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Future of Work

Stream Like a CEO

Update: There’s an updated 2021 version of this setup.

When Bill Gates was on Trevor Noah’s show it was amazing how much better quality his video was. I had experimented with using a Sony camera and capture card for the virtual event we did in February when WordCamp Asia was canceled, but that Trevor Noah video and exchanging some tweets with Garry Tan sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole, even after I was on-record with The Information saying a simpler setup is better.

The quality improved, however something was still missing: I felt like I wasn’t connecting with the person on the other side. When I reviewed recordings, especially for major broadcasts, my eyes kept looking at the person on the screen rather than looking at the camera.

Then I came across this article about the Interrotron, a teleprompter-like device Errol Morris would use to make his Oscar-winning documentaries. Now we’re onto something!

Illustration by Steve Hardie

For normal video conferencing a setup this nice is a distraction, but if you’re running for political office during a quarantine, a public company CEO talking to colleagues and the press, here’s a cost-is-no-object CEO livestreaming kit you can set up pretty easily at home.

GEAR GUIDE

Basically what you do is put the A7r camera, shotgun mic, and the lens together and switch it to video mode, go to Setup 3, choose HDMI settings, and turn HDMI Info Display off — this gives you a “clean” video output from the camera. You can run off the built-in battery for a few hours, but the Gonine virtual battery above lets you power the camera indefinitely. Plug the HDMI from the camera to the USB Camlink, then plug that into your computer. Now you have the most beautiful webcam you’ve ever seen, and you can use the Camlink as both a video source and an audio source using the shotgun mic. Put the Key Light wherever it looks best. You’re fine to record something now.

If you’d like to have a more two-way conversation Interrotron style, set up the teleprompter on the tripod, put the camera behind it, connect the portable monitor to your computer (I did HMDI to a Mac Mini) and “mirror” your display to it. (You can also use an iPad and Sidecar for that.) Now you’ll have a reversed copy of your screen on the teleprompter mirror. I like to put the video of the person I’m talking to right over the lens, so near the bottom of my screen, and voilà! You now have great eye contact with the person you’re talking to. The only thing I haven’t been able to figure out is how to horizontally flip the screen in MacOS so all the text isn’t backward in the mirror reflection. For audio I usually just use a headset at this point, but if you want to not have a headset in the shot…

Use a discreet earbud. I love in-ear monitors from Ultimate Ears, so you can put one of these in and run the cable down the back of your shirt, and I use a little audio extender cable to easily reach the computer’s 3.5mm audio port. This is “extra” as the kids say and it may be tricky to get an ear molding taken during a pandemic. For the mic I use the audio feed from the Camlink, run through Krisp.ai if there is ambient noise, and it works great (except in the video above where it looks a few frames off and I can’t figure out why. On Zoom it seems totally normal).

Here’s what the setup looks like all put together:

After that photo was taken I got a Mac Mini mount and put the computer under the desk, which is much cleaner and quieter, but used this earlier photo so you could see everything plugged in. When you run this off a laptop its fan can get really loud.

Again, not the most practical for day to day meetings, but if you’re doing prominent remote streaming appearances—or if your child is an aspiring YouTube star—that’s how you can spend ~9k USD going all-out. You could drop about half the cost with only a minor drop in quality switching the camera and lens to a Sony RX100 VII and a small 3.5mm shotgun mic, and that’s probably what I’ll use if I ever start traveling again.

If I were to put together a livestreaming “hierarchy of needs,” it would be:

  1. Solid internet connection (the most important thing, always)
  2. Audio (headset mic or better)
  3. Lighting (we need to see you, naturally)
  4. Webcam (video quality)

We’ve put together a Guide to Distributed Work Tools here, which includes a lot of great equipment recommendations for day-to-day video meetings.

17 replies on “Stream Like a CEO”

Sorry that this post took a few weeks longer to get up than I thought it would. I kept changing bits and pieces of it, tweaking equipment or the setup here and there. I’m actually going to test out some of the USB speakerphone options this weekend since the teleprompter blocks the shotgun mic a bit and the Apple XDR monitor doesn’t have any speakers, but I didn’t want to delay the post any more.

Thank you! That was very informative. I’m a filmmaker and multimedia instructor and a lot of my job these days is helping people set up remote education spaces. Good information, and loved the Errol Morris link on the Interrotron.

Did you normalize the audio? Don’t forget about the calls for a “WordPress Music Festival (WPMF),” Mr. Motivator! LOL… BTW, we celebrated WordPress’ 17th Birthday listening to some living jazz artists who also happen to use WordPress:) … WP-4-Life!!! ✌

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the post!

I think the video setup is an interesting experiment, but I found how you set up the rest of your home office just as interesting. I think it looks both stately and zen.

Have you been really intentional about the non-technical elements of what you put in your work space? I know crafting an office that feels good to work in isn’t specific to remote work, but I’m curious to know if you’ve taken Marie Kondo “spark joy” approach where you’ve cultivated what you let in or if it has just filled in organically.

Have you written at all about crafting a home work environment beyond the tech? I’ve been thinking about how to make my home office accelerate my work and “feeling good” in the space feels like the next step.

Thank you! I haven’t written about that, but I am a big fan of the Marie Kondo approach. I think it’s a good way to tap into your somatic experience of how something makes you feel, when you really focus on it. When I’m in a space for more than a day or two I end up tweaking little things here and there, pretty much continuously, all the time.

The only hardware thing I’m reacting to is your choice of mic. Wouldn’t it be better to go for a lav mic in this all out setup? The A7r accepts audio in through an audio jack, which makes it easy to connect a wired lav mic to the camera.

The rest though, cool setup. I never thought about the looking slightly away part of a normal video conferencing setup.

Thanks for the post. It would be really interesting to see a photo of what you could see when you recorded the YouTube video. i.e. what are you seeing when you’re on a Zoom call with someone else using this setup.

This is definitely the best home recorded video I’ve ever seen in terms of video & audio quality. I wouldn’t be able to spend as much money on my own setup as you did, but it’s great to see how enthusiastic you are about it. 🙂

This is awesome Matt. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!
This setup is amazing for video class recording, documentaries, videos for our Youtube channel etc.
In fact, in Spain some of the items you share here have been sold out for several months, those of the ElGato brand (I think many of us take advantage of the confinement to do our streaming).
However, sometimes we don’t need everything for streaming.
For example, both WordCamp Spain and WordCamp Europe were streamed using Streamyard.
This tool only allows you to send video capture with a quality of 720px. In other words, even if you have a Full HD, 4k or XLR camera, you’re simply wasting resources, because your image will only be seen in 1280×720 quality.
If you use other software for streaming, such as OBS, you can give more quality to your video, but you’ll need a computer with enough free resources to avoid dropping the transmission.
As for Zoom, I do not know the maximum quality allowed, perhaps it is higher.
I don’t have a budget for a telepromter, so I use a homemade trick: I duplicate my computer screen on the TV at home and place my webcam on a tripod in front of the TV and in front of me. This way, when I talk to the guest, I look at the webcam and see the other person behind it. It’s not the most professional thing, but it does the trick.
Greetings from Spain and take care of yourselves!

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