At Home with Tech

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

Tag: video conference

5 Easy Ways to Upgrade your Zoom Video

If you want to look and sound better during your next Zoom meeting, don’t forget these simple best practices to present yourself in the best possible light.

It’s been over two years since Zoom saved us from pandemic isolation. Sort of. Yes, Zoom and other video conferencing platforms have been lifelines to our outside world over these many months. As life is evolving to a new normal, ‘hybrid’ is now clearly a part of that equation. That means the need to Zoom isn’t going away.

As remarkable as Zoom has been, I think everyone is exhausted. We’re cranky. We may know how to do a good Zoom. But we don’t want to. No. We don’t want to make that extra effort. Not anymore.

If you can hear my voice on Zoom, that’s enough. You don’t need to see me. And if for some reason I forget to turn off my camera, don’t expect much. If only half of my head is in the shot, that’s more than enough. If my bright window is dominating the image and obscuring my face, get used to it. It’s still me. Besides what I have to say is all that matters.

Is this perspective resonating right now? If so, I get it. You’re sick of having to show up for your close up. You didn’t sign up for this.

I know.

But let me offer this gentle reminder…

Zoom can Help You Stay Connected
Practicing good Zoom etiquette is worth it. If you want to show up in your life, then you do want to show up for your close up. It matters. If you want a seat at the table, then you’ve got to show up at the virtual table.

Turn on your webcam and follow these five best practices:

Illuminate your Face
You should be facing the window… not the other way around. Please want to actually see you. Not your silhouette.

Turn Off your Ceiling Light
You may think your ceiling light fixture is helping. It probably isn’t. Not if it’s directly over your head. That’s because it’s shining light down on top of you instead of in front of your face. That creates incredibly unflattering shadows. I don’t think you’re trying to audition for the next zombie movie. So turn off that ceiling light and flick on your desk lamp instead.

Elevate your Webcam
Your webcam should never look up at your chin. If your shot features your ceiling, you need to raise your camera to a more perpendicular angle with your face. Simply elevate your laptop with a few books.

Reduce the Headroom in your Shot
Headroom is the amount of space between the top of your head and the top of your Zoom box. I can almost guarantee that you’ve got too much headroom. There should only be a little gap. Please, tilt down your webcam. Your viewers want to see more of you, not more of your wall.

Wear your Headset or Earbuds
Sure, your computer’s onboard microphone will work, but it’s too far away from your mouth to provide crisp audio. Instead, the audio has that far-away feel. That’s because the microphone is far away. Your headset mic sounds so much better. Please wear it. If you’re concerned about how your headset looks on you, then wear your earbuds or AirPods. The audio sounds that much better. Really.

Don’t Forget to Smile
Life presents unexpected twists and turns. It can be really rough. The headlines are getting any easier to consume. I know it’s sometimes hard to pull it together. But your Zooms don’t have to reflect the imbalance you may feel.

If you take a little extra effort to follow these video-conference best practices, you can better present your best self.

And if you’re doing that, I expect you’ll feel better too.

Six Ways to Improve your Recorded Zoom Videos

If you’re preparing to use Zoom to record a conversation or a group video message, welcome to the world of video directing. Here are a few tips on how to get the most from your recording session.

So you’ve decided to use Zoom or another video conferencing platform to handle your next video shoot due to social distancing. The quality won’t be as good as having an actual video crew on location, but it’s something, right?

And it’s remarkably simple. You just press the record button during your Zoom meeting to capture the content. Depending on your plan, your video files will get uploaded to the cloud or downloaded to your computer as soon as your meeting ends.

Welcome to the Director’s Chair
But what isn’t necessarily as intuitive is how to use Zoom as a live video production switcher if you’re handling multiple ‘live feeds.’ 

One example would be creating a virtual ‘talk show’ with an interviewer chatting with two guests.

Another is “The Brady Bunch” multi-box effect using Gallery View. It’s a great way to visualize that we’re all in this together during these difficult times.

If you’ve decided to go down this road, and you’ll be using Zoom as your virtual TV studio to switch between multiple video sources in a live environment, congratulations. Now, you’re a video director. 

Here are six tips to help ensure your success.

Hide Self View

If you want to show multiple people in Gallery View but you don’t want your own shot to be included, then you need to activate ‘Hide Self View.’

You’ll find this option in the drop down menu after you hover over your video box and then click on the three-little-periods icon in the upper right corner.

Hiding your shot will not mute your audio. So you can still talk with everyone to give them instructions as the director. You also might want to mute your audio while the others are being recorded.

Use the Waiting Room

If you’re working with a large group of participants, and not all of them will be part of the same conversation, use the Waiting Room feature. It essentially puts them on hold. 

When you’re ready for them to contribute again, you simply bring them back in to the conversation.

Pin Video

If you want to record a conversation in full screen as opposed to using Gallery View, Zoom’s Active Speaker View will choose the shots for you. But it’s not always perfect. So, if you want to control your shots manually, then you can ‘pin’ each shot you want as you go.
(Again, this only affects what you see and record.)

You’ll find Pin Video in the same three-period drop down in the upper right corner of the person’s box.

You’re not really working in HD
Let’s face it, even though you’re recording your Zoom clips in 720P HD video, a lot of the little boxes that pop up will look and sound like they’re from 1972.

Webcam frame rates are going to vary, and the audio quality may sound like it’s coming out of a tin can. You’re simply at the mercy of the ‘Gods of Bandwidth’ and the Internet in general.

You’ve just got to go with it.

Get Multiple Takes to Capture Clean Audio

It’s ironic that the mediocre image quality will likely not be a problem for your viewers. They’ve come to expect glitchy-looking video as part of this webcam communications medium. 

Instead, it’s actually glitchy audio that will stand out like a sore thumb. If you can’t understand what someone just said, that’s a real problem. 

So, if you can, record the same lines a couple times. Then, you’ll have a higher likelihood of capturing ‘clear audio’ moments. Later, you can extract the cleanest-sounding audio fragments and then ‘Frankenstein’ it all together through audio dubbing during your editing process.

Webcam Video Can Be Your Friend

Speaking of editing, bad-looking webcam video does have one upside. It’s much easier to edit together. You can easily combine two sections of someone talking without running afoul of the ‘jump-cut’ rule. 

Since webcam shots with low frame rates already look jittery, an actual jump cut will likely evaporate into the larger webcam ‘experience.’  

Don’t Worry About…

The yellow outline that pops onto the person’s frame who’s speaking…

  • It’s not in the final recording.

People’s names in the boxes…

  • The words don’t show up in the actual video file either.

How I Learned to Love Terrible Webcam Video
Sure, there are multiple flaws inherent in this suddenly wildly popular communications tool. But using an app as a live TV studio with access to anyone around the world (with connectivity) is still a rather remarkable concept (even if the technical capability isn’t entirely new).

And the resulting raw moments you’ll get can be compelling, because they are truly genuine.

Imperfection is irrelevant as long as you’ve got your own video basics covered.

So just be sure that when you wear your Zoom director’s hat to bring it all together, you’re familiar with using the app as a multicamera switcher and recorder. 

You still need to be at your best.

How to Fix Four Home Video Conferencing Problems

If ever there was a time to make sure what you CAN control is under control… it’s now. Here are four ways to better handle your family’s growing live video streaming needs.

We’re clearly in the middle of a radical evolution when it comes to using video communication tools at home.

Sure, Skype, FaceTime and other personal video communication platforms have been around for years. Yet, most people haven’t been practicing video chatting and video conferencing as a daily activity.

That’s changed… and quite suddenly.

As we’re now sheltering at home, live video streaming has become a tool of necessity across any number of situations, including work, school and family communication.

So, if you’re the designated tech support rep for your family, you’d better make sure you’re addressing your family’s video streaming needs.

Here are four challenges I’ve already had to confront and the best ways to handle them.

There’s not Enough Video Streaming Bandwidth
For your Entire Family

I thought we had plenty of bandwidth at home for all three of us to be on separate live video streams simultaneously. I found out last week that wasn’t necessarily the case. It was painful to experience our internet service sputtering throughout one afternoon.

Assuming you pay for an internet plan that ‘normally’ provides enough bandwidth, consider this when things still glitch out and turn your day into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

  • Move your video calls to cellular connectivity via your phone
    If your cellular plan can handle the data load, you can easily do video conference chats on your smartphone. I’ve done it on my iPhone using Zoom, Skype, Google Duo and, of course, FaceTime.
  • Activate the mobile hotspot plan for your phone
    Once you’ve got that in place, your phone can also rescue your stranded computer that needs an alternate tether to the world.

You Don’t Own Enough Gear
To Handle Your Family’s Video Communication Needs

This issue can crop up with younger family members who don’t yet have their own dedicated computer or smartphone.

The good news is you probably have some retired gear lying around that you can put back into service. That’s exactly what I did.

I repurposed the camera in my old iPhone 6 Plus for my fourth grader to use. He had a virtual playdate over the weekend where he was challenged to play old-school ‘Battleship’ with a friend over FaceTime.

My old iPhone no longer works as a ‘cell phone.’ It had passed that baton to my newer iPhone years ago, but it’s still fully functional with FaceTime video over my home Wi-Fi.

Their virtual-Battleship execution using FaceTime on my old iPhone 6 Plus and two separate game boards worked perfectly!

There are Wi-Fi Gaps in your Home

Since your entire family may be home now, they’ve probably had to spread out to create some privacy and not interfere with each other’s video calls. As a result, those Wi-Fi ‘dead zones’ may have become more of a problem.

If so, then it’s time to extend your home Wi-Fi signal with a “Mesh” system where you can use multiple nodes to create whole-home Wi-Fi coverage.

That’s what I did with Netgear’s Orbi system I bought on Amazon.

Your Zoom Video Shot Looks Terrible

From what I’ve seen, Zoom is now the de facto tool for family and friends to maintain their connections. A phone call isn’t enough. People need to see each other. So, whether you like it or not, it’s time for your close up. And so you probably should pay attention to how you look.

If you’re not happy with your Zoom shot, there are two likely culprits:

  • Your webcam is peering up at your face
    Reposition it to be more level with your eyes. That will create a more flattering shot. If you’re using a laptop, that may mean placing it on a stack of hard-cover books to create the right angle.
  • Your face is too dark in the shot
    You need more light in front of you and less light behind you. A bright window that’s lurking in your background is a common framing error.

On the other hand, if you’re facing a window, the outdoor light can provide the illumination you need, assuming the sun is not hitting you directly.

Alternately, you may want to consider buying a soft light made for webcasting.
That’s the solution I recently went with.

At Home with Your Tech 24/7
If you’re like me, your role as the ‘Family IT Guy’ has just been thrust into the spotlight. Whether that’s a legacy title or you’re new to the position, you really need to keep your tech working right now.

You can do it. Just prepare for the unexpected and then work your streaming problems as they arise.

Good luck and stay safe.

%d bloggers like this: