Since there's an increasing number of public events produced with online video conferencing recently, this post will address key topics when hosting an event that streams from programs like Zoom or Skype. Here is an example of such an event. There is no technical guidance in this post for specific software. These suggestions can also apply to more casual or private meeting users, as well as those who just want to up the quality of their meetings.
The key to preparing for a live video conference event is to start testing your system at least one week early to work out any bugs with time to respond to them if more equipment is needed. The main things to look out for when preparing and streaming an event are:
- Connection strength + consistency
- Quality of audio
- Quality of video
- A couple technical notes
- Action plan for if (when) things go wrong during a stream
Connection strength + consistency
There is nothing more critical than the connection speed between your device and the network. Even if your Wi-Fi network seems reasonably fast at first, the connection can become inconsistent. For this reason, it is strongly encouraged to use an ethernet connection whenever possible. If the computer doesn't have an ethernet connection, here are a few links for adapters: USB-C (mac), USB-3 (PC). If ethernet isn't available, test your connection speed to understand how well it performs in a specific location before entering into the event. Also, be sure to quit windows that are not in use, including things like Dropbox syncing files, emails sending audible notices, etc. Not only can sounds interfere with the conference, but this can reduce connection speed.
According to Zoom and Skype, they each require minimum upload/download speeds of 1.2 Mbps. Since this speed is so variable, it's better to find a network that supports a minimum of 3 Mbps upload/download. Even this can be problematic, so ethernet is the only way to almost guarantee a quality video stream. If you notice the connection dropping out, stop your video streaming immediately and just use the audio.
Rebooting your computer and updating your conferencing software before going live is also a way to avoid bad behavior from your system. System or software updates should always be installed at least 24 hours before any event goes live, since the changes it may cause to the interface or integration with hardware may affect performance and/or familiarity with the look of controls.
Quality of audio
Choose a location far away from even low level ambient sounds like refrigerators, traffic, or air conditioners. Test the mic out on your computer and record the sound to play back and assess. If it doesn't sound clear enough, order one of these models: adequate quality (Fifine K669B), improved quality (Yeti USB mic). If a wireless mic is needed, this is the cheapest version that works consistently with robust sound (Sennheiser XSW-D), but you will need level control since it runs a little hot . Because of shipping, try testing this part out at least a week in advance of any event. As with any video conferencing meeting, participants that are not speaking should mute their computer.
Quality of video
Lighting for video conferencing should be mostly flat across the speaker and background. There can be slightly more light on the speaker than the background, but it doesn't need to be artistic. Most importantly, do not keep open windows or bright sources in the background, because the camera will underexpose you dramatically. The best method is sitting to the side of, or behind a large window so the ambient (not direct) light can evenly expose both of your eyes and your background (see example below). It is ideal to use indirect window light since it is more robust than most artificial light and will nearly eliminate noise in the video. If no window is available, aim for larger diffused light sources that fill the room as much as possible. If the camera on your computer isn't satisfactory, here is a well reviewed model that connects via USB: Logitech C920/22 or Logitech BRIO. Here is a green screen option (Westcott 130) if a cleaner key frame is desired for backgrounds. Here is an option for a soft light (Ledge LG-E2686) for a wide spread of light on faces and backgrounds, or a more directional light (Fiilex P360) for targeted lighting on faces or objects. This is the most expensive piece of gear in this post since finding an affordable, well made light that doesn't shift color over time is no easy task. Lights like this (Kino) are more common in professional lighting schemes.