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Which AV Equipment Should I Use for My Virtual Conference?

25 January 2021

A good PA system, show stopping lighting and a custom set design are what you’d previously call for when planning a live event. But with the world moving online, how do we translate this to a virtual conference and what equipment do we now need to achieve this?

In this article, we’ll cover what sort of AV equipment you should consider for a virtual conference.

Computer & Server

Firstly, you’ll need a computer powerful enough to handle the content you want to send out to your stream. If you’re simply looking to send the feed from your Zoom conference, you can send the stream directly from the software to Facebook, YouTube or a custom RTMP server. The processing for this type of stream is minimal, so it should be possible from a standard laptop.

However, for a fully integrated virtual conference this is slightly more complex. If you’re planning on having multiple callers, a series of videos, side by side PowerPoints and custom designed pips, this will require a more powerful computer, a server such as our Vmix server and specialised streaming kit.

NDI’s (Networking Device Interface) & Networking

Now that you have the correct system source, we’re set to go right? Not quite. If you’re including multiple callers, we’re going to want to make use of NDI.

What is an NDI?

An NDI is a Networking Device Interface, developed by NewTek and it’s simply designed to carry video and audio feeds over a network. This allows us to set up multiple computers for callers, taking the strain off of the main streaming system. For an event that is of high quality, this needs to be sent over Cat 6 through a 10GB switcher like an E2 Event Master Processor to ensure the feed is stable. If you have multiple callers and a switcher with less capacity, you’ll notice bandwidth drop off and won’t get clear sound or video from your feeds as it will overload the system.

The Internet

The internet is a vital component to a successful virtual conference. If this fails, so has the event you put effort into organising. It’s therefore essential that all computers and systems using the internet are hardwired to a fast internet connection.

There’s a common misconception that because you’re receiving a fibre optic connection from your provider, then you’re guaranteed speeds will translate into the Wi-Fi connection. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The provider can only guarantee the direct (wired) connection to your router and there are a number of reasons for this. Wi-Fi can be interrupted by the following:

  • Radio interference. Various Bluetooth devices, cordless phones and even microwaves (when in use).
  • The Network could be overloaded. Those amongst us with children will understand (especially during the first lockdown) when someone’s streaming Netflix, playing online games and browsing the web all at the same time, the strain on the system can be significant. This is particularly apparent considering most of the time these videos and games we are interacting with are in full HD.
  • Outdated or a missing driver or firmware on the device or Wi-Fi that you’re using. This could especially be the case if the device or router you are using is a slightly older model. So, if the Wi-Fi connection is poor, it could be that these need updating.

An additional consideration for your virtual conference is to ensure you have a backup system in place. If there is an issue with the direct line from the provider, it’s always useful to have a 4G router handy just in case.

Running PowerPoint & Videos

As with an ordinary event, we will provide hi-spec computers, a vision mixer setup, along with graphics technicians to control the content. However, instead of sending the feed directly to a projector or video wall, it will be sent directly to the streaming system via capture cards.

What is a capture card?

Most computer systems will have a HDMI or other video connection built into them to enable you to connect to an external monitor (or several). However, these connections are outputs and if you were to try to run a camera feed or the output from a different computer into them, you’d be presented with a blank image. The capture card therefore provides a HDMI/SDI input to the machine, so they’ll be recognised as a video capture device. They do this through either connecting to a USB port on the computer or they can be integrated internally (which is what we recommend).

Though this is something we could connect to the NDI system, we find by running directly through the switcher and into a capture card, provides us with more control and frees up space on the network.

When presenting a PowerPoint presentation, people tend to want to have control over the slides like they would in a live event. Whilst we can’t use a standard clicker system, we can provide a remote clicker for you to use, enhance your presentation. With our remote clicker system, you are able to logon via your own device and remotely click through the presentation.

Video Hosting and Event Platform

The final thing you need to consider is what video hosting platform you will use for your virtual conference. There are a number of free platforms available such as YouTube or Facebook. Alternatively, you may wish to stream via a paid platform such as Vimeo, where you’ll have more control.

If your virtual conference requires a breakout room, an exhibition area or a networking area, you’ll need to think about using a virtual event platform website which we can provide.

Let Us Help You Host Your Virtual Event

This may seem like a lot to think about! But remember, our team at Stage Connections are always on hand to take the pressure off, offer expert advice and guide you through your event. So, if you need help with your next virtual conference, get in touch, we’d love to help you with your next virtual event!

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