A Big Data Beard Home Office and Streaming Gear Guide
I’m ready for the world to get back to in-person experiences and gatherings, but I am not confident that our work (or play) will ever go to a place where we don’t rely on modern video conferencing for collaboration and video as a medium for sharing ideas.
So let’s be great at it.
We owe it to the people on the other end of the internet to do our best to look our best so that our ideas, feelings and stories reach our audiences effectively. The team at the Big Data Beard has been working towards learning and building great video content over the last 5 years and we’ve tried a bunch of tech…some we love and some we wish we could return. I talked previously about my personal opinions on audio setups for home offices in the first volume of this series and much of that still holds true, except that I have fallen in love with the Logitech Pro X Headset with the Blue Voice Mic and believe that is the single most valuable purchase you can make to improve your audio quality for conferences and recordings as long as you are good with having on a headset in your video. If that’s not the case, then there is tons of good guidance on that blog to help.
This gear guide is intended to help you acquire gear that has been personally tested by the Big Data Beard team and we’ve assembled shopping lists for you based on budget and desired level of awesomeness. You can obviously mix and match items from each of these lists to build your own custom setup that fits your budget, but trust me when I say its worth putting some serious thought into your budget and buy the best gear you can afford so you don’t end up buying things twice…like I have, too many times.
The Basic Package is for those folks who have been using the built in camera in their laptop and the same built in mic and speakers or something like Airpods. While those functionally do the job, they are not going to produce the kind of quality your co-workers or customers deserve from you. This simple package gets you a great Razer Kiyo webcam with a built in ring light, a stand to get the camera up at eye-level (absolute requirement to look your best) and the Logitech Pro X headset that takes your voice quality to the next level with the added benefit of noise isolating headphones so what you hear does not create echos (or if you fail to turn off notifications, no one can hear them). This package could also be interesting if you are looking to build a mobile setup that you can throw in your bag when travel becomes a thing again and you still want to look great digitally!
If you want to look your best while being ready for just about any professional video situation, this is probably the most reasonable option with gear that outperforms its price point. This package combines an upgraded Razer Kiyo Pro Camera that can deliver 1080P at 60 FPS and one of the best performing light sensors we’ve seen with upgraded lighting using Elgato’s Ring Light, which also features a built in desk clamp to get your camera up to eye level. You’ll also notice we included a fantastic green screen from Elgato for those times when maybe you need to swap your background using Zoom or drop the background all together for that floating head look. For audio, we package the Logitech Pro X Headset here with a secondary microphone and boom for those situations where a headset does not make sense. The microphone is the Audio-Technica ATR2100, which is the most versatile mic for the money and one we recommend to all our guests on the Big Data Beard podcast. This package gives you ultimate flexibility to look amazing on a conference call, record beautiful videos or get started streaming making this package our top recommendation for best value!
Does looking good not sound quite good enough? Do you want to have the chance to look as good as the top streamers and content creators in the world? Well you over achievers, here is the gear that will get you there. For video, we’ve gone full pro using the Canon EOS M200 and paired it with a prime lens so you can get that beautiful bokeh effect on screen. We connect that 4K stream to your computer via our favorite capture card, the Elgato 4K Camlink and put a few other accessories on the list that will make it all work. This camera is a fantastic photo and video camera that you can use in your own personal life in addition to being a fantastic webcam! For lighting, we use the Elgato ring light for our key light and mount for our camera and the same awesome green screen, but we add another small Elgato light to act as our fill light or backlight, whichever your situation calls for. For audio, we stick with the same Logitech Pro X headset, but go to an upgraded Shure SM7 microphone that looks better on screen and features some pretty advanced features for noise cancelation. This package sets you on the path of a very professional streaming setup that will allow you to stand out on your next zoom, virtual conference presentation or gaming stream.
A couple of caveats…
Buying this gear will not immediately make you look like your favorite YouTube creator. Yes, the gear will help, but you have to know how to set it up and use it properly…there are thousands of hours of videos on YouTube with lots of best practices, but we are generally fans of Elgato and their playlist here is amazingly helpful in less than 30 mins. We will cover our setup best practices in a subsequent volume in this series, but for now we will simply point you to some of our favorite software that makes it easy to configure everything you just purchased.
If you are using a Mac, we are big fans of the simple Webcam Settings App that gives you powerful control over all of the tunable settings on your webcam for less than $10 at time of this writing with the ability to save settings as different profiles (useful if you have changes in lighting based on time of day). If you are on a Windows PC, we are subscribers to the whole XSplit suite for streaming tools, but just for camera control for conferences it is hard to beat their VCam product, even if it is a little pricey. This tool has all the camera controls you would see on the Webcam Setting App for mac, but adds a ton of functionality for background replacements/modifications, green screen chroma key tools and the ability to add watermarks to your video, such as a logo or frame…like this one I built on PlaceIt.net.
If you are a fan of open source or free software, it is hard to beat the capabilities of Open Broadcast Suite (OBS) and their Virtual Webcam capabilities that allow you to create scenes from a variety of sources and pipe them to your favorite web conferencing platform as a webcam input. It is a lot less user friendly than the paid options we mentioned above, but very powerful and generally free to use. In fairness, you will want to pair all this gear and software with a pretty high-end computer (preferably a desktop) with a proper graphics card if you expect to have all the gear perform at its potential. We will dive into this more in a later volume, but most modern computers are designed with this sort of gear in mind so get started with what you own now and see how it goes!
There’s a lot of options represented here and they represent a lot of learning from good and bad purchases over the last several years by our whole team. The best thing you can do with this information is to spend some time understanding what your desires are and what budget you have to put into this sort of equipment then buy the best gear you can for the money. Once you have the gear that fits your needs and budget, spend time playing with it and testing it. Read blogs, search YouTube and keep learning. Let us know what you think or if we completely missed a piece of gear you think is top notch!
Let’s make video conferences suck less for everyone…they are here to stay!
Your bearded friend,