Whether you’re working or connecting with friends and family, in the age ofmore of our professional and social interactions are taking place online. Zoom is the platform of choice for CNET meetings, and my kids and their friends are sucking up our bandwidth on FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Instagram. Whichever platform you’re using, is quickly becoming the new normal, and it’s time to up your game.
Part of this involves— choosing the right environment, positioning the camera lens and optimizing lighting conditions. The other part is having the right gear. And in most cases, I’m sorry to say, your laptop’s and microphone stink — and are preventing you from coming across as effectively as you would like.
Upgrading your audio and video tech is pretty easy from a technical perspective, however, and relatively affordable — and it will dramatically improve your production values in virtual meetings. We’ve compiled a shortlist of our favorite cameras, microphones and the other gear that will enhance your video chatting with input from CNET’s on-camera video team, all of whom are working from home now, too. Our favorites are below.
(Note that prices are accurate at time of original publication, but may fluctuate — especially given the surging demand for this type of gear. Also, availability and delivery times are changing all the time, so be sure to check before moving forward with any purchase.)
After being sold out for weeks, Logitech’s C920 is now intermittently back in stock at Amazon. (If it’s sold out, we recommend using a tripod and your phone’s HD camera for video chatting. Here’s how to do it.) That noted, I’ve been testing out the company’s new StreamCam — and I think it’s so good, I’d recommend back-ordering it at B&H Photo.
Nothing can torpedo an online meeting quicker than audio that’s cutting in and out, and your laptop’s lousy built-in microphone may be the culprit. Once you’ve added a decent webcam to your setup, you’ll be in better shape — but a standalone microphone will make you sound clear, rich and full. This Blue Yeti model has long been a staple of podcasters and streamers, and it’s what I use when I record audio or participate in a high-stakes video chat.
Yes, it looks like something you’d see in a 1940s radio station, but the audio technology is 100% modern. It has three capsule microphones, four pickup patterns (for different kinds of recording) and just enough controls to help optimize the way you sound without overloading you with super technical features.
If you sit in front of a white wall or uncovered windows, your webcam will try to balance it out, shrouding you in a silhouette. The solution: Position a light behind your camera that shines on your face. With many cheaper video lights now sold out, we’re looking at more premium ones like the Joby Beamo Mini. It’s on the more expensive side, but it’s extremely compact, waterproof and — capable of blasting out 1,000 lumens — incredibly bright, though the iOS app and included diffuser make it simple to dial in the perfect amount of light. It has a magnetic back that will stick to any metal surface and will also screw into a tripod.
It’s hard to multitask on a webconference: Opening and closing apps, resizing browsers and windows, all while you’re talking to your boss — it can all be a bit much. One solution is to offload all of your audio and video tasks to your phone — which may have better camera and mic technology, anyway — freeing up your laptop to take notes, consult documents and spreadsheets or whatever else. (Here’s how to do it.)
If you take this route, you’re going to want to have an adjustable tripod that can securely hold your phone steady — and at a flattering angle. I like this tripod kit from Joby, which includes a clamp that’s big enough to accommodate my iPhone XS Max. And I also like the company’s bendy Gorillapods, which can be wrapped around posts or other nonflat surfaces.
If you’re running an older MacBook Air or Windows laptop that came out several years ago, you’ll find that a single Zoom session can send your computer’s fans whirring and reduce your multitasking options to zero. Getting a newer laptop with an updated processor — a ninth- or 10th-gen Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 should do the trick — will make those videoconferencing sessions a lot easier to bear.
I recently put aside my aging MacBook Air and picked up a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and have been amazed by all that I was missing out on: blazing speed (courtesy of the modern Intel processor), USB-C ports and a touchscreen display. For other recommendations, check out our list of the best laptops for 2020.
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