Quality at Home: Tips for Professional-Grade Livestreaming

Taking a meeting over video is one thing; putting on a virtual event is another entirely. Here are some tech tips worth having at the ready if you need better video quality than a laptop webcam can offer.

You probably know by now that you shouldn’t sit near a window when you’re on a video call, or that you might need to invest in some software to improve your work-from-home experience.

But the tools we use at home for videoconferencing have limits and don’t always work well when you need higher image quality. Laptop webcams are known for their “potato quality,” and even the most recent laptops have webcams that offer  resolution of around 720p, which is a lower than the original iPhone’s camera was capable of 13 years ago.

And that’s bad news when you’re trying to put on virtual events, where higher quality video might matter more than usual. (Also not helping: Webcams are expensive and hard to find right now.) So what can you do to help bridge the gap when trying to shoot video virtually? A few ideas:

In a pinch? Pull out your smartphone. Many laptop webcams deliver low image quality because  they’re located above the screen, leaving little room for a larger sensor, notes Digital Trends. But smartphones and tablets, which have silicon baked into a tight package, have more room for lenses and as a result can produce better-quality images. Lifehacker suggests using a mobile livestreaming app for video, but logging in a second time on your computer. (An alternative: If you use an iPad or a Surface, which tend to have better front-facing cameras than most laptops, you still get a laptop-like experience from the device.)

Try tying your phone and laptop together. Want a more seamless experience with a smartphone-centric setup? As Wired notes, apps can be used to tether your phone cameras to your devices, including the Windows app DroidCam for Android phones, the Windows app iVCam for iPhones, or the Mac app EpocCam for both kinds of devices. (One benefit of this approach is that it makes it easier to use the rear-facing camera, which tends to have a better lens than the selfie cam does.) But the magazine’s Julian Chokkattu noted that the quality of these apps can vary (and they aren’t necessarily free), so be sure to do your homework before you plug in.

Already a photographer? Pull out your trusty DSLR. Many livestreamers—you know the type—record their live events not using a webcam, but a DSLR or other high-end camera. The reason is twofold: Often, they’re shooting for services such as Twitch and YouTube, where quality is king, and often the large sensors have quality far beyond what you might get even from a high-end webcam. As CNET notes, you’ll need to plug in cables and find the right software (Canon recently released something for this very use case), but the results might be just what you need if quality is a priority. Another option if you don’t have a DSLR at the ready, writes PCWorld, might be a GoPro camera, which shoots at a higher quality than most webcams, though it’s not generally designed for desk use.

Consider accessories, too. If you’re aiming for something slightly fancier than a standard webcam approach, it’s worth investing in accessories such as lighting, higher quality microphones, tripods, and stands. (Elgato, perhaps the best known firm for livestreaming equipment, even sells green screens, if you feel like you could do better than a Zoom background.) Of course, having all these tools won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have the right strategy for setting them up. To help on that front, check out what these sound and lighting pros from the world of Hollywood recommend to the Los Angeles Times.

(fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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