Tag Archives: Video Conferencing

Improving the Quality of Sound and Video in Video Meetings

In previous articles, we gave an introduction and some tips on how to effectively use videoconferencing in your law firm. In today’s article, we focus on improving the quality of sound and video in your video meetings. Now, quality can be a subjective thing. Therefore, when assessing the quality of your video meetings, it may be more practical to keep your actual needs in mind. You will need more professional equipment, e.g., if you organize webinars that you charge for, than when you only have meetings to catch up and coordinate with co-workers.

Let us start with some general considerations with regard to your infrastructure. Apart from decent equipment, the environment from where you are making your video calls plays an important role. You want to reduce all sources of interference to a minimum. These interferences can include light sources which can be too bright, too dark, or placed in wrong positions. They can include sounds from your environment: equipment making noise, phones ringing, street noises, people talking, etc. You want a quiet location, with adequate lighting, and as little sound interference as possible. You may even consider installing a soundproof pod, if necessary. In this context, it should also be clear that making video calls while travelling is never a good idea.

You also want a fast and stable internet connection. As a rule, for a laptop or PC, you are better off with Ethernet network cables at the office than with wi-fi, as wi-fi is far more susceptible to interference. Even if you mainly use wi-fi, it makes sense to at least have one dedicated video conferencing machine that has a physical cable connection to the router.

In our previous article, we pointed out that the users’ sound experience is more important than their video experience while videoconferencing. So, how you can improve the sound of your meeting? The first thing to do is to calibrate the sound of your microphone. You may have to do this at the level of the operating system and/or of the video software that you are using. In the operating system, you typically will find this in the device manager. In the video software, you will find it in the settings. If you use your device in different locations (e.g., a laptop or smart phone that you use both at home and at the office), you may consider recalibrating each time you are in a different location. Even with stationary devices like PCs, it is a good practice to recalibrate on a regular basis.

We already mentioned reducing sound interference. This also applies to your sound equipment itself, where you want to avoid having an echo or other interferences like feedback from your loudspeakers. Typically, using a headset avoids both of these. These days, most laptops and smart phones with built in microphones also are calibrated to avoid echo and feedback.

For optimal sound quality, you need to find the ideal distance between your mouth and the microphone. Depending on the microphone you are using, this usually is between 10 and 30 cm. Do some tests to find the optimal distance. For many external microphones, it is around 15 cm.

Choose the right equipment for your needs. This applies to both microphones and loudspeakers. The microphones that are built-in into smart phones and laptops often offer decent quality but using a headset usually will already offer better quality. The loudspeakers of mobile devices typically are of lower quality, so, again a headset or ear buds or external loudspeakers will be a better option. If you are using a desktop PC, you will need an external microphone and external loudspeakers.

If you are organizing webinars and video blogs, you will need more professional microphones. These can go from simple USB microphones, to wired lavalier microphones (lavalier microphones are clip-on microphones), to wireless lavalier microphones, or even more professional microphones. As the purpose is to record your voice, you would prefer one-directional microphones as they do a better job at keeping out unwanted sounds from the environment. You also would want to go for a condenser microphone, which mainly focuses on the ranges of the human voice.

If there is sound interference from your environment, you can use noise-reducing applications that typically can be used as plug-ins for your video conferencing or recording software.

Finally, if you are in a video conference, it is a good practice to mute your microphone when you are not speaking. And remember to switch it back on when you do speak.

Moving on to improving your video quality. Most cameras self-calibrate when they are being used, so there is no need to calibrate your camera. If you are using a laptop or PC and have never calibrated the colours on your monitor, you may want to do that. It typically is something you only should do once.

Probably the most important aspect of video is lighting. In theory, natural light is best, but may often not be sufficient. There are many solutions with wide ranging price differences. Selfie rings, also called ring lights, are a good start, and will do for most purposes. For more professional setups, use 3-point lighting, with optional accent lighting on top of that for additional quality.

Your viewers will look at you and at what is behind you. Make sure you have your camera at eye height and in an appropriate angle. Do not sit too close or too far from the camera. Be aware of what is behind you. Get rid of distractions. Most videoconferencing software allows you to use a wallpaper or virtual background. It is a good practice to choose background that are neutral and not distracting.

When it comes to the equipment to use, you have plenty of choices. Most laptops and smart phones come with decent – and some even excellent – cameras. If those do not deliver sufficient quality, or if you are using a desktop PC, you will need an alternative. You could use a webcam. Often, if you have a digital camera or video camera, those may already offer better quality than a webcam. Several digital cameras and video cameras also allow to plug in an external microphone. Even more professional setups would involve an interchangeable lens camera and a fast lens.

Keep in mind, though, that high resolution video requires a fast, steady, and reliable Internet connection. It is a good practice to close down any other applications with access to the Internet that you will not be needing during your videoconference.

Also keep in mind, that even when your microphone is muted and/or you are not speaking, you are on screen and people can see you.

Finally, some additional considerations and best practices:

  • Keep it brief.
  • Do not use a videoconference if a telephone call would suffice.
  • Consider asynchronous meetings if you are working together with people in different time zones. (Meaning, it is better to have two meeting with fewer attendees at times that are convenient for them, than to have one meeting for everyone at a time that inconveniences part of your attendees).
  • If you are doing an online presentation, use engaging visuals.

Once again, happy videoconferencing.

 

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Video conferencing

The Coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the way we work. Working remotely has become the new normal. An important part of working remotely, is the ability to have virtual meetings and that is where video conferencing comes into the picture. The sudden explosion of video conferencing affects the legal profession, too. Lawyers meet in video chats with their clients as well as with their colleagues. In several countries, notaries are now offering their services online and no longer require parties to be physically present as long as they can join a video conference. And courts, too, have started handling cases where parties and their lawyers are not attending physically, but in video conferences.

There are several advantages to having virtual meetings. Important at present is that by not having to meet in person, one avoids the risk of getting contaminated by anyone attending the meeting who might be infected. But also important is that virtual meetings save a lot of time and reduce costs, since there is no need for transport, etc.

So, what do you need to start video conferencing? First, you need a device with a camera and a microphone. Most smart phones, tablets, and laptops have built-in microphones and cameras that will do the job perfectly. If you are using a desktop computer, however, chances are you will have to acquire a separate microphone and camera to hook up to your computer. Secondly, you need to use video conferencing software. Let us have a closer look at those.

Several packages are on offer. When deciding which one to choose, you will have to consider what your specific needs and desires are. Do you need the ability to share documents or collaborate on them during the meeting? Do you want to be able to share your desktop with other people in the meeting, so you can show them certain items, e.g., do a presentation? How secure is the software? Is the software easy to use and accessible? Will your clients have to install an app? What devices and platforms are supported? What support options are available? Etc.

When it comes to the cost, video conferencing packages come in three varieties: first, there are packages that are free. Then, there are packages that use a Freemium model, where the basic offering is free, and you pay for additional features. And lastly, there are packages that you always must pay for because they don’t offer a free option.

In recent weeks, both Tech Radar Magazine and PC Magazine dedicated articles to the best video conferencing packages available. (Links below). We will give an overview of the seven most popular options and go into a little more detail on Microsoft Teams.

GoToMeeting (www.gotomeeting.com). GoToMeeting is a mobile-friendly app that is available in 3 versions, one free and two paying. Meetings are held in a virtual conference rooms, that can also be accessed by a browser via a custom URL. It is easy to use and offers useful apps for enhanced productivity. It is recommended by PC Magazine for small businesses and consumers.

Skype (www.skype.com). Most people are familiar with Skype, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2011. It comes in 3 versions, a free version, a Skype for Business Basic version, and a full Skype for Business version. A copy of the free version is typically preinstalled on Windows 10 computers. If you have a version of Office 365 or Microsoft 365, you should have access to one of the paid versions of Skype. Skype excels in its cross-platform support and offers features like live subtitles and screen sharing. Skype meetings, too, can be accessed in a browser. It has a limit of maximum 50 people attending a meeting.

Google Hangouts (hangouts.google.com). Google Hangouts come in 2 versions, a free version, and a Google Hangouts Meet version, which is part of the G Suite set of applications, and fully integrates with them. It is accessible and simple, and the paying version is designed specifically to meet business needs. It can handle large numbers of participants. Google Hangouts can be accessed in a browser, or via dedicated apps.

Cisco Webex (www.webex.com). Cisco Webex comes in 2 versions, a free version and a paid one, which you may have access to if you are an existing Cisco customer. It is limited in features, but can handle up to 100 participants, with the restriction that only 25 of them can be included in the video stream simultaneously. PC Magazine recommends it for large organizations and existing Cisco customers.

Zoom Meeting (www.zoom.com). Zoom probably is the most popular video conferencing platform at the moment. It comes in a free and a paid version. It is easy to use, offers many features and excellent performance. It is limited to 100 participants. Zoom has been in the news, however, for security and privacy issues. If you plan to use it, some tweaks in the settings are needed to make it more secure. PC magazine calls it the best solution for small businesses and consumers.

Bluejeans (www.bluejeans.com). Bluejeans comes in three different paying versions. It offers an excellent service that includes whiteboards and screen sharing. Unique is its Dolby-powered directional audio experience, where you hear each participant in a separate location. It can be used in a browser, or via dedicated apps for mobile or desktop. PC Magazine calls it the best option for collaboration and shared meetings.

Microsoft Teams (teams.microsoft.com). Microsoft Teams is part of the Microsoft 365 for Business subscriptions. (Until recently, those were called Office 365 for Business). It is highly customizable and offers plenty of features that integrate tightly with other Microsoft 365 applications. It not only comes as a full-fledged desktop app, but there also are mobile versions, and can even be used in a Chromium-based browser, like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. Certain features, however, like desktop sharing are only available in the desktop app. It is recommended by PC Magazine for large businesses that operate within the Microsoft environment.

Note that as a law firm, you are probably using Microsoft 365 for Business or Microsoft 365 Premium for Business, which means Microsoft Teams is included in the package. It is not a specific video conferencing tool, but rather a collaboration tool that offers chat and video conferencing functionality. Any of the Microsoft / Office 365 apps can be launched from within the Teams desktop app, making it even easier to share and collaborate with other Team members. You can have multiple teams for multiple projects. It is possible to split the work of a team up in sections and channels, which allows for better project management.

Finally, some additional tips that will improve your video conferencing experience:

  • Counterintuitive as it may seem, the audio experience is more important than the visual experience during a video conference. People don’t mind if the video is of slightly lower quality but do mind low audio quality. Make sure you have a decent microphone and loudspeakers.
  • Make sure your camera is at eye-height, and make sure you look into the camera when speaking.
  • Pay attention to lighting: make sure there is sufficient light, that the light source is facing you and pointed away from the camera. (Do not sit in front of a bright window, e.g., where people only see your silhouette against a brightly lit background).
  • When you are attending a meeting with several participants, do not forget that even when you are not speaking, you are on camera, and everybody can see you and your environment.
  • If it is not necessary for you to be visible at a given time, consider switching off your camera for that time.

Happy video conferencing!

 

Addendum 1: on 21 April 2020, Microsoft officially changed the name of Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Home to Microsoft 365 Personal, and Microsoft 365 Family respectively.

Addendum 2: as of May 2020, Google has made Google Hangouts Meet available for free.

Addendum 3: as of 2 June 2020, Microsoft has made a free version of Teams available.

 

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