When Good Sound and Video Matter

Like many others I have spent a lot of time on Zoom in the past year. In many meetings I have noticed that there are participants who have poor audio and/or video quality. Even for people who are online for non-professional purposes there are some things to keep in mind. These observations may seem obvious but I see them often enough to be worthy of comment.


First, some tips for casual users.


Internet Connection


The quality of your Internet is an important factor in getting good audio and video quality. It is fairly common for people to focus on download speeds but upload speed is also very important.

Lighting

Two common problems are not enough front lighting and too much back lighting, often from sitting in front of a window. Choosing a good background, whether real or virtual, can help. For front lighting a well placed lamp may be all that is needed. I have a ring light but I don’t use it often because it causes distracting reflections from my eyeglasses. LED panels are available and are relatively affordable from companies such as Elgato. Some come with stands or can be attached to your computer. There are more professional solutions but they tend to be expensive. And, depending on your particular set up there may be software setting adjustments that can be used to enhance the output. Green screens can help improve background quality in situations where you want to conceal or change the appearance your surroundings. Paying attention to a few simple to fix details will make you stand out in most Zoom meetings.


Sound

Most people are probably using the built in microphone on their device. Again, it helps to pay attention to the settings for volume and to explore the audio settings in Zoom. More on that later. I have found that a good quality noice cancelling headset is a good alternative to the built in microphone. The best sound quality will require an external good quality microphone, lapel or other condenser, which is probably more than the typical user needs.

Good audio and video quality becomes more important when Zoom is being used for professional purposes, particularly where it is essential to create a good image.

Using an External Webcam

Your device may or may not have a built in webcam. Even when there is one it may still make sense to consider an external webcam. It depends on how much resolution you want to achieve. A typical webcam in a laptop may have a resolution of perhaps 720p at best. There are external webcams that are capable of full 1080p HD and even 4K. Sites that allow 4K are not common yet. However, you may wish to record promotional and other videos where the additional quality matters.

One of the best high resolution webcams available is the Logitech Brio 4K. Apart from its technical capabilities it comes with software, Logitech Capture, that allows a great deal of control over the camera, allowing a wide range of enhancements to the video output. And the Brio also comes with built in sound capture capability. Such a rich array of features makes it pricey for the average user but not for professional use.



Another thing to consider is that the resolution you are putting into a Zoom session is not necessarily what the end viewer is seeing. It makes sense to become familiar with the Zoom settings and make changes that enhance your audio and video quality via Zoom.







In video settings make sure that Adjust for Low Light and Touch Up My Appearance are not checked. Make sure HD is checked. One additional setting that will improve the resolution received via Zoom is found in the Share function under Advanced features. The Content From Second Camera in Zoom allows high resolution output. This is probably more relevant if you are making a presentation where high resolution is important.






Using a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera As An External Webcam

If you have a DSLR or mirrorless camera it may be possible to use it as an external webcam. This is done using an Elgato Camlink 4K.






You need to make sure that your camera is compatible with this device but many recent cameras are. The Camlink connects with the HDMI port in your camera. You will need a cable that has a standard HDMI connector on one end and the correct connector for your camera on the other. For example, my Panasonic Lumix GH4 uses a micro HDMI connector. You will also need a dummy battery to provide power to the camera. Conventional camera batteries will run down too fast for extended video use.





You will also need to change some settings on your camera, including turning off sleep mode. I have tested this set up with my Panasonic Lumix GH4 and it worked without any problem. Depending on the quality of your camera this is the method most likely to give you the highest possible video quality.

Audio Quality

As with video, the quality of the equipment is a large part of the quality of the sound. Again, if you are using Zoom for professional purposes an external microphone will give better results. A lavalier (lapel) condenser microphone is inconspicuous and can provide good quality audio. However, I would recommend staying with well established brands. There are a large, and confusing, number of lavalier microphones available in a range of prices. Better quality often comes with a higher price tag. Make sure you read the specifications carefully to make sure that the microphone you purchase is compatible with your computer or other device set up. You may also need an adapter to connect the microphone to your computer or other device.

Another option is a USB condenser microphone. Many podcasters and streamers use a Shure MV7. This is a good microphone as reflected in the price.



A good alternative at a lower price point is the Audio-Technica AT 2020.






I have used an AT 2020 for a number of years and found it to be a good microphone with a pleasing tonal quality. There are many microphone options available so you can find many others to select from, including Rode and Blue Yeti.

Regardless of which microphone you purchase you will need a sturdy microphone stand and a quiet environment. Condenser microphones are extremely sensitive. Other useful accessories include a shock mount and a pop filter.

Zoom Audio Settings

It is worth taking time to look at the audio settings in Zoom. The following settings should improve your audio quality.






Zoom has a feature that allows you to test and calibrate your microphone and output device. Zoom also attempts to reduce background noise and the level of suppression can be set by the user. If these interfere with sound quality you can either disable background noise suppression in settings or use the settings shown in the image above. Enabling Original Sound will make that option appear in the upper left portion of a Zoom meeting screen. Turning it on enables the unsuppressed output from your input device.


Another useful tip is to hold a test meeting with a friend or associate to make sure the audio and video quality is acceptable before going live.


This has been a brief overview and I encourage Zoom users, particularly those new to the platform, to learn something about its features. Zoom has a lot of resources to help users and there is a large number of videos and other resources online. Whatever equipment you have there are often simple ways to improve your presence on Zoom. It is worth taking the time to investigate them.



 

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