How to use a Webcam for Remote Working & Learning

Kai Ping Lew By Kai Ping Lew - updated August 24th, 2020
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With remotely working and studying, the first step is usually buying the hardware - but once that’s all done you've got to actually use it.

This guide is intended to help everyone avoid embarrassing moments, like when someone enters a video group and starts talking but no-one can hear them, or when they sit down with headphones on but the video conference audio comes out of the laptop speakers instead, or when they think they’re talking with the headset microphone but it's actually using the built-in microphone on the laptop which is causing an incredible echo effect from the audio that sort of sounds like everyone is underwater… It also covers the programs commonly used to live video conference, share files and generally speaking, keep it all organised.

Here at PB Tech, we're proud to be New Zealand's home for I.T and luckily for us, we've been happily using video conferencing to remotely tune in to suppliers' presentations around the world, checking out new products before they become available locally. This is very similar to what a lot of people have to do as New Zealand businesses have a portion of their staff work from home, likewise with students and some remote lessons.

Starting with a quick checklist! Does your laptop have...?

- Speakers/Headphones (for receiving audio)

- Headset/Microphone (for joining in with voice)

- Webcam (Often not needed even if you're hosting the group, showing what’s on your screen while talking over the top is far more common)

Most Windows 10 laptops have webcams built-in

If yes, you're all set to join in - let’s test our setups quickly as below. 

(We've broken this next bit into parts, covering the operating systems Microsoft Windows 10, Google Chromebooks, & Apple Mac.)

How to test and configure your webcam, video and audio in Windows 10.

First press the Start button and type "camera", pressing enter our clicking the camera app that appear in the start menu.

This will launch the camera app in windows 10, by default it starts in photo mode so select the video icon on the right menu (video is one option above photo).

Clicking this same video button again will start to record a video, clicking it a second time will stop the video.

While recording, look directly into the camera, say a familiar sentence or quickly recite the alphabet - anything easily repeatable is great to test the audio.

When you push stop you'll see a little thumbnail to the bottom right of the camera app, clicking on this will allow you to reply the video so you can check the your microphone is picking up your voice clearly, and that you can hear the audio through your headphones. 

Is the audio still unclear? Let's check the audio settings to make sure we're using the right inputs and outputs.

At the bottom right of your windows 10 desktop is the date/time, to the left of this is a little speaker icon. Right click on this will open a text menu and select the top option “open sound settings”.

In this menu you can select both the output and input, so first select your headphones as the output and then scroll down and select the microphone on your headset for input.

Open up the camera app again and re-test, everything should be sounding great now with only a few adjustments needed to bring the mic closer or further away from your mouth as needed!

Easy to use Apple Macbook Pro

Apple Macbook are another popular option, and the process for getting them ready for remote conferencing is similar.

First click on the little magnifying glass icon top right to open finder, then type "Photo Booth" and click on it to launch the program.

You’ll now see yourself on the screen, by default it's set to photo mode so first click on the little film icon at the bottom left of the window (Video is the one of the right side of the three).

Clicking the red button with the video icon in it will start recording, pressing the stop button will end recording.

While recording, look directly into the camera, say a familiar sentence or quickly recite the alphabet - anything easily repeatable is great to test the audio.

Once you've captured your test video and pressed stop, a little thumbnail will appear below and to the right, click on this to check your quality. 

Is the audio still a bit unclear? Let's check the audio settings to make sure we're using the right inputs and outputs.

On your Mac the audio settings can be found by clicking the little Apple icon top left, then select System Preferences.

In the preferences menu select 'Sound', then select 'Output' to select your headphones, select the 'Input' tab to select your headset microphone.

And you're all set! Repeat the test to hear the quality differences, Macbooks are famous for having high quality microphones built in so you might find yourself just using headphones for audio output depending on results. 

The advantage of setting up the default devices means you'll be ready to jump in and use whatever program others are using too, with minimum delay. You can also choose the input and output settings in each individual program you'll be using, but that's something that best done a little later on, once the programs people choose to use get agreed on, so more on those options below!

Excellent value and battery life with Chomebooks

For the Google Chromebook OS,

First click the launcher button located to the bottom left of your screen.

Then type "Camera" and press enter or click the camera app that has appeared.

By default the camera app is in photo mode, select the video option just above this.

Click the red dot to start recording a video.

Look directly into the camera, say a familiar sentence or quickly recite the alphabet - anything easily repeatable is great to test the audio.

Clicking the same button will stop recording. A thumbnail will appear to the bottom left of the camera app showing your most recent recording, click on this to play your video and check the audio quality.

Can you hear yourself talking clearly? Let's check the settings to make sure we're using the right inputs and outputs.

At the bottom right of your ChromeOS desktop is a little box that shows the date/time, clicking this will bring up the expanded settings menu.

On this expanded menu you'll see a slider for volume, and to the right of that, a little 'headset' icon will appear when it's plugged in.

Clicking this will show the input and output options you can choose from, adjust your selection to suit and test that video again to ensure it's all running perfectly. 

Live Streams - Best Software Options for Hosts

There are so many programs that can be used for private live streaming, with super popular options like YouTube, Skype or Facebook being very well known by pretty much everyone!

Facebook has extremely easy to use group video chat functions, using the Facebook Messenger APP on Android, iOS or Windows. You can see up to six people at a time but it actually allows for a whopping 50 people to join into the group - once more that 6 people are in the call, just the dominant speaker will be shown to all participants. It's an excellent option for face to face meetings with large teams, but doesn't have the ability to show desktop so we'll continue on with more options below.

Skype is one of the most popular options in world, but it can get a little confusing for new users sometimes with the Skype Meetings App being only available for hosts in the USA - The good news is you don't need Skype Meetings to group video conference via regular Skype, it works well enough for face to face to face meeting between 3 people, but as it doesn't have the ability to easily show desktop, it's still not the ideal option.

YouTube on the other hand is absolutely fantastic for showing the desktop and hosts webcam as a private feed, with the only drawback being your team members can't join in via voice chat. It even saves a recording of the live stream that you can share with others, privately or publicly, and you won't need to download anything as it's all done via YouTube in the browser!

Zoom is designed for remote conferencing. In addition to being rather user friendly, Zoom can be accessed through both mobile and PC and works great via the popular Chrome and Edge browsers. You can create a free account to try it out for your business, and if you're using Microsoft Outlook there is a scheduler add-in that will allow you to easily add a Zoom meeting to any new or existing calendar event on the web too, for Gmail and Firefox users you'll find handy scheduler extensions available in their respective browser stores too.

Microsoft Teams is the best of the best, combining all the functionality for remote video conferencing with an outstanding messaging and organisation package. There is a basic version of Teams available for free if your already using MS Office 365, but due to the Covid-19 situation businesses are able to use the premium version right now (Premium mode trail is for up to 6 months).

Once you try Teams you're sure to love it, and once that 6 month premium trial end you'll be happy to know that it is included within the MS Office 365 Business Premium and Business Essentials software suites.

All options above are common, but there are other options, whichever option your team goes with for face to face meetings, lessons or presentations, joining in is for the most part the same.

Digital Delivery - Office 365 Business with Microsoft Teams

Popular Remote Streaming & More

How to join a live stream?

All options above have the ability to send invitations via email, simply click the link you've been emailed from the host and it will take you directly into the group.

Picture of Chat Download Alternative

Sometimes it will ask you if you want to download a small program/app along with the invitation, and sometimes those working remotely will not have permission to install these programs/apps onto the work laptop - if that's the case look for another option just underneath the download request that says "Continue in Browser" or "Join Chat Now" or similar, most have these and it will let you proceed into the group chat without the software install.

Now that you're ready to go with essential crystal clear audio/video and the ability to overcome common problems, let's take a quick look at some more useful software that can be used to share files with with your team members also.

How to Share Documents, Images and Files - Easily

Now that you’re ready to join in on meetings and presentations, it’s time to look at the best ways to share files between your co-workers or classmates.

This will allow all team members to view and simultaneously update the latest versions of spreadsheets, memos and more. Thanks to the cloud based design it also gives you important options that will allow you to use your phone to image, save & share signed documents.

Google Drive is ideal for every user, able to create and save google versions of word documents, excel spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations and more. You can share the exact file you are working on, and multiple users can update their own, and each others’ parts, in real time.

You can create folders to keep it all very organised, or leave it somewhat messy and use the outstandingly excellent search functionality google is famous for, with incredible previewing options that make it all very easy to manage. Permissions can be assigned to give specific people access to files and folders, or you can share freely outside of your organisation with a simple link.

Microsoft OneDrive is a part of the Microsoft Office / Windows 10 ecosystem and as you would expect it’s packed full of powerful business tools and shortcuts that make sharing within your organisation seamless. Folders can be mirrored to allow you to work offline, then update when back online later, and thanks to that integration with Windows 10 and MS Office it's the easiest cloud storage option.

The OneDrive free offering gives you 5GB of storage, but all versions of Microsoft Office 365 shown below include additional OneDrive storage of 1TB of data per person, so if you get a 6 person licence that’s going to give you 6TB storage in total.

Microsoft Office 365 with OneDrive Storage

Creating the Ultimate Working Space

Now that we can share files easily, hosting and/or joining into video meetings without issue, it's an ideal time to start looking at ways to make our work space more comfortable. 

With remote conferencing it's important to create a space that's well organised. If you're video chatting with others you may want to invest in a laptop riser for a level view (a nosey upwards angle can be a bit odd looking!), 

Headphones with Excellent Microphones

The recent demand for business headsets has gobbled up a majority of the business versions from Logitech and Microsoft, but there is still a fantastic range of everyday and gaming headsets that are more than ready for remote conferencing - and with the gaming models specifically, some have exceptionally good microphones built in for the price!

We hope this guide gets you quickly and easily set up for remote video meetings or classes - we'll keep on updating with the latest guides, product unboxings, technology reviews & more!


Written By

Kai Ping Lew

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1 comment

PeterB116

Wow! That is one comprehensive guide. Teams is such a savior during lock-down.

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25 days ago Reply Report