often, there was an in-person meet-and-greet along the way.

But remote employees hired after March 2020 have been part of this unscheduled social experiment of extreme work isolation over these past fifteen months.

I was one too.

Regular webcam meetings were absolutely essential to building and maintaining my work relationships. And I’m not just talking about group video conference meetings that I hosted or attended. It’s often the impromptu chat that can make all the difference. And I believe that one-on-one conversations are most effective when you can see the other person on your computer screen.

A couple former colleagues liked to poke fun at me for my insistence at always having my webcam turned on during our meetings and impromptu conversations. That’s fine. That’s what I needed to do.

Interestingly, I ran across more than a few people who chose to never turn on their webcams. They existed to me only as disembodied voices. Some apologized for not being ‘camera ready.’

For those of you who have similar inclinations, I would say we’re all Zooming from home with limited conditions. No one lives in a professional TV studio with perfect lighting and an art-directed background.

Using a virtual background can help, but I gave up that imperfect trick months ago. I now prefer showing it like it is. My home office may appear a tad cluttered. So what? (Hey, I’m the parent of an eleven-year-old boy, and I’m the home IT guy. It’s my reality. It’s my authentic space.)

But if you feel that using a virtual background to mask ‘imperfections’ will help you to turn on your webcam, then I’d say it’s worth doing.

Can You See Me?
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to see the people I work with. (Even projecting a photo icon helps.) Visual communication is so critical to build solid working relationships. And I think this is true for most of us.

For those people who I never got to see, I’m not here to judge their choice. I’m sure they have good reasons. (We were all struggling through a pandemic!)

That said, I must confess that I just couldn’t develop as strong a connection with those individuals as I wanted. Maybe that’s my own problem. But I do think we all need a little visual now and again to help make it real.

It Shouldn’t be a Secret
By now, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to read that my secret to a successful remote work experience…

…is to just turn on your webcam! The rest follows.

They say simply showing up is a key to success. If that’s true, then I think you’ve got to show up for your close up. It’s as easy as that.

This will apply beyond the pandemic. I’m sure video conferencing from home isn’t going away as the workplace shifts into a new post-pandemic norm.

And for those co-workers who don’t report to the same office, this best practice couldn’t be more relevant. (Lots of my former colleagues live in different cities.)

Day 1
And as I look forward, I take these important visual communication tech tips to the next chapter in my career.

I’ve got my webcam set, my lighting prepped and my audio triple checked.
(Yes, it’s important to be seen, but they’ve also got to hear you clearly!)

Testing. Testing. One… two… three.
Here we go!

My anticipation feels like the first day of school.

I love it.

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