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Video Conferencing:
Improving Your Home Set Up


Webcams / Cameras   -   Microphones   -   Lighting   -   And More!
 
For Users of Zoom, Skype, Cisco Webex, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, GoTo Meeting, Facebook Messenger Rooms, Microsoft Teams...
 
Copyright 2020 by Michael Brochstein
 
Introduction:
 
It literally took a world-wide pandemic to greatly increase the number of people who videoconference from home. In almost no time the majority of the world went from in-person schooling, work, and other activities to doing these online. This is a guide for how to improve your videoconference setup at home.

The goal of this article is to show you how to have high quality images and sound from your home videoconference setup. It will show you what to look for when you purchase webcams, microphones and other relevant equipment and will also give suggestions about using this equipment. I will suggest specific products in each category and will provide links to where these can be purchased (the author gets no kickbacks from these links).

All the specific products (i.e. webcams and microphones) mentioned have been researched and are recommended by the author. Products with an * asterisk before their name have also been personally tested by the author.
 
A note about images used in this article: All webcam images are un-retouched other than for size to fit onto this webpage properly. As this article is about videoconferencing from home, example images are from a typical home setup, not a professional TV studio (i.e. no softboxes, array of LED light panels or professional video cameras were used).
 
Webcams: (a.k.a. cameras)
 
- Look for a webcam with "1080" resolution and a tripod mount. A 1080 webcam creates images with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. This is also referred to as Full High Definition ("FHD").

Lower resolution (and usually less expensive) webcams usually can only create a 720 image with 1,280 x 720 pixels. Images with more pixels are sharper and show details better than ones with fewer pixels so an image from a 1080 webcam is generally superior to one from a 720 webcam. Common flat panel TV's are FHD (1080) although some higher end models have more pixels (i.e. 4K and 8K TV's). Most TV channels broadcast in the 1080 format.

For comparison, a 1080 webcam creates images with a much smaller number of pixels compared with those created from a typical digital still image camera. A 1080 webcam creates an image that has about two million pixels in it (1,920 x 1,080). Worse, a 720 webcam produces an image with less than half that (1,280 x 720). A 24 megapixel digital still camera produces a 24 million pixel image (6000 x 4000), about twelve times as many pixels as those in an image created by a 1080 webcam. Another advantage of still image cameras is that their image sensors may be larger and therefore create superior images because of their larger size - but a discussion of image sensor size is beyond the scope of this article. 

- Use the Windows 10 "Camera" application to easily switch between cameras to compare them (i.e. a laptop's built-in webcam versus an external webcam). Maximize the size of the Camera application window size to make it easier to evaluate a webcam's image. This is also an easy way to focus cameras that are manually focused.

- See below for specific webcam buying recommendations and for suggestions regarding Webcam Placement (further below) in your home setup.
 
1080 webcam Small section of the 1080 webcam image to the left.
   
720 webcam Similar small section of the 720 webcam image to the left, less detail than in the 1080 version above.
   
 
1080 webcam Small section of 1080 webcam image to the left, not easy to read.
   
 
720 webcam Equivalent section (to 1080 image above) of 720 webcam image to the left. With fewer pixels in the image in general it is harder to read as there are fewer pixels in the area of this text.
   
For comparison, below are similar images from a 24 megapixel digital camera.
   
 
24 megapixel digital camera Equivalent section (to 720 and 1080 images above) of 24 megapixel digital camera image to the left.
   
- Recommendations below are all for 1080 webcams and relate to a webcam's image quality, not their microphones / sound quality.

- "Field of View" refers to how wide an angle the lens is. If you have a multiple of people wishing to be seen by the camera at once then a wider (larger) field of view might be is preferable.
   
   
Logitech C920s HD Pro Webcam $70. A very popular and well regarded model. Logitech also has other similar models. 78 degree diagonal field of view.   Microsoft LifeCam Studio $80. 75 degree diagonal field of view.   * Unzano HD Webcam 1080p $56. Manual focus! Field of view not stated but I'm guessing ~ 90 degree diagonal field of view.
         
It can be very "interesting" to compare a laptop's built-in webcam to an external one. Below is an example from a current model high-end laptop's 720 webcam and an external 1080 webcam. The set-up is otherwise identical between the two images. I think it is obvious which one is better.
   
High-end laptop's built-in 720 webcam 1080 image from an Unzano 1080 webcam
   
   
Microphones:
 
- Webcam and laptop microphones can be disappointing.

- Use the "Test Mic" feature of Zoom (in "Settings" under "Audio") to easily test and compare laptop, external webcam, headset and other microphone options. This is a great way for you to hear how you sound as you will get to record a short audio recording and then immediately hear it played it back to you.

- Try to video conference from a quiet location.

- A good quality headset can be an excellent value relative to purchasing a microphone. When using a headset one does not need to consider which way their head is facing as a headset's microphone is always in the same place relative to one's mouth. Speakers are not needed as a headset has them built-in. A headset is also preferable over a regular microphone and speakers when used in a noisy environment.
 
   
* Blue Yeti USB Microphone $130. Very versatile.    Rode NT-USB Mini USB Microphone $100   * Logitech USB Headset H390 $35
         
         
Lighting:
 
- Avoid backlighting; Light the front of your face, it should be brighter than the background.

- Avoid dark places; Brighter locations will generally result in better image quality.
 
Backlit Not backlit
   
 
Webcam Placement:
 
- Try to get the webcam / camera's height near eye level or slightly lower. For a laptop's webcam do this by putting the laptop on top of a stack of books. If using an external webcam then mount it on top of a monitor or on a tabletop tripod (below) just behind a laptop.
 
   
"NoseCam" Eye level Too high
         
     
* JOBY GorillaPod 3K Flexible Mini-Tripod with Ball Head $56. Large enough for most situations.   * JOBY GorillaPod 5K Flexible Mini-Tripod with Ball Head $100, If you need something taller.
   
         
To Probe Further:
View this excellent eight minute video by Douglas Christian:
 
 
Feedback / Questions:
Please email Michael Brochstein with any comments, suggestions and/or questions.
 
Full Disclosure:
This is to let you know that the author has no financial interest in any of the items, vendors or websites mentioned on this page.

 Last update: 6/2/2020

Copyright © 2020 Michael Brochstein. All rights reserved.