Virtual conferencing creativity in a pandemic.
April 8, 2020
TL;DR There is no Nate. Only Zoom.
Today is COVID day 27.
At Brand New Box, we consider Friday March 13th as day one. That was the day we made the decision to invite everyone to work from home. We are very fortunate to be well positioned for remote work. And despite the fact that we spend most of our time staring at computer screens, it quickly became apparent that we are actually very relational and missed our daily interaction.
We held a one time meeting in real life in the park as soon as Will got back from working remote in New Zealand. We were all appropriately distanced from each other. The meeting was intentional: we talked about what our "wartime footing" plan looked like. In retrospect, I think I mostly enjoyed seeing everyone one last time before shipping home for the foreseeable future.
Back at home, we have been relying heavily on video conferencing (via Zoom) to stay in touch with the rest of the team, to pair program, and to meet with clients. We immediately implemented daily status calls as a way to check in and see each other.
We also maintain watercooler Zoom rooms where folks can drop in and hang out. Most of the time everyone is muted. But it is nice to be able to see other humans, and have a quick way to ask them questions.
Add in the time spent video calling family and friends in the evening and I'm spending about 8 hours a day on Zoom to navigate this pandemic. Oof.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to see if I could level-up my Zoom game. In practice we could use this during client presentations. But honestly, I just wanted to give the rest of the team something to laugh at. So here is how I was able to use some free tools to make my Zoom calls a little more interesting (note: the order of operations is important here):
OBS: Open Broadcaster Software
OBS is an amazing tool for doing live video production. Apparently it is what all the cool kids use to stream their video games to Twitch. The breadth of what it can do is beyond the scope of this note. For me, all I wanted to do was add the BNB logo to my calls.
The problem is that OBS is not configured to stream to Zoom. Zoom wants a camera. There are some great tools for doing that on a PC, but not on a Mac.
CamTwist is a piece of software that creates a virtual camera. You can choose from many potential sources for your input. The one we are most interested in is using our Desktop. Specifically: the "Desktop+" video source.
The Desktop+ source allows you to stream your display as a virtual camera. Even more, you can stream the window of a specific application. Even more, it allows you to select a specific capture area.
OBS (OBS 24.0.6(mac))or something similar from the "Select from existing windows" dropdown
CamTwist is now streaming the selected output of OBS as a virtual camera on your computer. All that's left is to fire up Zoom.
All the hard work is done. Let's enjoy the fun.
That's it! By default your video will be mirrored for you. But it looks good for everyone else. If that is confusing you can turn off the mirroring.
There is currently an RFC to add virtual camera support directly to OBS which would eliminate the need for CamTwist. But in the meanwhile, this is a great way to spice up your Zoom calls.
May we all have good video conferencing etiquette. And wash yo' hands!