Tips for Online Interview, Meeting, Video Conference or Lecture Streaming Setup

This is a short review of my tried and tested setup for video conference, lecture recording and/or remote interview. There are infinite possibilities to set up a good quality video setup and this is one option of many. I am sharing these tips here in case others might find it useful.

Lecture recording
Lecture online streaming and recording

Camera:

There are many webcam cameras available with varying quality and prices. I am currently using an SJcam SJ4000 WiFi Camera.

https://www.banggood.com/SJcam-SJ4000-WiFi-Car-DVR-Camera-Sport-DV-Novatek-Waterproof-p-939976.html?rmmds=search&ID=3408&cur_warehouse=CN

This is a low-cost GoPro equivalent. It produces an excellent HD image for a fraction of the price and can work both in standalone and as a webcam. There might be cheaper models without the WIFI option or more updated versions as I had bought these some 4 years back. It has an excellent wide-angle lens that makes the background look far away.

Video quality of iMac 27” default camera
Quality for SJ4000 in identical lighting conditions
The SJcam SJ4000

Microphone:

I bought a Marantz MPM 1000U. To my knowledge, Marantz is not really a ‘microphone’ brand but I had a go on this one and the quality is pretty good for the 50€ price tag. It is very easy to install. This microphone connects directly to the computer through a USB. It is a large-diaphragm microphone providing a broad frequency response so the sound does not sound ‘thin’ like the smaller capsule microphones. You might find cheaper options for this starting from around €20. This microphone might not be the best choice if you plan using it in a reverberant room. In that case, I would recommend a headset with an embedded microphone. They don’t look as neat on video but it will save your audience from the annoying reverberation.

The large-diaphragm microphone I am currently using

Microphone stand:

I found this €15 stand very practical. I use this for holding the microphone and also clamped the camera to it. This gives a number of advantages 1) you can move the camera around easily and lecture both sitting and standing up without looking like Goliath! 2) It makes it easy to place the camera in the middle of the screen if you need to read a script from a word document/PowerPoint without looking like reading. This is great for scripted Panopto video recordings like preparing introductions to topics. This approach makes a low-cost version of a teleprompter. 3) More importantly, the microphone always moves with the camera so I am never off-mike when I am addressing the audience. This stand also attenuates any unwanted sounds and vibrations like typing and mouse clicking noises. Amazon link.

Microphone stand to which I also attach the camera
Front view for script reading
The video conference and online lecturing setup

Lighting:

Having good lighting is essential because most of the cameras that are embedded in laptops are terrible in low lighting. Lighting can be greatly improved with little effort like for example bouncing the light of a common desk lamp on the wall you are facing to get a more diffused light. I have pulled out two pro light fittings similar to these from my good old broadcasting days but in reality, any light source would help if there is low light: https://www.amazon.de/-/en/dp/B07PNNTTV1/ref=sr_1_3?__mk_de_DE=%C3%85M%C3%85%C5%BD%C3%95%C3%91&dchild=1&keywords=videoleuchte&qid=1586955818&s=ce-de&sr=1-3

Here is a 3-minute video on 3-point lighting that you might find useful. 3-point lighting is the standard lighting technique that is used in many interview filming applications. In this clip, you will see professional light fitting but most important is the concept rather than the fittings. For a home streaming setup, you can replace the fittings with any light source, say a desk lamp. Then move your light sources around the space to see the effect they make: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3xYPOiPtE4

In principle having 2 front light sources at 45-degree height will fill the face and remove most unwanted shadows. Having a third light from the back (backlight) is also helpful as this makes the subject stand out from the background and makes the picture less tiring to watch for a long duration. It is essential that the background is not brighter than the subject otherwise the subject would be in silhouette. It is best to avoid sun-facing windows in the background with a light that you cannot control, bright lights in the background etc…

Light fitting I am currently using. Barn doors allow better control of the areas that need more or less lighting. In this case, since the distance to the subject is very short, I found it better to partly bounce the light onto the white ceiling rather than directly on the subject.
Background too bright
Light from one side only
A more balanced light

Why is this worth doing?

Given that in many cases, web streaming has become our link with the world and is influencing the quality of presentations, meetings and the education of hundreds of students, it might be worth spending some time improving the look and quality of our content broadcast. Any improvement can influence the communication effectiveness or learning environment. In most cases, simple fixes like moving the laptop or closing a curtain could make a big difference.

This effort is also worth considering if you plan to record presentations to reuse them over and over again. A good high-quality recording will save you having to record presentations again in the future. It is an effort you need to do once and any gains in this exercise will give returns in every event thereon.