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I’ve recently upgraded my webinar equipment setup and I wanted to share more about what I did and how you can do the same. First, I need to share two important disclaimers:

  • Setting this up comes with many hours of tech frustrations from trying to get it all working together, watching YouTube videos to understand what’s possible and how to do it, contacting tech support, and Amazon returns. I cannot emphasize this enough.
  • It can get pricey really quickly. I picked cheaper options whenever I could and still spent close to $2000.

 

Before and After
Here are two quick examples of what my before and after looked like.

Before I began this process, I was using a Logitech c920 HD webcam for both my camera and microphone. I thought the video quality was quite good, but I didn’t realize how washed out the colors were and how fuzzy it was until I started using my new camera. I also didn’t really appreciate how much better the audio quality could get.

In terms of doing presentations online, it’s been a game changer for me. Check out this short video to see the potential.

So if the idea of doing the same excites you, then the rest of this blog post is about what happens next. I’ll share everything I purchased, all the lessons learned, and everything I wished I knew when I was getting started so it’s all in one place.

I’m going to break this up into two possible setups: camera only and the full package.

 

Camera Only
If your goal is to have much better picture quality for your online meetings, then this is the option for you. This option currently costs about $950 before tax, not including lighting. You need three categories of things and may already have some of it at home. I’ll list what they are here and then explain it in more detail below.

  • a digital SLR (DSLR) camera (and associated accessories)
  • an HDMI to USB converter
  • lighting

 

Digital SLR (DSLR camera)
The first thing you’ll need is a DSLR camera. Unfortunately, most DSLR cameras were not designed to be used as webcams. If you already have a DSLR camera, I would search for “Using _________ as a webcam” (put your camera’s model number in the blank) and see what you find. Personally, I already owned two DSLR cameras and neither could be used. Two things you’re looking for if you want to use your DSLR camera are: clean HDMI out (so there’s no text like the date and “REC” when it’s recording) and the ability to plug it in to the wall.

After a lot of research it became clear that the Sony Alpha cameras were the best options. I wound up buying the Sony Alpha a6000 because it was the most affordable of the bunch. However the a5100, a6100, a6300, or any of the higher end models should work fine too. Note that these links are just for the body of the camera. You also need the lens. There are lots of choices for lenses, but I bought this Sigma 16mm lens and it works great. It gives me good picture in low light and blurs out the background behind me naturally.

You’re going to need some way to mount your camera so it’s suspended in the air above your monitor. I use this mount but you should find what works for your setup. Remember that it’s a 2 lb camera so you don’t want something like a gooseneck mount which will wiggle with every vibration.

You’re also going to need something called a “dummy battery”. The problem is that a camera’s battery won’t even last an hour. So you need something that is shaped like a battery but is actually plugged into an outlet. I use this one and it never needs to be recharged and doesn’t overheat.

 

HDMI to USB converter
Next, you’re going to need to connect the camera to your computer. To do that, you’ll need a cable like this (if you’re using one of the Sony cameras) and you’ll also need an HDMI to USB 3.0 converter. I didn’t use this method in my setup, but this one seems like a good option.

 

Lighting
Lastly, you’re going to need some lighting. One downside of using a camera like this is that they aren’t designed to get brighter when the room is dark. Hopefully you can set this up near a window, somewhere that has light, or bring a lamp to you. If you’re looking for something fancier, I’ll share what I’m using below.

 

Setup
To set it all up, you put the dummy battery into the camera and plug it into an outlet. Then you mount the camera above your monitor where your webcam would go. Then use the cable to connect the camera to the HDMI to USB converter. Then plug the USB converter into your computer. Your computer should theoretically recognize it as a webcam and you can select it in Zoom or whatever program you’re using.

 

Full Package
If you’re looking to replicate what I’m using, let me begin by conceptually explaining how it works.

At the simplest level, when you’re in a webinar you need two things: a camera and a microphone. The diagram below is a typical setup. If you’re using a laptop, tablet, or phone, then the camera and microphone are likely already built into the device. Either way, there’s a camera and microphone somewhere.

We’re going to create a system where the camera is defined more flexibly and can be anything that outputs HDMI including an actual camera, iPad, document camera, or computer but even things like DVD players and video game systems. Then instead of sending all the audio and video directly to the computer, it’ll go to a device called the ATEM Mini which the computer will treat like a webcam and microphone.

Here’s a diagram of what my setup looks like.

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Here’s a picture of what it all looks like together:

I’ve numbered some of the notable parts and will discuss them in more detail below:

  1. Focusrite Scarlett Solo (it connects the microphone to the computer)
  2. Blackmagic ATEM Mini (it is the brains of the setup and directs the video and audio to where it needs to go)
  3. Elgato Stream Deck (it allows you to control everything with the push of a customizable button)
  4. Rode Procaster Microphone (it’s the high quality microphone)
  5. Sony a6000 camera with Sigma 16mm lens
  6. Elgato Key Lights

 

Complete Product List and Explanations
I’ll now try my best to break down both what I’m using and how it works. You’ll definitely need some additional cables (especially HDMI cables) and adapters depending on your setup.

 

Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini HDMI Live Switcher
This is the brains of the operation and is like a little TV studio in a box. It takes in all the video and audio and you get to choose which content it outputs. Your computer will treat it like it’s a webcam. So you just select it as your camera and your mic and your computer won’t know the difference.

I’m personally using the ATEM Mini which meets my needs, but there are two higher end versions in the ATEM Mini Pro ($300 more) and ATEM Mini Pro ISO ($600 more). It has four HDMI inputs and two microphone inputs. So with the push of a button I can switch between sharing my camera, iPad, document camera, or computer.

You’re going to need a cable to connect the ATEM to your computer. If you’re like me and haven’t memorized the exact type of every port in your computer, then you may may need to search online for “_______________ specifications” where the blank is your computer brand and model number. That should take you to something that will tell you what everything in your computer is. You’re looking to see the exact specifications for each of the little slots around your computer.

If you have a “USB 3.1 Type-C” port, then you definitely want to use this cable to connect it to your computer. Otherwise you probably want to search online for “connect atem mini to ____________” before you begin. It should probably not be a big deal, but better to be sure.

This device also gets really hot so I bought this stand to raise it up and get some air circulating underneath it.

 

Presentation Computer
For doing your presentations, you need a computer that has a way to output HDMI. There are quite a few ways this could work, so here are some:

  • You may have a laptop that has a way to output HDMI
  • Your computer may have an additional HDMI output in the video card you’re not using.
  • You may be able to use a cable that converts from something like DVI or DisplayPort to HDMI
  • If you don’t have any extra HDMI ports, you may be able to use an HDMI splitter so you can take one HDMI feed and duplicate it so that it goes to your monitor and to the the ATEM mini

 

Apple iPad
If you’re planning on using an iPad to use as a digital whiteboard, document camera, etc. then you’re going to need an adapter to output it as HDMI. To use this adapter, plug it into your iPad and then plug the power and HDMI cables into the adapter. If you’re using a different tablet, you’ll want to search for “_____________ HDMI adapter” and see what’s available.
 
Document Camera And Other Devices
If you want to connect other devices like a document camera, pretty much everything is an option as long as it can output using an HDMI cable. I happened to have an old document camera that outputs HDMI so I’m using that.
 
Sony Alpha Camera
This is basically the same text from the camera section above.

The first thing you’ll need is a Digital SLR (DSLR) camera. Unfortunately, most DSLR cameras were not designed to be used as webcams. If you already have a DSLR camera, I would search for “Using _________ as a webcam” (put your camera’s model number in the blank) and see what you find. Personally, I already owned two DSLR cameras and neither could be used. Two things you’re looking for if you want to use your DSLR camera are: clean HDMI out (so there’s no text like the date and “REC” when it’s recording) and the ability to plug it in to the wall.

After a lot of research it became clear that the Sony Alpha cameras were the best options. I wound up buying the Sony Alpha a6000 because it was the most affordable of the bunch. However the a5100, a6100, a6300, or any of the higher end models should work fine too. Note that these links are just for the body of the camera. You also need the lens. There are lots of choices for lenses, but I bought this Sigma 16mm lens and it works great. It gives me good picture in low light and blurs out the background behind me naturally.

You’re going to need some way to mount your camera so it’s suspended in the air above your monitor. I use this mount but you should find what works for your setup. Remember that it’s a 2 lb camera so you don’t want something like a gooseneck mount which will wiggle with every vibration.

You’re also going to need something called a “dummy battery”. The problem is that a camera’s battery won’t even last an hour. So you need something that is shaped like a battery but is actually plugged into an outlet. I use this one and it never needs to be recharged and doesn’t overheat.

 

Elgato Stream Deck
This device is essential to making all of this work. Basically it’s a device that you can use to control all of your devices in one place so that instead of having to open a bunch of apps and click lots of keys and buttons to make it work, you press one button and it’s ready to go. I use it to turn on my lights, change between my camera, iPad, doc cam, and computer, turn on my green screen, mute and unmute my mic, etc. I just press one button and it’s ready.

Personally I am using this fifteen button version but there ones with 6 buttons and 32 buttons too.

 

Elgato Key Light
I didn’t always understand how important lighting is to making your video look amazing. I started with just using bright bulbs in my ceiling light. Then I added a desk lamp and bounced it off the wall in front of me. That was not enough. Then I bought a ring light, which seemed promising. However it was just too bright for me to look at and made white circles in my pupils.

Ultimately I found what is perfect for me: the Elgato Key Light. I have two of these and they are worth every penny. They used to be impossible to find but seem to be in stock more often now.

What I love about them includes that:

  • they diffuse the light well so that you don’t have bright spots on your body
  • they are table mounted
  • you can control them remotely from your phone, computer, or Stream Deck so you don’t have to get up and fiddle with settings
  • you can separately set both the color and brightness. In my office, the ceiling light makes my right side bright already. So I have my left light set to 31% and my right light set to 8%. Both lights set to 3100K for a warmer color.

 

Green Screen
There are lots of options for green screens but it will mainly come down to your room setup. For example, I don’t want mine up permanently, so I tried a couple of options. First I tried a ceiling mounted one like a projector screen from school but green. It sounded great but after drilling holes into my ceiling, I learned that it wouldn’t consistently roll up and had to return it.

Ultimately I settled upon this one and while I’m not great at folding it up, I can hide it away when I’m not using it.

 

Microphone
I actually upgraded my microphone setup about a year before I did the rest of this, and I was shocked at how much better it could sound. I’m using the Rode Procaster microphone and I love it. It isn’t a USB mic, so I have it connected to the Focusrite Scarlett Solo using an XLR cable.

I’m using a desk mount to story it away when I’m not using it and I later bought this pop filter to prevent some sounds from being too loud.

The one recent addition after I upgraded my video was this cable that sends the audio from the microphone to the ATEM Mini.

 

Setup
This is where it gets a little tricky because it depends on things like what devices you’re connecting. In general you’re going to want to:

  • plug everything in that needs power
  • connect each device to the ATEM Mini by using cables that have HDMI on one end and whatever connects to the device on the other.
  • connect the ATEM Mini to your computer (possibly using the USB cable I linked to) and also connect it to the Internet using an ethernet cable (you need to do this to connect it to the Stream Deck)
  • mount everything to your desk

There will be a lot of searching on Youtube for “How to connect __________ to _____________.” and “How to set up ________” at this point.

Here are some specific videos that have helped me:

 

How To Do A Webinar
One lesson I learned the hard way (I completely failed) was that you can no longer do webinars the standard wad of sharing your screen. Instead, it’s as if you were not using slides at all and just talking. This is challenging for some webinar platforms because how do they know which screen to share?

So, here’s a document I’ve made with a running list of instructions for different platforms as I learn them.

 

Resolved Issues
Here’s a list of pain-in-the-butt issues I encountered and how I resolved them.

 

Static Mic Noise
When I connected my mic by outputting the Focusrite audio directly into the ATEM, for some reason there was a lot of static. After hours of trial and error, I figured out that there was something called a “ground loop” and the only real way to fix it was to pay another (!!!!) $100 for a device that removes it. I bought this ground loop eliminator and this power adapter. Then I connected it to my computer and connected the Focusrite to that. Once I did that, the static went away.

 

Unresponsive ATEM Mini
My ATEM Mini was getting so hot that it would stop responding and I’ve have to unplug it to let it cool down. Eventually I bought this stand to help it get better air circulation and I’ve had no issues since then.

 

Connecting My Presentation Audio
Normally when you’re doing a presentation and have something that plays sound, you can hear that sound. The problem is that when you’re sharing the sound through the ATEM, you can’t hear it in your speakers. This took hours and hours to figure out, but eventually I searched for “How to play sound on two devices at once” and found this link which worked very well (there’s a very slight delay so it’s not perfect).

 

Known Issues
Here are issues I haven’t totally figured out.

 

Sony Camera Unresponsive
Sometimes when I turn on my camera, nothing happens. I have no idea why. When I unplug it and plug it back in, it works just fine. That’s annoying to do on a regular basis though. Still trying to figure out what’s happening.

 

High Pitched Hum
I’m still working on completely removing the hum from my audio. It’s been maddening getting it so there’s no high pitched noise at all.

 

White Are Too White and Blacks Are Too Black
Check out the image below. The right side is what the image is supposed to look like. The left side is what it looks like after going through the ATEM Mini. Notice how the very light grays on the right image disappear into a sea of white.

From what I can tell from this thread, this is just the way it is. It takes whites and makes them too white. It also takes blacks and makes them too black. It seems to leave alone the colors in the middle. Unfortunately this is what it does at the ends of the spectrum.

 

Conclusion
I hope this gives you a clearer path as to how to do this yourself. It has certainly been an (and continues to be) an adventure in figuring out how to do what I want and improving previous ways of doing it. I hope this guide and what I described brings you lots of success.


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