Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to choose your video “set”?

It’s a good idea to pick a place, a “movie set,” for your videoconference. Although your hair might not cooperate for your on-screen debut, you can at least get the backdrop right. Here are some ways to get “set” for video:
  • Select an all-purpose background: The simplest set is a solid-colored background. Quiet backdrops such as curtains or undecorated walls actually make transmitting video a little easier because there is less visual information to send. However, with high-speed lines and more efficient webcam software, you can add more interesting backgrounds without degrading the video signal too much.
  • Create a mood: A good backdrop for your video setting might be a library wall. Another is your collection of photos or artwork on display. On the other hand, if you’re teaching online and need to demonstrate a lesson — perhaps you are teaching a Sign Language class, for example —then a simple, blank backdrop will prevent distractions for your viewers.
  • Lighting your set: Having a well-lighted area keeps you from being lost in the shadows. Lighting brings out color and detail of objects and individuals. Sensitive webcams can boost low light, but they need to have at least some light to boost. You can move a lamp stand close to your “broadcast station” if you don’t have enough natural light. Arrange your light source to illuminate your face. Fluorescent lights, usually mounted on the ceiling, cast a greenish glow (not very flattering), whereas tungsten lights, such as the ones usually used in table lamps, warm your skin tones. Although natural light is best, it’s available only during the day, of course. If you do have a source of natural light, take advantage of it, because you still need a little more light than whatever your computer screen provides. During the day, you can set up a laptop and portable webcam near a window, but be careful not to aim the camera at the window unless you want to appear in silhouette. Shift your chair, or move the angle of your laptop or desktop to take advantage of a light source such as a window behind a desk.
  • Control background sound: Another consideration for an effective video set is background sound. If you live near a road or highway, you might want to move away from the window to eliminate all that motor noise. If you are near a construction site, calling in the evening, after workers go home, is a better choice.
  • Choose a set outside your home: With wireless Internet access in public parks, cafes, or even libraries, you can have a video chat from your favorite hangout. Keep the location consistent, though. Every time you pick a new place to set up your webcam, you need to find a wireless connection, adjust your position to take advantage of the light, and accommodate background noise. Showing up at the same place at the same time shortens setup time. If you pick a venue with a lively, noisy background, dedicated headsets are required so that you can hear and be heard. A picture is worth a thousand words, but you need to hear the words as well as see the picture; otherwise, videoconferencing isn’t much fun. Visual “noise” can be as disruptive as any other brand of noise. On the other hand, all that background activity may be just what you want your caller to see. There’s no rule that videoconferencing needs to be just face to face. Determining the view your webcam shows makes you a director, of sorts, so be creative as you express yourself. Take advantage of the capability. A few preparations can make a big difference in your experience. Your videoconferencing environment is a balanced combination of backdrop, light availability, and camera model. Some more expensive webcams are much more sensitive to low light and transmit significantly better at night.

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