Not so long-ago video conferencing was for gamers or technical people who never left the house. Now the world has changed, and a video conference is simple to do and has become the norm for most people. This guide will look at the benefits of video conferencing, what you need to know and how to set yourself up.
WHY should you consider video conferencing?
Benefits of video conferencing include:
- Video is more engaging than an audio call or text and improves communication
- No travel time or travel cost
- As teams become more geographically separated, it keeps teams connected with regular meetings
- Productivity increases with a video call using screen share will enable the quick resolution of a question
- Attendance improves with faster meetings being facilitated with meetings more likely to start and finish on time
- Video calls allow people to work from home, thus providing a better work-life balance and potentially increasing employee retention
Disadvantages of video conferencing:
- Lacks that personal touch of face-to-face meetings where people get to know one another better and small physical reactions are picked up on, which is all part of communication
- Technical setup and occasional issues can be too much for some people
- There is a cost to buy and enable the equipment required. Video transmission also requires excellent broadband connections, which may be troublesome in some locations and come at an extra cost.
WHAT do I need to know about video collaboration?
A video conference can be done via 3 primary methods. Via mobile device like your smartphone, sitting or standing at a computer or in a meeting room with the appropriate equipment.
A video conference can be a simple 1:1 meeting between two people, a small group meeting all interacting up to hundreds of people. The ability to mute your microphone becomes necessary when the group gets larger to minimise background noise and disruption.
Whilst in a video conference, depending on the video conferencing platform you are using. You will be able to share your screen to show others what you are looking at, record the conference for later review or share with someone absent, and have private or public text chats within the meeting. Some applications also let you remotely control another user’s computer with your mouse and keyboard.
You will see more advanced users using fancy computer-generated backgrounds like a beach scene behind them. This is handy to hide the mess you don’t want the camera to pick up in the factual background.
HOW do I video conference?
There are three parts to video conferencing the equipment to record, see and hear, the application or software to make it work and an internet connection to carry the signals.
Hardware for video conferencing
Almost every smartphone and laptop computer these days have a built-in camera, microphone and speaker, all of which are required for video conference.
If you are using a desktop or want to improve the quality of the picture or the sound, you will need some accessories. See our guide to buying a webcam here. Note the webcam quality is usually very poor in a laptop computer.
Once more than 2 people want to join a video conference, hosting a call on a PC, laptop or smartphone becomes problematic. Not everyone will be in view, and you may struggle to hear and be heard. This is where a high-quality video conferencing solution comes into its own. You can purchase a stand-alone solution for around the cost of a good PC that can operate independently (no PC required). Look for a camera feature that enables a group of people to be seen but automatically zoom in on an individual speaker. The sound is also designed to work in a meeting room. Thus these easy-to-use all-in-one solutions allow collaboration within a meeting space and connect those remotely.
Irrespective of your hardware type, these are some of the features you should consider when choosing a video conferencing (software) solution:
Camera resolution – 4k is fast becoming the norm. Still, you will find most pictures are only displayed in Standard definition SD or HD definition. 4K is 4 x better than HD, which is 4x times better than SD.
Noise cancellation – This can work for earphones if you use them but is particularly good when incorporated into the microphone technology. It helps to reduce unwanted background noise when speaking.
Cameras that pan or move. This can be a physical movement or maybe software generated and will track a person’s movement or different people speaking so the speaker is always in frame.
Privacy switches are physical switches or covers that can switch off or block video or microphone.
Video conferencing software considerations:
Assuming you have the right hardware, no call can be made without software. Software platforms include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google meet Cisco WebEx; you could even use Messenger. All these packages are easy to install, and most have a no-fee option. All parties must be running the same software solution, and invites sent in conjunction with the various platforms will allow other parties to download the required software and connect to the right meeting.
Security of video conferencing has been an issue in the past. Current packages have been beefed up to overcome any concerns.
Some hardware solutions will have a button automatically launching the software application. This is most prevalent in the Microsoft teams solution.
Easy setup. Not everyone is a technology guru, and device uptake is governed by how easily the average person can get a solution working.
What internet speed do I need for Videoconferencing?
A stable NBN internet connection will be best with at least a 20Mbps upload and download speed. Note this speed assumes no one else is also using the same connection simultaneously.
Common problems during a video conference are:
- People forget to unmute themselves when talking
- Ensuring you select the right microphone, speaker or camera, assuming you have more than one. This is often the cause of people not hearing you when you join a call.
- Ensuring you don’t have something in the background, you don’t want people to see a partner walking by in their underwear.
- Having bright lights or the sun coming from behind the user will make you look dark.
Most software and hardware solutions will also offer you several setting changes that allow you to adjust various factors to improve the video/call quality.
Whilst researching for this story, Small Business Answers trailed an EPOS (EPOS is a high quality European audio solutions brand) EXPAND VISION 3T. This unit is designed especially for small meeting rooms and is an all in one solution for Microsoft Teams. You can join meetings with a single button press providing you up to a 4K image with a great voice pick up and noise cancellation. This means that those at the other end can clearly hear what is said from the meeting room. We found the unit extremely easy to set up and use. We really liked the voice mute and camera mute button on the top to reassure you were not being watched or listened to. The onboard camera can zoom and pan, which means the person speaking in the room will be tracked and heard even if they are walking around the room.
The EPOS camera is also bundled with an SP30T, a high-performance speakerphone. This device is designed to sit on the table with the participants ensuring you can clearly hear the conversation and other participants can listen to you. The EPOS SP30T can also be used independently as a Bluetooth speakerphone for a PC or smartphone. This product is also certified for use with Microsoft teams (means it works better) and recommended for up to 8 people in the meeting room. Small Business answers have been so impressed we have been using it to make calls from our smartphone.
SUMMARY – Video Conferencing for beginners
Video conferencing has become the norm in many businesses. It allows you to meet face to face without the travel and gives you back some time in your day. Unlike a voice call, it will enable you to be more connected to people’s body language and easily share documents, images, and presentations as part of the video conference.
You will need either a camera, microphone and speaker built into your device or separate accessories. In a meeting room, a dedicated solution will give better results. Note video conferencing does require a decent internet speed to function well.
You may be by yourself in a room but remember others can see you and everything in the view of the camera.
A specialist electric retailer or computer store can advise you on what combinations of solutions will best suit your needs.