Video conferencing has been around for many years, but the COVID pandemic has increased market adoption into the business and consumer mainstream forever.
As much as virtual meetings enable us to remain connected and communicate remotely, there are good and bad online meetings and presentations.
To increase the production quality and help you improve your next video conference performance (and your personal brand), we’ve put together the following tips.
“Quality Matters”, and even a slight improvement can make a difference.
Scott Maxworthy, CEO, Max Media and Entertainment
The key point – “Quality Matters”, and even a slight improvement can make a difference.
The Audience Experience
The role of the Producer – in this case, you – is to make it easier for your viewer to consume your content.
If you go to a conference or show and can’t see or hear the speaker, you would probably feel frustrated, but what takes priority in your production checklist – audio, video or something else?
The Answer – It depends – if you’re watching a high action football or computer game, then probably the video matters most BUT, if watching a band or a speaker, then audio takes priority. When it comes to video conferencing, audio matters most.
The key point is that your audience will forgive momentary poor video quality, but they won’t accept poor audio.
Find a quieter place and try and try and keep external noise to a minimum.
Point your mic at your mouth – not in it – and not two meters across the room.
Reverb is sound bouncing off walls – drapes can reduce room acoustic reflections.
Think of sound waves like ping pong balls projecting out in every direction.
We have drapes across the ceiling and walls to help absorb bouncing sound.
In a more expensive professional studio, the walls will include audio baffles, floating floors, and soundproof insulation.
The key point is that your audience will forgive momentary poor video quality, but they won’t accept poor audio.
You would think PC and phone suppliers would automatically put in good microphones and speakers in their devices, but they don’t – it would simply add too much to the base cost, and there are also physical limitations.
Like our eardrums, microphones work by responding to sound waves and changes in air pressure against a membrane and then converting that physical energy into electrical pulses.
At the other end of the audio signal flow, speakers do the opposite by converting electrical sound signals and vibrating the air around the speaker cone. Our incredible ears then convert those sounds into what we hear.
When it comes to livestream production, an external mic will nearly always be better than the one on your computer or phone.
The better and closer the microphone to your voice – the more accurate it can capture your original sound but not in your mouth.
Which mic? Live streamers often cite the Blue Yeti USB as the best pick. For around.USD $130 It is multi-mode- providing four microphone modes.
If you’re phone conferencing, then the Rode Video mic is our personal choice.
When recording for live streams, what you’re aiming for is an average audio signal around 0dB. Record too high “peaking” (for example, if you yell) will cause audio clipping. Too low, then there’s not enough dynamic range or energy in the signal.
Most conferencing software will have AGC (Automatic Gain Control), but the tip is to try and keep your distance to your mic and levels consistent so the computer doesn’t have to continually adjust.
We have mid-cost professional Rode NTG 3’s for our studio panellists in the Big Dog Studio – a beautiful capturing super-cardioid shotgun studio and video production microphone. The mics are positioned forward and above the presenters’ heads, pointing at their mouths and just outside the camera shot.
The mics feed into our trusty old Yamaha 01v digital mixer into our Audio Production PC for real-time audio processing.
We use Cantible software for real-time audio processing with VST Plugins, Cakewalk for any music MIDI/ Audio Sequencing and Adobe Audion for non-music production.
Next, I run a compressor on the signal and add some EQ to enhance the vocals before sending the signal via Voicemeeter Potato VLAN to the OBS Livestream production computer to be mixed with all the other inputs.
Further compression and EQ were added across the final mix before live streaming out and routing to our Zoom communications computer via NDI.
Generally, the more expensive, the better, but don’t go silly. You want to be able to hear and focus on the meeting and not hear any background noise. Noise cancellation makes a difference.
There are pros and cons to whether you select wired or wireless.
Not all headphones and speakers are the same, and every set of speakers/ monitors and headphones has a different audio response curve. However, professional audio monitors and headphones aim for flat responses to not colour or tone the signal. On the other hand, typical home speakers aim to enhance the signal.
Studio monitors – a pair of old Yamaha NS10’s – mainly used for music production.
The instrument – Your Voice.
When good, your vocal tone has the power to communicate confidence and authority – when bad, monotone or hard to hear, then the opposite.
It’s not surprising that good singers and voice-over artists make for easier listening and good newsreaders, but even though we can’t all be professional singers, we can all improve the sound of our voices.
Deep Breathing – take deep breaths into your belly, not your chest.
Open your mouth – stretch exercises (like big yawns) before you go live.
When speaking, you need to open your mouth wider than you think. It sounds simple, but many people do not practice this and mumble.
Ground yourself – pressing your fingers tips together reduces body tension, or sit on your hands.
Alternatively, using your hands can come across as more energetic. If you naturally don’t gesture a lot, that’s ok. Instead, focus on relaxing your body.
Practice scales – “do re me fa, so la ti do” like the Sound of Music song. Adding more vocal range helps you to be more engaging and exciting to listen to. Go up and down, drop or raise an octave – read a poem or piece of prose. Start low, and then go high with your voice, then go low again.
Practice pacing – fast and slow – similar to the exercise above. Practice reading something reallyfastwithouttakingabreak and then reaalyyyy sloooowwwww.
Practice pause – give your listener time to absorb what you are saying, to frame their answer to what you said and the chance to reply.
Play with resonance. Low resonance makes us sound a bit more nasally (it’s the ‘a’ sound in ‘cat’). It’s great for cutting through the noise and getting people’s attention. High resonance is more rounded (think a British accent), making us sound warmer, comforting and approachable.
Practice your radio voice – record it, listen back and practice more.
Believe your voice deserves to be heard.
What you say
There’s a whole other blog on creating content and crafting your story for next time.
As both a Live Producer and Video / Podcast Editor, it’s the “Umms” and “Ahhhs” that are my biggest put off (and will cost you dollars when it comes to editing fees). It’s a bad habit by amateur presenters (usually while they’re thinking) and can be reduced by –
Being aware of it as a problem and deliberately stopping by keeping silent.
Preparation by having a well-rehearsed script and response – i.e. know the questions, practice your answers.
Think before you speak.
Choice of words – that’ll be in a future blog post.
Keep your comments short, simple, and to the point – don’t waffle on.
Your personality is key; that’s your voice and what makes you unique, but be aware of adding some space and know when to shut up.
Try and reduce any adlib until you become a more experienced speaker/ presenter.
There’s a mute button – use it when you’re not speaking in a conference call.
Position the camera at eye level – we don’t want to look up your nose. In addition, this position reduces any vertical background lines appearing to converge diagonally in the background.
You also don’t want the camera tilting at an angle – that will make your head look distorted and hands disproportionate.
Fill the frame – in most cases switch your phone to horizontal (unless the majority of your audience are on mobile).
Frame your shoulders and head with your nose on the upper third line. Again, moving your camera to eye level helps this.
Keep the camera still – put your camera on a small tripod on something to keep it sturdy and from moving around. Unless you’re selling real estate, this is not a walk around your house or office.
If your camera has different focal lengths, set it to the upper body – shoulders and face. Depending on the focal length, set your camera distance to ½ the space if you were meeting face to face – in most cases from your chest up with eyes on the upper third horizontal. A wide-angle lens can make you look like one of those Oompa Lumpas on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Try and look straight down the lens of the camera when your speaking. It can be challenging, but the aim is to create direct eye contact with your viewers.
Pick a webcam to match your video environment – for example – if filming primarily in low light, get a webcam with good low light filming. Resolution wise – live streaming 4K video is generally not supported (high bandwidth needs), so 1080p resolution will suffice for most needs.
In the Big Dog Studio
We use a 4K Logitech Brio for our webcam in the Big Dog office, but we also use it for in-house video capture.
On the production side, we use higher-end Panasonic 4K video cameras – these can simultaneously capture up to four hosts at 1080p resolution.
Good lighting is essential. We want to see your face and, most importantly, your eyes.
Place the main key light behind the camera. A large soft light such as a window will look more pleasing than a strong small light. The current FAVOURITE flavour is a beauty ring.
Without getting too technical – every light source has a different colour temperature. So set your camera to Automatic White Balance (AWB) or, if you can, match it to your primary light source.
I hit refresh again – nahhh – bummer! NDI 5 and Unreal Engine Virtual Production removes the boundaries and push the frontiers of live content production. Any device, any location, NDI is the first video-over-IP protocol that is fully optimized for our modern, mobile world. Then, combined with the power of Unreal Engine for virtual production,we’ll see a whole new world of creative possibilities.
NDI 5 – The Game Changer
As of right now (Saturday 3rd July at 11:09 AEST), there’s a tribe of about 20,000 technology-loving AV people across the world constantly hitting the refresh button on the NewTek NDI page to see if the latest (delayed) NDI version 5 has finally released and available for download – me included!
An earlier announcement said the end of June – the website now says soon.
What is NDI?
If you didn’t know, NDI stands for Network Device Interface – a FREE, high-performance video over Internet standard that allows anyone to use real-time, ultra low latency video on existing IP video networks.
In simpler terms, the convergence of video tech with personal computer tech.
Simplified, what NDI delivers, is the ability to connect and send/ receive enabled NDI cameras and computer screen signals over your computer network without needing expensive computer video hardware and connectors. You can also use your iPhone or Android phone as an NDI camera into your Zoom, live streaming or production setup (BUT at present only across your local network).
I first started using NDI back in 2016, about when it was first released, and I was working at the Cronulla Sharks – (we were an early adopter of livestream social video and featured on the Newtek blog https://www.newtek.com/blog/cronulla-sharks/. )
Since then, there have been several version updates which I now use extensively throughout my new virtual production studio.
For example, remote show guests come into our Zoom meeting and we feed that via NDI into our Unreal Engine designed virtual production studio.
That combined video signal (below) is then live-streamed to our website, app, Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin or Twitter.
Note: The application of this is for any online show, event or meeting where an optimum viewer experience is desired.
However, the most significant limitation for increased NDI use at present is that device connections are limited to only our private local area network;
That is, we can’t get individual live video signals remotely over the open Internet, and they need to come in via Zoom or another video chat platform.
In addition, having the chat systems in the video signal flow increases what’s called ‘latency” which creates uncomfortable talking over the top or awkward extended silence moments.
Another limitation is how many NDI signals we can run across our local area network before it all begins to slow down. Anything more than a few signals over our 1Gb router and the network can start to slug (and don’t mention wow bad WiFi networks can be)
As livestream producers, we want high quality, real-time/ near-zero latency, ISO recordings .
In today’s world of COVID and increased remote collaboration, video producers want to bring in remote guests, speakers or feed via a high-quality, individual signal (Isolated “ISO” recording) without switching on another controller such as Zoom. As livestream producers, we want high quality, real-time/ near-zero latency, ISO recordings .
There are higher-end solutions available at the broadcast end of the production spectrum, but these are outside the budget and technical restraints of more indie level production.
There are also new emerging technologies such as SRT, but these are quite technical to set up and introduce more complexity into production.
The expectation is NDI version 5 will meet these needs.
NDI Version 5
The latest release of NDI expected any day now promises –
NDI Bridge – New to the NDI Tools free download with NDI 5 is NDI Bridge. Forming a secure bridge between any NDI network regardless of location, NDI Bridge redefines the concept of ‘remote workflows,’ opening up a wealth of new opportunities for live video production.
NDI Remote – Also new to NDI Tools, NDI Remote allows anyone using just a URL to contribute live audio and video using an Internet-connected device, like a camera phone or a web browser, to another point anywhere in the world. Thus, NDI Remote allows anyone, anywhere, to contribute to a show – big or small.
I’m excited to see how we will be able to apply the tech. In particular remote guests and reporters and whether the new audio feature latency is good enough for remote music collaboration.
We will see
I hit refresh again – nahhh – bummer! I’ll check back again later.
For more information join the NDI5 waitlist or the unofficial NDI User Facebook Group
We have a major upgrade coming soon (in the offseason) & I wonder how long it will be before we outgrow this little shack? For now, it will do.
Behind the scenes, there are so many elements that go into producing a live show – sound, lights, technology, talent, & content. AND then there’s all the pre & post (but that’s for another day).
The idea behind the Big Dog Studio is to be able to sit someone in the chair quickly & we produce everything else to deliver a live & far more engaging viewer experience than your standard Zoom meeting or webinar.
AND without needing a big production crew (& therefore reducing costs).
Back in the studio, this week’s focus has been on reducing computer system & network overloads, chroma key improvements & colour correction.
Added new dedicated machine for Zoom feeds via NDI into video mixer. A massive difference as the machine is not overloading & freezing.
Added virtual Studio Clock to teleprompt display – to keep everything on track.
Converted old laptop to the dedicated live streaming unit.
This unit has a reasonably good GPU so has increased quality of stream from 1.5 to 6.0 Mbs. Note: Still running 720p for now. (Fingers crossed this delivers a much better image – you can all the testing in the world but you don’t know until you go live).
Switched back to Facebook for livestream channel. Hopefully, system upgrade reduces streaming problems. The Youtube chat engine was a fail with our viewers.
Added video vectorscope to assist with colour balance corrections across different studio cameras. A whole lot of new learning around LUTs & colour spaces.
Improvements to on-stage cabling (it was like crawling through a spider web )
Audio – Studio audio quality now is pretty bloody good but still some Zoom guest tests to do.
Other items in progress
*Virtual production via Unreal Engine (massive learning curve)
*Scene automation system (using Voicemeeter Macro Buttons)