Anyone who’s done live TV will tell you that doing a live feed is the most difficult way to work in front of a camera. You’re at the mercy of equipment failures, technical glitches, and other gremlins. What’s even more difficult is a situation with audience interaction, like people who can call in live with questions.
And of course…“live TV” describes exactly what happens with a video conference!
In Home Office Pro Makeover, Part 1: Better Audio, we covered how to improve your home office’s audio. Now, let’s tackle the video part of the audio/video equation.
Choosing the Right Camera
Most modern monitors and laptops include an onboard camera, but the optimum monitor position is rarely the same as the optimum camera position. Fortunately, unless you’re doing actual video productions, you don’t need a complex or expensive camera for a video conference. The Logitech C270 web camera is a great choice (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: Logitech’s C270 is an extremely popular choice for video conferencing and home offices.
It connects to either Windows or Mac via USB 2.0 and features 1280 x 960 video resolution, video capture in standard 4:3 format or 16:9 widescreen, maximum frame rate of 30 fps (frames per second) with 640 x 480 video capture, 3 megapixel camera for still images, dim light correction, and desktop or wall mounting. (It also has a built-in microphone, but you’ll have better audio if you follow the recommendations in Home Office Pro Makeover, Part 1: Better Audio.)
Logitech’s C310 is the next step up, with the main difference being a 5 megapixel camera for still images (66% higher resolution than the C270). For even higher resolution, the Logitech C525 uses software enhancement for the equivalent of 8 megapixel still photos, and compared to the previous two, has a slightly wider field of view (69 degrees vs. 60 degrees) and auto-focus instead of fixed focus. However, the C270 will handle virtually all video conferencing needs, and the differences among the three models aren’t that significant.
For a major upgrade beyond the C270, the VCDO360 2SEE (Fig. 2) increases the video resolution to 1920 x 1080 at 30 fps. Whether or not this will benefit you depends on the internet speed at both ends of the teleconference.
Figure 2: Although larger than the Logitech cameras mentioned previously, the VDO360 2SEE offers higher video resolution.
The VCDO360 2SEE includes better audio capabilities, but again, the recommendations for improving audio in Part 1 will likely serve you better; it’s also larger than the Logitech models. For video conferencing, the VCDO360 is probably an overachiever. But if you also need a video camera for capturing offline product demos and the like, this is a more “pro” solution.
Using the Camera
The old phrase “garbage in, garbage out” applies to cameras—they’ll capture only what you feed into them, so it’s important to consider how you’re going to use the camera.
Mounting the camera. The camera should be on the same level as your face, and not too close. People like having a bit of personal space, and even in the virtual world, they don’t want to feel like your face is a few inches away from theirs. Being too close to the camera is also unforgiving for faces that don’t have makeup. Although some people mount a camera on their desk, hitting the desk, or sometimes even typing, will cause it to shake. The C270 can mount on your wall for a permanent installation, but this may not be the optimum position for shooting in a home office. Mounting it to a stand that you can move around, like a small display pedestal, tablet stand, or even a brochure holder for trade shows, may be a better solution.
If you must use a laptop… At least place it on a box to raise the camera (typically located toward the top of the laptop screen) so that it’s on the same level as your face. Few things look more unprofessional than a camera pointing up at you, while taking in a glorious view of your ceiling.
Avoid USB hubs. Cameras process a fair amount of information and require a certain amount of power. For the best results, plug the USB cable directly into your computer. If you must use a USB hub, choose a powered model, like the Cables to Go 29508 (Fig. 3), which comes with an AC adapter. Although an inexpensive camera may not need power beyond what a USB port can deliver, there’s no downside to using a powered hub, which will likely be needed in the future anyway for other devices.
Figure 3: The C2G 29508 can get its power from a USB port, but it also includes an AC adapter so it can serve as a powered adapter. This means that what’s plugged into it won’t need to draw power from your computer.
Choose the Right Backdrop
You may have seen Zoom conferences where people have virtual backgrounds. These work best with a green screen background and a high-quality camera, and your computer will need to meet certain technical requirements. For an important business call, you probably don’t want to look like you’re conducting your conference from the moon. However, you can substitute your own image, like a corporate logo, the product under discussion, or a screen shot.
The Westcott 130-WESTCOTT (Fig. 4) is a 9’ x 10’, wrinkle-resistant green screen backdrop with carrying case.
Figure 4: Green screen backdrops make it much easier to use virtual Zoom backgrounds.
However, note that you’ll need stands on either side, and a crossbar pole from which you can hang the backdrop; neither are included with the backdrop. If that takes up too much space (or seems like too much work!), the Westcott 620K (Fig. 5) is a more convenient solution. The 5’ x 7’ backdrop has a neutral gray color, and includes a lightweight stand for easy setup. It also folds up easily into a carrying case for portability.
Figure 5: A backdrop should focus attention on you and what you’re saying—not your bookshelves in the background.
If your budget and space are really tight, stand-alone room dividers can make suitable backgrounds, as can room divider curtain kits.
Lighting Is Crucial
The article See the Light: Video Basics for Video Streaming on Fullcompasslive.com is loaded with tips on how to set up lighting for professional-quality video streaming, and many of these apply to doing simple video conferences from a home office: never have a light source behind you, why certain light sources are better than others, choosing the right clothes (yes, it matters), and the like.
In some cases, you may be able to do what you need by re-arranging your office somewhat. For example, if there’s a wall in front of you, a wall in back, and a window to your right or left, the window can provide natural side lighting that will make you look more three-dimensional on camera. Ultimately, though, having a dedicated lighting source, like the kind mentioned in the article referenced above, will make a major difference in video quality.
Meanwhile, the rear wall could be the perfect space to mount a backdrop, and you can mount your camera to the front wall. Or, use acoustical treatment on the back wall that’s visually pleasing, as described in Part 1.
Why Your Home Office Matters
It’s a competitive world. If you can engage in pro-level communications, with clear visuals and audio, you’ll come out ahead compared to those who don’t raise their standards. Furthermore, although we have no idea how long this pandemic will last, it already seems apparent that home offices are going to become ever more common in the years ahead. You might as well get the head start that puts you ahead of the pack in the future, by paying attention to audio and video quality in the present.
Full Compass has been advising clients in business, education, government, worship, media, and more for over 40 years on how to get their message across. We’re already prepared for today’s changing world, and we’re happy to help—call your Full Compass Professional at 800-356-5844 (Monday-Friday, 7:00am-5:30pm Central time).