Friday, January 24, 2014

Sound Advice

Combo headphone-mic headset

  Video conferencing is amazing.  The idea that we can turn a meeting room into a makeshift television studio and broadcast to the world is astounding, even to a veteran media person like me.  In order to have a successful broadcast, we need to use the right tool for the job. 

  When we’re dealing with video conferencing, we are broadcasting two things: picture and sound.  And while everyone understands that the video camera needs to show what the viewer wants to see, it can be a challenge to have the microphone pick up what everyone wants to hear.  

  Audio rarely receives the attention it deserves, even though so much of the information conveyed during a video conference is actually heard rather than seen.

So, what tools do we use to gather sound?  The microphone that is built in to your laptop does a pretty good job if you are the only person on your end of the conference.  However, using the built in mic and speaker can often set up a feedback or echo effect, where your mic hears and rebroadcasts the output of your speaker.  You will avoid that problem by using a combo headphone-mic headset like the one pictured. 
Blue Snowball mic

  If you have a group of people gathered around a table, you need a different kind of microphone to hear everyone clearly.  The Blue Snowball microphone can be switched from a cardioid pattern to an omnidirectional pattern, which means it can be used by a single person or set in the middle of a table to pick up an entire group of people.  It connects via a USB cable to your computer and is compatible with Skype and other conferencing software.

  Another style of microphone that is well suited to gathering sound at a meeting is the PZM or boundary microphone.  It sits flat on the table and picks up reflected sound.  This is the style of mic used with a Polycom and AVer video conferencing system.  Some models, such as the MXL-404 (pictured) also connect to your computer via USB. 
MXL-404 PZM Mic

  My father always told me to use the right tool for the job.  So use the right microphone for your next video conference. Your audience will appreciate being able to hear you better, and that’s sound advice.

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