The world is a different place in a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many businesses are allowing their employees to work from home. People working from home are adjusting to this new environment which is a new territory for everyone living in the 21st century.
Sure there have been pandemics in the past where people were told to stay home, but they didn’t have a laptop where they can work from home or virtually anywhere in the world.
The office offers a plethora of benefits that we take for granted.
For instance, when you step inside your conference room, it is probably equipped with audio and video equipment worth hundreds of dollars. These amenities offer people in the conference call superb video and audio quality to talk with their co-workers around the world. Sometimes even the room itself is decked out with pictures, fancy lighting, and ornaments to give it a warm cozy theme.
We take these amenities for granted when we use them at work. It’s no surprise that most people are taken off guard when they do a video conference call with their peers and the audio and video calls are not so great.
Working from home used to mean a few days at home or a week at home. It doesn’t mean working everyday for months from home virtually.
In the past, a laptop with a good Internet was good enough. Since working from home is now the new norm, is that really enough? Is it okay to have online meetings with audio that is muffled or low in volume?
How about the video that is pixelated or too close to your face because you’re using the built-in laptop camera?
There has to be a better way.
Fortunately, there are many gears out there to help enhance your home environment. It doesn’t mean you have to get a second mortgage to pay for the equipment. There are plenty of gears that you can buy that can substantially improve your existing situation without breaking the bank.
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Improve Your Video
The first thing people will see when you get on a video conference call is what you look like. That’s right, the webcam on your laptop isn’t that great. It’s decent for what you get but you can do better.
If you plan on spending so much time at home doing video conference calls, why not spend a few more dollars to improve your video. It is worth the investment.
The Logitech BRIO is an ultra HD webcam that can do video conferencing at 4K. It can automatically adjust exposure and contrast to compensate for glare and backlighting. It works on Windows and Macs. It connects via a USB port.
- Full 4k Ultra HD video with High Dynamic Range (HDR) capabilities
- HD 5x digital zoom
- Three different fields of view settings (65°, 78°, 90°)
- Two omnidirectional microphones
- Noise-canceling technology
You can use this webcam with most video calling apps such as Skype, Facetime, Facebook Messenger, and Line.
Having a 4K resolution means you will be paying a premium price but it also means your video will be much sharper.
You may be looking for a more affordable video camera. There are definitely affordable webcams that will offer you amazing quality video for your video conference call.
The Logitech C925e is a great webcam to use on your Windows or Mac machine. It is much less expensive than the Logitech BRIO since it does not support a 4K resolution. It supports 1080p video at 30fps or 720p at 60fps. It supports autofocus and has 2 built-in mics to capture your voice.
Video is bright and vibrant regardless of lighting conditions. It has a built-in lens cover so you can block the camera lens to protect your privacy, just in case.
Improve Your Audio
Although your laptop may cost thousands of dollars, it was not designed to bring the best audio while you’re on a conference call. Having an external microphone will greatly improve your audio while reducing the background noise coming from your home.
Let’s face it, unless you have a studio room designed for recording, it can be improved.
The Blue Yeti is a USB microphone that is compatible with your Windows or Mac computer. It features multiple pattern selection so you can adjust which sounds the mic should pick up. It supports cardioid for sound coming from the front.
This is useful for vocals or when you are in front of the mic and no one else is around you. It supports bidirectional when you are interviewing another person on the other side of you. You can place the mic between you and the other person. It supports omnidirectional to pick up sound from all directions.
- Includes 3 condenser capsules
- Supports multiple patterns (cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional, and stereo)
- Includes gain control, mute button, and zero-latency headphone output
- Plug & Play
This is a versatile microphone that is great for vocals, musical instruments, podcasting, voiceovers, interviews, field recordings, and conference calls.
Many YouTube content creators use the Blue Yeti for their audio so you know it is legit. Your audio comes clear and sharp with this device.
The Blue Yeti is on the more expensive side of a microphone. If you prefer a less expensive mic, you have another option.
The Rode VideoMicro is a compact microphone that can be used on a camera as well as on your laptop. It is small and light so it does not take a lot of space in your room. Your audio will be greatly improved with this gear. If you do intend to use it with your laptop, be sure to add the 3.5mm TRS to the 3.5mm TRSS patch adapter cable since it’s not included.
If you are sharing your home with someone else, you probably don’t want to disturb them while you are on the video conference calls. If the audio output is coming from your laptop speakers or from external speakers, they may be too loud and disturb the people around you. An option is to use a headphone.
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is a closed over-the-ear headphone that provides sounds only for you. It has soft padding to provide comfort while you wear headphones.
Once you wear it, you can hear and feel the difference from less expensive ones.
You are getting sound quality and comfort that you don’t get with other brands. It comes with a 3 meter coiled cable that connects to the audio jack of your PC or Mac. There is no need to install any software. It is plug and play.
To improve the audio input, you should get the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface. It is an audio interface used by musicians to enhance their audio recording and playback. It gives your vocal and acoustic recordings a more open sound. You can improve the sound quality by connecting your microphone to this device. It connects to your Mac or PC via a USB cable.
Have Better Lighting
Have you seen people on YouTube with amazing videos?
It requires more than a great webcam. It requires great lighting too. This is not something that can be done with your home desk lamp, unfortunately.
Having great lighting makes a huge difference in how you will be presented on the webcam. When you buy your lighting hardware, be sure to use the “3 points lighting” technique.
The three-point lighting technique is used in photography or film to pick the subject out of the background.
- Key light
This is the main light. Usually, it’s the strongest light and has the most influence on the scene. It’s placed on the right side of the subject.
- Fill light
This is the secondary light and placed on the left side of the subject. It’s used to fill in the shadows created by the key light. The fill light is usually softer and less bright than the key light. This can also be achieved by moving the light further away from the subject.
This is placed behind the subject and lights the subject from the rear. It provides highlights of the subject’s outlines. It helps separate the subject from the background and provides a three-dimensional look.
Use the Neewer video lighting kits for your key, fill, or backlights. They are LED lights that adjust from 3200-5600K color temperature. They come with adjustable light stands so you don’t have to purchase them separately.
Since they come in pairs, you will need another one. You can get the Aputure AL-MX video light which is also an LED light. It supports 2800-6500K adjustable color temperature.
Support Multiple Devices
If you are going to be adding audio and video devices, you probably have an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Rather than plugging all these devices directly into your Mac or Windows machine, you can attach them to a docking station.
The docking station allows for easier attachment of your devices from your laptop.
CalDigit TS3 Plus supports 15 ports. It allows you to connect your 4K display, SD card reader, and USB devices. It charges your laptop at the same time. The dock has everything you need to attach all your devices. If you have a MacBook Pro, this dock is for you since it has 2x Thunderbolt ports.
- 2 x Thunderbolt 3
- 1 x DisplayPort 1.2
- 5 x USB 3.1 Type-A (Gen1-5Gbps/5V 1.5A)
- 2 x USB 3.1 Type-C (5V 1.5A)(1 x Gen1-5Gbps) (1 x Gen2-10Gbps)
- 1 x SD Card Reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
- 1 x Digital Optical Audio (S/PDIF)
- 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
- 1 x Analog Audio In (Stereo) | 1 x Analog Audio Out (Stereo)
- Thunderbolt 3: 5120 x 2880 60Hz | DisplayPort : 4096 x 2160 60Hz
The TS3 Plus has 7 x USB ports and 2 x Thunderbolt 3 ports. This is more than enough to connect all your devices to this central hub.
Improve Your Backdrop
If you are lucky to be an interior designer, you probably have decorated your room with an assortment of items to accentuate your backdrop. For others, it may be a white wall or a bright window.
There is a way to make your background a whole lot better.
Use a green screen. This is what Hollywood uses when they want to change the background of their shoot. Rather than having expensive items as backgrounds or impossible backgrounds (e.g., floating in space), they can replace it with a green screen.
With a green screen, you have the luxury of replacing your background with a different one. Since you have already improved your audio, video and lighting, why not also improve your backdrop.
The Emart green screen backdrop is portable that collapses into an aluminum base when not in use. You can hide it away if you are not using it. When you want to use it, you would pull the handle up and it stays in place.
This is a different design than another green screen backdrop where you have to attach the backdrop to a wall or the cloth comes wrinkled very easily. With this design, it is easy to set it up without needing a stand and clamps to hold it in place.
The green screen backdrop is portable and very convenient to stow away when not in use.
However, it comes with one issue if your video camera is not focused close to you. The backdrop won’t be able to completely cover your background. Unfortunately, there is only one size for this backdrop. Another option is to use a cloth that is wider and can cover your entire background.
The Emart green screen cloth has a width of 10 feet and a height of 12 feet. It is large enough to cover your entire background. It comes with 4 clamps to secure the cloth. Although not as portable as the previous backdrop, it is an option if you’re not able to position your video camera very close to you.
You do want to make sure your entire background is covered by the green screen. Otherwise, you may encounter a blurry or fuzzy image in the section that isn’t covered by the green screen.
The green screen cloth above doesn’t come with a stand so you will want to invest in one. Otherwise, you can attach it to your wall with a hook and string. It’s better to get the stand so the cloth can be adjusted and positioned the way you like it.
The Julius Studio backdrop stand is 10 feet wide and 7.3 feet tall so it is long enough to support the cloth. The backdrop stand comes with 3 photo clamps and 2 sandbags to secure the stand in place.
Be sure to adjust the stand so your entire background is covered by the green screen. If you are investing the money in getting a green screen, we should make sure it is set up the right way.
With a little time and effort of buying and setting up all these gears, your video conference calls will be much more enjoyable. Although there are meetings we have to attend, it does not mean it has to be a burden. We can still have a little fun during these meetings.