How to improve the quality of remote meetings

As many people around the world are working from home right now, I thought I’d show how I made my home office as high quality as possible.

In order of importance I’ll talk about:

  1. Headphones
  2. Decent light
  3. External mic
  4. External webcam
  5. Optimal client for your preferred meeting system

Headphones

Any headphones are better than speakers when on calls. Have you heard echos of your voice while on a call? That is probably coming from another person on the call who is not using headphones.

As the sound comes out of speakers, the mic that is picking up your voice must reject all the sound waves from the speakers, or there will be echos. This echo is called audio feedback, and if it is unchecked, it turns into the loud squeak you sometimes hear at badly MCd events when the person with the mic walks in front of the speakers.

Headphones remove the need for this processing because the mic only ever hears what you are saying and never what the other people on the call are saying.

Things to consider with headphones:

  • Comfort is the highest priority: I use over-ear headphones for this reason. Here are some ratings of over-ear headphones. You don’t need expensive ones, though.
  • The in-line mic or attached mic is nice, but you don’t need it if your laptop has a mic.
  • Bluetooth is helpful when you are on long calls so you can stand up, move around a bit, and still hear what is going on.

Decent Light

Look out of windows. Window light is excellent when it is behind the camera. If it is behind you, then you will likely be a silhouette.

I use a lamp that I bounce off the wall behind the camera when I can’t get enough window light.

Going above and beyond

External mic with stand

After doing some tests, I’ve found that the best quality mic is something like this condenser mic with a stand and a vibration dampener.

The stand is for convenience, getting the mic close to your mouth and pushing it away when not in use.

The vibration dampener is for limiting the resonance from your desk, such as footsteps, typing, spinning disks, or fans.

External Webcam

If you are using a second monitor, it is helpful to have a webcam on top of it. So when you are on calls, you are looking as close to the camera as possible.

Super high quality:

If you have a relatively new digital camera that has an HDMI out. List here. You can grab a corded battery replacement and an HDMI to USB capture card and create a very high-quality webcam.

Update (2020–05–01): If you have one of the cameras from this list and use Windows, you can use the newly released Canon Webcam Utility. All you need is a USB cable.

Here is my setup, just in case you have a similar camera.

Optimal client for your preferred meeting system

I have found for bluejeans that the downloaded client does a ton of upfront compression, which reduces perceived quality.

The in-browser client that uses webrtc can’t compress as much and produces a higher quality image.

Using the in-browser client can be a problem, however, if there is limited bandwidth. It is sending more data through the system and can’t adapt to lower bandwidth situations.

Willy Hardy is a Data Scientist at Red Hat