Video Conferencing – Overkill Edition

Due to the current work-from-home mandate as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, lots of us are spending time dialed into Zoom meetings from home. Coincidentally, over the past months, I’ve fallen into a trap of trying to build the best possible home office setup for this very task.

Basic Advice

For “normal” people, here are the top 3 items to focus on, in my opinion.

  1. Make sure your network connection is bullet proof.  A speed test alone is not sufficient, make sure you have no packet loss and consistently good ping times. I recommend pinging http://www.google.com using PingPlotter to test this. If your network is not good, you will sound choppy and your video quality will be bad. Recommendations to fix your network:
    1. Try wired ethernet straight to your router. If that helps, look at upgrading Wifi (either a mesh system – I’ve heard good things about Nest Wifi, or a single, powerful router – I can recommend the – slightly older – Netgear R7000).
    2. If you have problems despite going wired, look into replacing your cable modem (assuming you have cable – I recommend the Netgear CM1000, which gives you DOCSIS 3.1 and more channels than most of your neighbors).
  2. Get the audio right. There are many choices here, but record yourself into a “solo” Zoom session and listen back to see how it sounds, and how much of your background sound is being picked up. The best solution is a wired or wireless headset with a microphone worn in front of your face.
  3. Get video right. The cameras in most laptops are not a good choice, as they show your face from a suboptimal angle and are of poor quality. Ideally, get a USB web cam and put it on your external monitor.  Make sure the lens is clean (otherwise the video gets blurry) and you don’t have light sources behind you (unless you’re going for that “protected witness” esthetic).

Overkill

In this post, I’m going to share what is part of my setup. I’ll caution that for the average person, all of this is MAJOR overkill and not recommended. So without further ado, here we go. (all the links are Amazon Affiliate links).

Hardware

Software

  • Zoom
    • Enabled “HD” and “Touch up my appearance” settings.
  • Audio Hijack + Loopback + some free plugins
    • This is used to set up a voice chain in software to add a gate, compression and de-essing (I keep playing with the exact chain).
  • Webcam Settings
    • Helps me re-frame the image quickly with saved presets (changing from sitting to standing)

Results

Here’s a snapshot from a call I was on today. This is with natural light from my left, the ring light at 4000K and 27% brighness, and the SYLVAIN lamp set to blue (notice the slight blue hue).

Pasted_Image_3_23_20__11_28_AM

I keep on tinkering with this setup, but am happy with the results so far (and yes, I have spent way too much time and money on this, but everybody needs a hobby these days…).

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