Video Conferencing Peripherals for Software-Based Video Conferencing
Video conferencing with software on your laptop or desktop computer is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, the quality of desktop video conferencing often rivals that of hardware-based video conferencing, due to improvements in computer processing and more advanced video compression algorithms.
One of the most important factors in the success of software-based video conferencing is the use of peripherals that help you effectively connect video and audio to your computer. The best computer, software, and connection may result in a mediocre experience if adequate peripherals have not been selected. What follows should assist the reader in selecting the right peripherals for her or his video conferencing needs and budget.
The camera is an obvious requirement for any software-based video conference. Fortunately, many laptops come equipped with a built in camera. However, the same can not be said for desktop computers. Additionally, the location of a built in laptop camera may be convenient, but may not take full advantage of the capabilities of your video conferencing software. This is especially true if your software (Movi-Jabber, etc.) supports HD. The following are examples of cameras that could be considered for use with video conferencing software.
Street Price: $85
Comments: This is a terrific HD camera for the money. It includes a good quality HD camera and a built-in microphone.
Street Price : $325
Comments: This is the gold standard for peripheral cameras. Great quality, great focus, and a nice sounding microphone.
The biggest mistake that novice video conferencing users make is not to use some sort of earphones, headset, or echo cancelling speakerphone. While hardware-based video conferencing solutions from Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize and others include sophisticated echo cancellation, this is not the case with most software solutions. The result is that audio coming from a computer’s speakers is received by the same computer’s microphone. The result can be very unpleasant squeals and echos. Ironically, these sounds are often not heard by the individual causing the cacophony, but rather, by the other participants in the call. Fortunately, echo cancellation problems caused by poor or non-existent echo cancellation from computer-based video conferencing software can easily be overcome in any of the following ways:
Earbuds and Headphones
Using just about any set of earbuds or headphones will eliminate the problems associated with insufficient echo cancellation. This is because your computer’s microphone can not pick up the isolated sound coming directly to your ears. This is certainly the simplest and least expensive audio peripheral. If you have a peripheral camera with a good microphone, this solution may work particularly well. However, you may want to consider one of the solutions below if: You have a poor quality microphone on your computer. You wish to sit further than a few feet away from your computer’s microphone (or microphone built into a peripheral camera). You wish to have more than one person using your computer.
A headset is set of headphones that also includes a microphone, typically extended towards the mouth with a small boom. Headsets are the optimal solution for single-person video conferencing, because they provide excellent echo cancellation, direct audio to the ears, and direct audio from the mouth. No matter which way the user turns or moves, the speakers and microphone are right where you need them. The following are examples of headsets that could be considered for use with video conferencing software:
Street Price: $15
Comments: A low cost headset, providing good audio for a reasonable price.
Street Price : $50
Comments: A nicer headset for greater comfort.
USB Echo Canceling Speakerphones
The USB Echo Cancelling Speakerphone is both the most versatile and the most expensive video conferencing audio peripheral. It should be used for one of the following reasons: The participant wishes to avoid the use of any equipment attached to the head, for appearance, comfort, and/or mobility. There are multiple participants at the same computer, making the use of headphones or a headset impractical or impossible. The USB ehco cancelling speakerphone is particularly well suited for use of two or more individuals at the same computer. Additionally, more robust speakerphones may be used in small conference rooms or classrooms. The following are examples of USB echo cancelling speakerphones that could be considered for use with video conferencing software:
Street Price: $130
Comments: This is a great little speakerphone for one or two people.
Street Price: $200
Comments: A newer option from Yamaha
Street Price : $240
Comments: Another new option from Yamaha.
Street Price: $460
Comments: This is a great option for a conference room or small classroom. The unit has a ¼” threaded mount so that it can be set on a tripod, and positioned either in front of a group, or in the middle of a group.
The consumer electronics market is highly dynamic, so it is practically impossible to keep this list fully up to date. That said, look for products from reliable manufacturers such as the ones listed above. Looking at reviews found with online sites can be helpful in determining the quality, features, and value of the products that you are considering. Finally, once you have purchased and installed your peripherals, make sure that the preference settings on both your computer and video conferencing software are set to use your camera, your audio in, and your audio out, and check these settings for every video conference. Just because your peripherals are hooked up does not indicate that your computer is actually configured to use them. The best microphone in the world will be useless if it is not selected in your audio preferences.