Whether you work or connect with friends and family, in the coronavirus most of our professional and social interactions take place online. Zoom is the favorite platform for CNET meetings, and my kids and their friends are recording our bandwidth on FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Instagram. Whichever platform you use, video chat has become the new standard and it is time to upgrade your game.
Part of this is that teaches the basics of on-camera meetings ̵
1; – choosing the right environment, positioning the camera lens, and optimizing lighting conditions. The other part has the correct gear. And in most cases, I'm sorry that your laptop's built-in camera and microphone and microphone stink – and prevent you from appearing as effective as you would like.
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However, upgrading your audio and video technology is quite simple from a technical point of view and relatively affordable – and it will drastically improve your production values during virtual meetings. We've put together a shortlist of our favorite cameras, microphones and the other equipment that will enhance your video chats with input from CNET's on-camera video team, all of which now also work from home. Our favorites are below.
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(Please note that prices were correct at the time of the original publication, but may fluctuate – especially given the increasing demand for this type of equipment. Also, availability and delivery times are constantly changing, so be sure to check before you're moving) forward with every purchase.)
Since the masses started working from home in mid-March, Logitech's typically affordable C920 has sold out everywhere. And on the rare occasions when it comes back in stock, the price hike can push it up to $ 150 and up – which is too expensive. As such, I would recommend buying Logitech's new and excellent StreamCam – it is also currently unavailable but would reportedly be back in stock at B&H Photo in June.
In the meantime, you can use a tripod and your phone's HD camera to improve video chat quality. Here's how to do it.
Nothing can torpedo an online meeting faster than audio turning on and off, and your laptop's crappy built-in microphone can be the culprit. Once you've added a decent webcam to your setup you'll be in better shape, but a standalone microphone will make you sound clear, rich and full. This Blue Yeti model has long been a staple of podcasters and streamers, and it's what I use when recording audio or participating in high-stakes video chat.
Yes, it looks like something you would see in a 1940s radio station, but the audio technology is 100% modern. It has three capsule microphones, four recording patterns (for different types of recordings) and just enough controls to optimize the way you sound without overloading with super technical features.
If you're sitting in front of a white wall or exposed windows, your webcam will try to balance it out, wrapping you in a silhouette. The solution: place a lamp behind your camera that shines on your face. With much cheaper video lights now sold out, we're looking at more premium lights like the Joby Beamo Mini. It's on the pricier side, but it's extremely compact, waterproof and – capable of blowing out 1000 lumens – incredibly bright, although the iOS app and the included diffuser make it easy to dial in the perfect amount of light. It has a magnetic back that sticks to any metal surface and can also be screwed into a tripod.
GripTight / Amazon
It's difficult to multitask at a web conference: opening and closing apps, resizing browsers and windows while talking to your boss – it can all be a bit much. One solution is to transfer all your audio and video tasks to your phone – which has better camera and microphone technology anyway – freeing up your laptop to take notes, consult documents and spreadsheets or whatever. (Here's how to do it.)
If you take this route, you'll want an adjustable tripod that can hold your phone firmly – and at a flattering angle. I love this tripod kit from Joby, which includes a clamp large enough for my iPhone XS Max. And I also like the company's flexible Gorillapods, which can be wrapped around poles or other non-flat surfaces.
Sarah Tew / CNET
If you are using an older MacBook Air or Windows laptop that came out several years ago, you will find that a single Zoom session can make fans of your computer whiz and multitasking- options can reduce zero. If you buy a newer laptop with an updated processor – a ninth or tenth generation Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 would do the trick – those video conference sessions will be a lot easier to carry.
I recently put my obsolete MacBook Air aside and bought a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and am amazed at everything I missed: lightning fast speed (courtesy of the modern Intel processor), USB-C ports and a touchscreen display. And it is currently on sale – from $ 1,000. Check out our list of the best laptops for 2020 for other recommendations.
Read our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (2018) review.
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