Since so much of our work has transitioned to online delivery this year, we frequently get questions about the A/V technology setup we use to facilitate our events via the Zoom platform. This post will break down some of the gear we use and how it all works together to create an excellent participant experience.
First things first, check out this schematic of the technology we use at XCHANGE. My setup, the one I’ll share with you in this post is almost exactly the same, with a few minor modifications.
I have a new Lenovo ThinkPad T490, upgraded with an Intel Core i7, 8th generation processor and 40GB of RAM, which makes this laptop a true workhorse that can handle the significant demands of live steaming large events for hours on end. This is my main computer that runs the Zoom application and any other primary applications that may be required.
My secondary (presentation) laptop is a Microsoft Surface Pro, which is used primarily for secondary applications or when I want to “screen share” something via Zoom, without actually screen sharing (more on tha later). This device is running much less load and therefore its hardware specs are much less impressive.
Good sound makes all the difference in an online experience. If your participants can’t hear you clearly or have to waste extra energy to make out what you’re saying or become distracted by background noise or other interference, you’ll lose engagement very quickly.
A good microphone is one of the most important investments. If you’re just getting started, there are a bunch of solid USB mic options out there, many of which are designed for pod casting, that you can get for around $100. Blue Yeti and Audio-Technica are two solid options.
If you plan to run your audio through a soundboard (like I do) so you can mix in various audio sources without having to “share audio” via Zoom, then you’ll probably want to go with an XLR style mic, which typically will have upgraded performance and cost a bit more. I use an Audio-Technica AT2020 XLR microphone mounted on an adjustable arm so I can move it around, keep my desk clear and prevent it from being in my picture.
I use the RODECaster Pro Integrated Podcast Production Studio as my sound mixer. This piece of gear is high-end and its most recent firmware upgrade added some new capabilities to its already long list of features. The RODECaster is my main audio (speakers and mic) source in Zoom. It controls my mic levels and allows me to mix in music or other sound effects from a number of different sources. What I like most about this piece of equipment is that you no longer have to “share sound” via Zoom and can control audio levels easily with studio quality sliders.
I have my iPAD connected to the RODECaster via hardline to feed in my Spotify playlists and sometimes I’ll use my phone paired via Bluetooth.
Lastly, I use Shure SE-215 ear monitors for my headphones. I like these because they block out exterior sounds and are very discreet. They’re easy to plug and unplug from my mixer when I need to walk away.
A good picture is a must in today’s online world. Most cameras offer HD picture quality, but be sure that you enable that feature in your Zoom settings and remember, your picture is only as good as your own bandwidth and the bandwidth of those you’re connecting with!
Again, you’ve got a choice to make in whether you’ll use a USB version webcam, in which case I’d recommend something like the Logitech Brio. But, if you plan to use a video switcher, then you’ll likely have to go the HDMI route and use a mirrorless Digital SLR camera which is capable of outputting “clean HDMI”. This means it can send a picture output with none of the weird data or information that is typically shown on a camera… that would just be distracting!
Much like the RODECaster controls multiple sound sources, the ATEM Mini is the video switcher I use to control various video inputs. The ATEM is loaded with features and comes with its own studio software, which allows you to create lower thirds and other graphic overlays. Currently, I have my main camera as input 1, my Surface Pro (presentation laptop) as input 2 and my Ipevo document camera as input 3. This leaves me with one spare input for future expansion. I can effortlessly switch between the multiple “camera views” with the touch of a button, instead of having to “screen share” via Zoom, which is a huge upgrade.
There’s so many different choices here and it will certainly depend on your own individual environment and how much or how little natural light you have available. In my situation, I had a significant amount of light (and heat) hitting me through a set of windows, but from the side, so it was not ideal. My solution was to tint the windows to block a majority of the natural light and then install overhead lighting and mount an LED bar light for finishing touches. Once you have your natural or overhead lighting set, explore your options for bar and/or ring lighting to add a professional look.
A few other things I’ll mention that I find helpful and valuable…
- I built this rig to mount all of my gear and keep my desk fairly clear for other things
- I’ve had an Uplift Standing Desk for years and I LOVE it! It’s even more essential now that I spend a significant amount of time in my office, online! I rarely, if ever lower the desk and use a bar stool height chair if I have to give my feet a rest. I also use a fatigue mat when standing, which is a must!
- The Elgato Stream Deck Mini is a great device for automating key strokes and enabling you to do more complicated tasks with the push of a single button.
- A small desk fan is a good investment to you and all your tech gear cool, when everything is running at full steam!
In this post I share my own personal choices for tech gear and what works for me. Please do your own research to pick what’s right for you.