Upgrading the quality of remote meetings

Working remote for quite a while, I was always bugged by poor audio and video quality.

First, let’s start with your camera equipment. Most notebooks have a camera and mike embedded, but the quality is poor.

For the first upgrade, you need a better web camera. We use mainstream USB devices, as I don't want to break the 2000 Euro barrier for the whole setup.

The Elgato Facecam is the camera of my choice; it costs around 200 Euro.
https://www.elgato.com/de/facecam

The FaceCam has no embedded microphone and comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable. Do not use this cable, buy a USB-C to USB-C with 10 GBit transmission speed. There are many faulty cables on Amazon, USB-C to USB-C with USB2.0 wires as all kinds of crap.
This cable works excellently:
https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B083KMF7QT/

Aswell my 3-year-old Asus Prime Z270-A was not good enough, I had to order a USB-C PCIe card as well. This one works very nice at 1080p at 60FPS.
https://www.amazon.de/ASUS-Type-Card-Cports-External/dp/B00UHQ6U38/

Helpful resources:
https://help.elgato.com/hc/en-us/articles/4405470197133-Elgato-Facecam-Frozen-Video-Troubleshooting
and
https://help.elgato.com/hc/en-us/articles/4404885984397-Elgato-Facecam-How-to-fix-USB3-REQUIRED-FOR-FACECAM-error-message

You should also order the Elgato camera mount, the included monitor mount is just horrible. It will drive you nuts as you have to readjust your screen every time.

Elgato Mount on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B07X49967V/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Elgato Flex Arm on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B08GM9DF8P/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

The Mount with the Flex arm assembled.

Elgato Multi Mount + Elgato Flex Arm S

We now have the advantage the camera sits in the perfect position, and your face is centered. There are a few settings you should adapt to get the best image quality. The power grid of your electricity provider is clocked at 50 or 60hz. In Germany, it is 50 Hz, so you have to adapt your camera to this to prevent flickering. You can do this in the advanced options of your camera.

The next step to improve image quality requires a better light source. Even I have a large LED panel (2800 Lumen) on my ceiling, the face gets not enough light, which results in poor image quality.

Forget about those Ring Lights some cameras have embedded, I tried several of them, and none was good. Also the cheap lights I started with, better than none, but you will throw them away after 3 months :-)
For my setup, I use the Elgato lights, one for the left side and one right.
https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B07L755X9G/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
The mount is already included and is the same as for the camera.

The green screen

We have now a quite high level and come to the next optional point, which really makes a difference. Not all have the luck to have their own room for the office like me, but do you really have to show your customers your dirty kitchen? A green screen has much better quality than using the cropping algorithm of Skype or Microsoft Teams.
The Elgato Green Screen was my choice, it costs around 150 Euros, and is transportable in case you want to switch workplaces :-) Its weight is about 10kg.

Elgato Green Screen on Amazon
https://www.amazon.de/Elgato-Green-Paravent-gr%C3%BCn/dp/B0743Z892W/ref=sr_1_1_sspa

Now it gets a little more complicated; as I said already before, there is no direct support in Skype or Microsoft Teams for green screens.
There is an open-source solution to fix this problem, the OBS Project.
https://obsproject.com/de/download

Besides the main application, you also need a virtual camera driver, which is your source in Microsoft Teams or Skype, and your target in the OBS Application
https://obsproject.com/forum/resources/obs-virtualcam.949/

After installing, you might need to restart your computer.

Inside the OBS Application, you need to add a Source:

These sources are layered, so you can move them up or down to change the Z-Index. Inside the properties, you can select your WebCam:

The image you also select there, like this:

Another good point is to use a Web Browser as background and define a gradient. Do not forget to remove the custom CSS in the dialog :-)

Sample:

Gradient

Which looks like this:

Now you can select the layers you see as a green box with red boxes. You can move the image or your camera picture around. If you want to crop it, you need to press the ALT-Key.

In Werkzeuge or Tools, you have to select Virtual Cam and select AutoStart, and if required, press the Start Button.

Now you can switch to Microsoft Teams or Skype and select your virtual camera, here “OBS Camera.”

Now we just set up the routing, and we need to add the chroma keying to make use of your green screen. Select in the Sources your camera and right-click on properties.

You will see the following screen, where you need to add a Chroma-Key filter,
by pressing the + button.

Just select the color green as the key color, and OBS will crop your images. This will result in much higher quality in Microsoft Teams.
If you need more detail, watch this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0HIo0P0-qM

There are much more options, as well tons of plugins to do color correction, but this is up to you :) You need to check when good is good enough, you can play this game endless :-)

A good source is Nick Nimmin’s youtube channel. https://youtu.be/j2HzbY8E4yQ

So now we are at a high level already, but there is still something to improve, your audio quality. I am using the Blue Yeti X microphone, which is also around 150 Euros.
https://www.bluemic.com/en-us/products/yeti-x/

As I like my table clear, I bought the Elgato Multimount (same as for the Webcam), but using the Solid Arm, as the Blue Yeti is quite heavy.

The Elgato Multi-Mount on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B07X49967V/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

The Elgato Solid Arm on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B08GMBRZQH/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

To get things working, you need additional two converter screws you can find at Thomann Music Store.

Part 1:
https://www.thomann.de/de/manfrotto_148kn_adapter_set_3_8_to_1_4.htm

Part 2:
https://www.thomann.de/de/km_215_reduziergewinde.htm

The setup is simple, but there are some tricky points. Capacitor microphones have much higher accuracy, and you might hear noise from your CPU cooler, echoes of your room you have not heard before.

The Blue Sherpa application is our rescue here. You can download it for free; it is not included in the microphone package.

Crisp&modern is the audio profile my co-workers identified as the best choice.

This video gives some additional info.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo06DuC6Ayc

About pop filters, you do not need one.

My current setup looks like this.

And my green screen:

The Elgato Streamdeck

https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B06W2KLM3S/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
I was quite skeptical in the beginning, but the idea is the following. With one button press, I can show my video fullscreen, minimize my video and move to the bottom right while sharing my screen, displaying an overlay with company logo with name and title, or just showing a pause screen and muting my mike when getting a coffee in a long meeting :-) As well you can turn on the lights with one button click. This toy is a must-have :-)

To have a button for the camera image and one for sharing screen + the camera image, it works like this:
In OBS Studio, Add 3 scenes. One with the camera only, as you cannot use the camera multiple times. One scene with your background image for sharing video with background only, and one for screen sharing.

In the Camera only, you add the recording device. In screen share, you add the Screenrecording (Bildschirmaufnahme) and the “camera only” scene.
In Fullscreen, the camera only and your background picture.

To get rid of the mirroring effect, please check this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7UbJbnqG3A
But in short, minimize OBS Studio or move it to another screen when using a multi-monitor setup :-)

In the Streamdeck app, you select the scene and move it on a button.
Use the right mouse click to convert action to multi-action. So you can do multiple things with one button click, like switching to the pause screen and mute the mike.

Mute the mike in OBS
I found no good solution yet. Muting the mixer seems to have no impact.

Virtual whiteboards or document camera (Paper&pen) :

“Transparent Glass Whiteboard in Microsoft Teams or Zoom with OBS for FREE!” https://youtu.be/-oaikJCR6ec

If you prefer the Pen&Paper approach, this is your choice :-)
As an extra, you can add a second camera. With the “JOURIST DC80” document camera, you can draw on a piece of paper and exchange ideas like mathematic formulas, drawings.
https://www.amazon.de/JOURIST-Dokumentenkamera-Visualizer-A3-Format-Aufsichtscanner/dp/3898947424/ref=sr_1_2_sspa

Disable the autofocus of the JOURIST DC80

After installing the Visualizer App, disable the two yellow marked checkboxes in this menu. You get there by clicking the red marked button.

Not sure what I am gonna do with the green screen mouse mat, but let’s see :-)

How to integrate Powerpoint in your streams
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciNcxi2bPwM

Remote together on virtual trade shows
To add a second co-worker to the same picture:
https://obs.ninja/

Final Results:

The end of this story:

A lot of friends and co-workers copied this setup; the quality is an enormous improvement. And, yes, I think it was one of my better investments into my own development. You can use it to run a YouTube Channel, create product videos and tutorials, do a podcast…

Okay, thanks for reading, and let’s hope we have much better remote meetings in the future :-) I am always happy about feedback and tips&tricks to make further improvements.

188,75 Elgato Key Light (left)
188,75 Elgato Key Light (right)
49,99 Multi-Mount (for the Camera)
29,99 Elgato FlexArm S (for the Camera)
49,99 Multi-Mount (for the Blue Yeti)
29,99 Solid Arm (for the Blue Yeti)
2,15 K&M 215 Reduziergewinde (for the Blue Yeti)
4,50 Manfrotto 148KN Adapter Set 3/8" to 1/4" (for the Blue Yeti)
152,99 Blue Yeti X
199,99 Elgato Facecam
128,99 Elgato Stream Deck Live
129,00 DC80 document camera
149,99 Elgato Green Screen
269,99 Teufel Cinebar One
29,95 Elgato Green Screen Mouse Mat
58,99 Elgato Light Strip
49,83 KUANDO Busylight

So in total, I spend 1712,84 Euros.

The Teufel Cinebar One is small and has excellent sound quality.
https://teufel.de/cinebar-one-105568000

Another interesting toy for the document camera is a green screen mouse mat.
https://www.elgato.com/de/green-screen-mouse-mat

The Elgato light strip
not really for calls, but when relaxing and watching NetFlix or coding, this is a really nice decent background light :-)

A busy light to not get disturbed by the family, or for my use case, Ms. Teams does not always remind you when you have a call, but the status gets red.
https://www.amazon.de/dp/B019WQXWA2?psc=1&smid=A3JWKAKR8XB7XF&ref_=chk_typ_imgToDp

Helpful, sometimes when being part of a call, like daily scrum, MS Teams is not calling, now I see there is a call happening and can join :-)

A good way to recycle the camera mount is to remove the screw and glue the busy light.

Note: I removed the Smartphone Option and the cheaper lights as the quality was not good enough, so I dropped them 3 months after purchase. Don’t be cheap, the stingy pay twice :-)

I will update and restructure this article in a while and most likely replace the german screenshots.

Streamdeck mounted on an Elgato Solidarm.

The Elgato Streamdeck has no screw thread, and there is no official solution. But I found a perfect solution by Monster Tech.

https://www.monster.tech/produkt/stream-deck-adapter-de/

The monster tech product quality is superb. The K&M Adapter works just fine; you need one more screw, the same used for mounting the Blue Yeti.

Short cables suck
The original Blue Yeti cable (Mini USB to USB A) and the Facecam cable (1,8 meter USB C to USB A) are too short. Searching for a spiral cable vendor…

Warning about USB Hubs
The Blue Yeti and the Facecam do no like Hubs. For PCs, I recommend a PCIe card with 4 or more USB ports.

Teleprompters
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlB-s231Io8

Update 29.07.2021:
The Elgato GreenScreen MT is coming in a few days:
https://www.elgato.com/de/green-screen-mt

Reasons to upgrade or directly go for this one: It is 50 cm wider and can be mounted on the ceiling. This simplifies cleaning your floor, and there is no readjust once it is mounted at its fixed position. As soon it arrived and is installed, I update this article.

Update 30.07.2021:

Ordered today the Elgato Ring Light for better illumination of the green screen. Will also update this article after my experiments are complete.
https://www.elgato.com/de/ring-light

If you get the impression this gets a little bit insane, but you will see, once you started you are hooked to improve your setup :-)

This article is updated during my learning process and got a little bit chaotic, so hopefully, it is still useful for you :-)

Have a nice day :-)