At Home with Tech

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

Tag: Zoom video

We’re Living in a Vertical Video World

If you’ve been fighting back against the vertical video revolution, it’s time to jump into the pool. The water’s warm. Here’s how I found peace with this disruption.

I recently had an epiphany about the growing trend of vertical video disrupting the fundamentals of video production. My mini “ah ha” happened during a Zoom interview recording at work, when one person’s Zoom feed was accidentally locked in a vertical position. More on that story in a moment…

But regarding the general battle between horizontal and vertical video… It’s already over.

The smartphone has effectively killed horizontal video. We’re just living through the transition. Yes, it’s going to take some years, but it’s time to acknowledge the truth.

And that’s been really hard for me to do.

The First Time
Ten years ago, I was producing a corporate video shoot inside a multimedia brand center. My business client walked up to me ten minutes before the interview was scheduled to begin and asked if we could shoot the video vertically. She thought the background of our video shot would look more compelling if seen vertically.

I looked closely for any sign that this wasn’t actually a serious suggestion. The moment felt like those western movies right before the gunslingers do their shoot out. I squinted my eyes, tapped into my inner Clint Eastwood and waited for what felt like minutes before I responded.

“Vertical?”

“Yes.”

It was a serious request.

Vertical Alignment is Coming
So, I explained that we couldn’t reset the shot in time, as our interviewee had already arrived. And I dodged the bullet.

But I remember feeling unsettled that the horizontal foundation of all video was so casually being challenged.

That was a decade ago. A lot has changed. The truth is my client was just slightly ahead of her time.

I have not forgotten this story, and it has been a reminder to me that creative winds and video boundaries are constantly evolving. That’s life. Everything changes.

Vertical TV Sets in your Home?
Today, vertical video is everywhere, primarily fueled by the social media apps on our smartphones. Vertical is natural. Vertical is comfortable in your hand. Vertical is accessible in every way, except on standard horizontal TV monitors.

But if you look around, there are plenty of vertical video monitors in public spaces.

It’s just a matter of time, until they show up in your home…

No More Rules
I know I’m fighting a losing battle whenever I try to correct someone who’s shooting a smartphone video vertically. Sure, I still work in a horizontal medium, though (here it comes) not exclusively.

Yes, today I am creating vertical video too. (There, I’ve come out and said it.)

And the transition to vertical video is only accelerating.

The iPhone has a Vertical Lock
So, back to my more recent story directing the remote interview via the Zoom feed. The interviewee was using her iPhone, which was fine. (The image quality was actually superior to the other three webcam Zoom shots in the conversation.) But for some unknown reason, the phone’s camera was locked in the vertical orientation. I asked her to turn her iPhone ninety degrees and then immediately back again. No dice.

I was stumped. I turned to the other crew members in our TV control room and asked for suggestions.

“Turn off the vertical lock!”

What? The iPhone has a vertical lock? (I had forgotten.)

I pulled out my iPhone and was quickly reschooled on this iOS feature.

That was indeed the solution for our remote interviewee, and her Zoom interview proceeded on horizontally.

Tap the Portrait Orientation Lock
After the interview, I looked again at my iPhone. I swiped down from the top right corner to access my Control Center screen.

It’s the “Portrait Orientation Lock” button. (The icon is a little lock surrounded by a circular arrow.)

If it’s activated, your iPhone screen and apps won’t rotate horizontally when you hold your iPhone horizontally.

Your phone’s screen is then effectively locked into a vertical orientation.

Huh.

You might wonder why that feature is even there. Clearly, there’s a need to prevent horizontal anything!

And after doing some research, I am reminded that this frustrating feature is not that new. Apple has been satisfying the vertical preference for quite some time. In fact, I first discovered this way back in 2018.

A Vertical Matrix?
Yes, you and I are clearly living a vertical video world, though admittedly with any number of horizontal holdouts.

This feels a bit like my own Matrix story. You’re welcome to join if you feel similarly inclined. (There are plenty of pods to house all of us.)

But guess what? I wouldn’t place all bets on vertical video. Oh no. The truth is video can no longer be restricted to any dimension. It’s not horizontal, and it’s not vertical. Sometimes, it’s square (of course).

Maybe video will evolve into the circular. Perhaps oblong? Who knows… Trapezoidal?

The days of vertical video as the mainstream will surely be numbered.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Learn to Love Vertical Video
For now, I’m simply happy to say that I’ve successfully discarded my horizontal bias. I have made my peace with vertical video.

I am comfortable working on digital canvases that orient both vertically and horizontally.

Barrett has evolved.

The Struggle Between Good and Good Enough on Zoom

Showing up properly for your next meeting requires a different set of tools and attitude in this Zoom-centric reality. Here’s why it matters.

Over the past year, the Zoom revolution has put the spotlight on home video production to handle content creation for any number of needs including work, web and broadcast.

If you want to create a quality video feed using something less than professional video gear, it’s been demonstrated that you can do that. It takes some cash, though not a boatload of money, compared to what professional gear costs.

You may need to invest in:

  • A good webcam
  • A desktop tripod
  • Lighting that’s soft on your face
  • A decent microphone

Then, make sure you’ve got a real background that’s interesting, but not cluttered. (I’m less excited these days about virtual backgrounds.) And now you’re probably ready to create some decent looking video content.

No, it’s not going to be the same quality as what thousands of dollars of gear can do for you, but it’s not terrible either.

Unnecessary Effort?
But to generate a video and audio feed that’s good, you’ve also got to put in some effort. It’s not only about the gear you’re using. And there’s the rub.

It takes time to set it all up and maximize your shot.

It’s clearly a different level of commitment than opening your laptop and clicking on Zoom (or other video conference apps).

A simple click is still going to get a video and audio signal out to your viewers. And I bet a lot of people would say that’s good enough.

Good enough.

If good enough works for you, why spend money and unnecessary time to make it better?

The Allure of a One-Click Solution
I think that everyone should always try to look their best, both in person and in a virtual environment. Presenting yourself to your world is a life-long task. But I think when using Zoom, that can be a difficult sell.

Sure, if you’re hosting a webinar or doing a live shot for a media company, you probably understand that your video and audio feed should be the best possible.

But I imagine there are countless Zoom moments when people feel it’s not particularly important to do anything more than the bare minimum. Why not just open your laptop and simply click and start your video stream?

It’s good enough.

Why Deal with the Mess?
Whether using your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, technology has given us the ability to do the impossible. Generating a live video feed once took lots of people and expensive production gear to accomplish the same feat through a TV station’s full resources.

Professional video production often looks like a mad scientist’s lab with cables and power cords running askew and bright lights dangling from the ceiling.

You can also create a mess if you’re trying to improve your Zoom game at home when adding in your extra gear. Simple isn’t exactly the way to describe the experience.

On the other hand, simplicity, speed and dare I say… elegance is what comes to mind when you just lift up your laptop screen without any additional video prep, and you’re instantly ready to activate your next Zoom.

That’s hard to beat and a great reason for good enough.

Zoom is Now a Part of Life
In most Zoom situations, why should anyone feel the need to do more? (Heck, even activating your video feed is an step that so many opt out of.)

I like to say you’ve got to show up for your close up. But it’s really more about simply showing up.

This is your life. Like it or not, Zoom is now a necessary part of it.

We are a social species. To be most effective when communicating, people really need to see you. And a terrible representation of your image that barely looks like you isn’t enough. It can say you’re dialing it in. Or worse… You don’t care.

That’s why good enough isn’t good enough.

It’s Time to Shine
Face it. Your life is being televised now.

So put on your Zoom shirt. Set up your Zoom shot. And do your best to fully inhabit your little Zoom box.

Then reach out and connect.

Good.

Why Your Zoom Viewers Can’t Hear You

Mismanaging the mute button may seem like a rookie mistake during Zoom calls, but it’s a more frequent problem than you’d expect. Here’s why…

This ‘golden’ age of Zoom has redefined what to expect from daily video communications. Sure, throughout these ongoing months of isolation, there have been any number of ways to improve the quality of our Zoom calls.

And in the Zoom meetings I’ve attended, I’ve observed a growing awareness of video production best practices. That said, there’s one skill that many people still seem to struggle with… handling the mute button.

We Can’t Hear You!
How many times have you heard someone say to a Zoom speaker, “Are you on mute? We can’t hear you! (pause) We still can’t hear you. You’re on mute!”

This epidemic of awkward Zoom silence is partially the result of education campaigns during the early months of the pandemic to mute yourself if you’re not talking in a Zoom meeting.

Remember all of those Zooms that imploded because there were a couple of people who couldn’t mute themselves if their lives depended on it? And then they would jabber away as they talked to their household members, unaware that their microphones were unmuted.

Besides being an embarrassing oops to unknowingly allow everyone to eavesdrop on your life at home, this mistake will also effectively derail any Zoom meeting.

So by now, we’ve learned to mute ourselves to avoid becoming
Zoom Enemy #1.

Expect the Unexpected
It’s certainly better to try to talk on a Zoom while still muted rather than saying something that your Zoom world shouldn’t hear. But it’s still a mistake that anyone should strive to avoid.

At the end of the day, I think the solution comes back to maintaining enough focus on the live elements. For those of us who have tried to ‘master’ Zoom, we’ve instead put a lot of work into our preproduction.

  • The lighting
  • Your background
  • The right microphone

But when our imaginary on-air light pops on, I feel we’ve tended to let down our guard and assume the technology will handle itself.

Keep your Hands on the Virtual Steering Wheel
Live television used to take a whole control room of production experts to ensure success. It’s amazing that Zoom has boiled it down to just a few clicks of your mouse.

That said, someone really needs to pay attention to your Zoom stream while you’re talking. And that person is you.

Any number of problems can crop up.

  • Someone can unknowingly walk into your background, but this now happens so frequently that nobody cares anymore.
  • Your attention might get temporarily diverted, which could require you to first mute your video.
  • You may subsequently forget to unmute your video. That’s not usually a dealbreaker.

But if you lose track of your audio, you’re either the 800-pound gorilla in the virtual room or a Luddite who doesn’t know how to work your microphone.

Don’t Forget to Unmute Yourself
Zoom isn’t really a set-it-and-forget-it technology (well, not yet).

You simply need to train yourself to pay attention your video and especially your audio feeds throughout your personal and professional Zoom calls. And that requires a diligence to be constantly muting and unmuting yourself exactly when you need to focus on the content of what you’re saying.

If you feel like that’s an annoying juggling act, it is. But it’s a small price to pay to step up your Zoom game.

Can you hear me?

Practice your Magic
During this difficult time for so many of us, it’s certainly understandable that there may be tons of distracting elements in your environment that are urgently competing for your attention. Sometimes it can feel like you need a magic wand.

Zooming at home throughout the day brings new meaning to art of multitasking. There’s no perfect solution. But beefing up your Zoom muscle will certainly help you keep all of your balls in the air.

Happy juggling!

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