I think I've nailed the ultimate setup for Zoom calls, podcasts, course recording, gaming, content creation, YouTube or Twitch streaming and it's all happening in a 3 x 4-metre room - let's dive in!
First up. I'm a tech/gadget head. I've got no idea how it all works but I at least know how to use it for what I want to happen.
Secondly, this requires a lot of that tech/gadgets. Some of which I've acquired over the years, while many parts I had to get to make this ZOOM specific setup come to life in my home office that I work from for client work and content creation.
Thirdly, a big shoutout to my University buddy, Dave Katague who inspired a fair bit of the setup and showed me how a lot of this setup is possible because he's done a similar thing for his own home setup.
So you know when you're doing a Zoom call and you either use a webcam at the top of your screen or you have a proper camera off to the side or above your monitor, you're constantly looking at your screen to see the faces of others on your call (or maybe even your own face... you know you check yourself out. Admit it. We all do.)
But you're doing your best to be professional by looking into the lens of the camera you're using to look as though you're listening and looking at them by staring at them in the eye. It's a tricky problem that diverts our attention and makes us look like we're giving the side-eye in some situations.
For me, I have two monitors on my desk that sit on either side of my Sony A7iii mirrorless camera, standing in between the two on a desk-mounted light or camera stand. So I find myself looking to the left or right screen to see who I'm talking to, or fix my hair during a ZOOM call, rather than looking down the barrel of my camera lens.
I mean, I'm ticking the box already with a next-level setup:
• A big Godox SL60W LED light mounted to my desk on a stand
• An LED ring light on a light stand behind me
• A green screen backdrop to then add my own background behind me in OBS
• A RØDE Rodecaster pro audio deck + 2 x Podmic microphones
• A 27" iMac and an additional 24" monitor
• And the Sony mirrorless camera and lens + HDMI capture card
(more on these bits later)
So how do you 1-up that to solve that side-eye problem to look my clients or acquaintances in the eye?
THE SOLUTION - A TELEPROMPTER
Yep, a teleprompter. It's the same technology news and sports presenters read from where there is a screen projecting text or vision onto an angled bit of reflective glass. Behind that bit of glass is where you position a camera that will not take in the vision you see reflected up onto the glass.
Now I've had a rinky-dink teleprompter that is still good but requires an iPad and a more cumbersome setup. But then my mate Dave introduced me to this Neewer X-1 Mini Teleprompter (shown above).
This thing is nice and compact and costs only $150(AUD). It includes an adjustable stand system for your camera or even your smartphone to sit behind the teleprompter setup and can mount to a tripod or light stand. So I decided to mount this to my desk with a Neewer light stand, so there were was no need to have a tripod behind my desk.
But it does require a screen the sit in the tray at the bottom of the teleprompter setup. A couple of years ago I bought a Feelworld 4K HDMI field monitor, which is typically used as a separate larger display for a DSLR/Mirrorless camera. You could even use a smartphone or even a small tablet device as an alternative screen to display on the teleprompter.
So with this setup I've put together, I'm able to do three things.
The first is to see me on the teleprompter with a feed from my camera for framing and to remain focused and record video. The second would be to use the teleprompter for recording video and have a script of text appear for me to read from on my phone or via my computer. Which leads me to the third option, where I can switch between the feed from my camera and the feed from my computer. Making the small monitor a 3rd computer screen on the teleprompter.
As I've said and will probably say again by the end of this post, this is a next-level setup. In addition to the camera, the teleprompter and the Feelworld monitor, behind my chair at my desk is a large roll of chroma key green paper that acts as a green screen backdrop behind me (as you can see on the teleprompter). When my Sony A7iii camera is connected to my computer, I'm able to use it as an input device into the free open-source program OBS.
This allows me to remove the green screen just like a weatherman or as they do in the movies. To then add a solid colour or image or video background and even add overlays. So as you can see, I took a photo of my desk setup and use that as a fake background behind me. I've even got a floating G'day Frank logo that sits over my shoulder behind me and the Secret Lab chair I sit on.
By using OBS I can then broadcast this feed you see on the right iMac screen, as a virtual camera that can be used on ZOOM, YouTube Live, Facebook Live and Twitch. Completing this ultimate setup.
Getting this to work required a heap of cabling and a few devices and dongles to connect make this magic happen. So instead of describing how to do it, below is a condensed diagram of what I have with my setup to make this work.
So it's pretty complex, as it requires four cables of one type of HDMI cable, one of another type of HDMI cable, a switcher box, a splitter box, an HDMI capture card and some other bits and pieces like power sources and a dongle adapter in my iMac for HDMI out.
Now I said I had a next-level setup (I've probably said it 5 times by now). So below is a more expanded diagram of the full setup I have. Though it neglects the 3 boom arm stands I have on the desk, an Amazon Echo Dot, a portable RGB light, a second camera (Sony ZV-1) and some other bits and pieces.
It has become a fantastically versatile space that allows me to do all kinds of things like:
Do Zoom calls with clients and see them on the teleprompter.
Film a video of myself with a script or just focusing on my face as I talk with audio from the on camera RØDE Videomic and Podmic.
I can set up an Instagram Live or shoot Instagram Stories/Reels with my iPhone sitting on a mini-boom arm.
I can have a two-camera setup with my Sony ZV-1 camera placed on the mini boom arm and switch between the two using OBS for any instances of streaming/recording.
Record podcasts and answer calls via the Rodecaster Pro with 1 or 2 mics for me and my wife.
Stream a live show on YouTube live.
I can stand or sit and do a recording/take photos in front of a green screen for content.
I even have my Playstation 4 set up and connected to the 24" computer monitor if I want to do some gaming or even streaming on Twitch of my gameplay.
And here is the complete setup of all the things in the setup and you'll see the little extra bits going on like my phone on the Neewer mini boom arm and my watch/phone charging cables hooked under my desk, as well as a drink bottle/mug/cup holder mounted to my desk.
As you can see, this setup is a little crazy and sure there could be some more impressive tech tech going on here, but for the most affordable Zoom call setup that will make you too legit to quit, this is it. Though you don't wanna see the shit show of cables going on beneath the desk. But I'm loving this setup so far and will no doubt keep adding things over time.