Best gear for online meetings: Webcams, lights, mics and more

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Whether you’re working or connecting with friends and family, in the age of coronavirus tons of our social and professional interactions are taking place online. Zoom is the platform of choice for CNET meetings, and my kids and their friends are sucking up our bandwidth on FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Instagram. Whichever platform you’re using, video chatting has become the new normal, and it’s time to up your video call game.

Part of this means learning the fundamentals of meeting on camera — choosing the right environment, optimizing lighting conditions, and positioning the camera lens just the right way. The other part is having the right gear. And in most cases, I’m sorry to say, your laptop’s built-in camera and microphone stink — and are preventing you from coming across as effectively on video conferencing as you would like.    

Read more: Best wireless earbuds and Bluetooth headphones for phone calls

Angela Lang/CNET

Upgrading your video and audio tech is pretty easy from a technical perspective, however, and relatively affordable — and it will dramatically improve your production values in virtual meetings. We’ve compiled a shortlist of our favorite cameras, microphones and the other gear that will enhance your video chatting with input from CNET’s on-camera video team, all of whom are working from home now, too. Our favorite picks for the best webcam and external mic options are below. 

(Note that prices are accurate at time of original publication, but may fluctuate — especially given the surging demand for this type of gear. Also, availability and delivery times are changing all the time, so be sure to check before moving forward with any purchase.)

Best webcam

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920

Logitech Since the masses began working from home in mid-March, Logitech’s usually affordable Logitech C920 full HD external webcam has been sold out everywhere. And on the infrequent occasions the C920 Logitech webcam does comes back in stock, surge pricing can push it to $150 and beyond — which is too expensive for a webcam. As such, I’d recommend buying Logitech’s new and excellent StreamCam — it’s a great webcam that’s also currently unavailable but reportedly coming back in stock at B&H Photo in June. 

In the meantime, if you don’t have the best webcam, you can use a tripod and your phone’s HD camera to boost video chat quality when live streaming. Here’s how to do it.

$170 at Amazon

Get a better microphone

Blue Yeti USB mic

Blue Microphones Nothing can torpedo an online meeting quicker than background noise and audio that’s cutting in and out, and your laptop’s lousy built-in microphone may be the culprit. Once you’ve added a decent webcam to your setup, you’ll be in better shape — but a standalone microphone will make you sound clear, rich and full. This Blue Yeti model has long been a staple of podcasters and streamers, and it’s what I use when I record audio or participate in a high-stakes video chat. 

Yes, it looks like something you’d see in a 1940s radio station, but the audio technology is 100% modern. It has three capsule microphones, four pickup patterns (for different kinds of recording) and just enough controls to help optimize the way you sound without overloading you with super technical features. 

$130 at B&H Photo

Fix the lighting

Joby Beamo Mini LED light

Amazon If you sit in front of a white wall or uncovered windows, your webcam will try to balance it out, shrouding you in a silhouette. The solution: Position a light behind your web camera that shines on your face. With many cheaper video lights now sold out, we’re looking at more premium ones like the Joby Beamo Mini. It’s on the more expensive side, but it’s extremely compact, waterproof and — capable of blasting out 1,000 lumens — incredibly bright, though the iOS app and included diffuser make it simple to dial in the perfect amount of light. It has a magnetic back that will stick to any metal surface and will also screw into a tripod. 

$70 at Apple

Free up your laptop

Phone tripod mount

GripTight/Amazon It’s hard to multitask on a webconference: Opening and closing apps, resizing browsers and windows, all while you’re talking to your boss on your Google hangout or Zoom Call Girls Mount Abu video conference — it can all be a bit much. One solution is to offload all of your audio and video tasks to your phone — which may have better camera, video quality and mic technology, anyway — freeing up your laptop to take notes, consult documents and spreadsheets or whatever else. (Here’s how to do it.)

If you take this route, you’re going to want to have an adjustable tripod that can securely hold your phone steady — and at a flattering angle. I like this tripod kit from Joby, which includes a clamp that’s big enough to accommodate my iPhone XS Max. And I also like the company’s bendy Gorillapods, which can be wrapped around posts or other nonflat surfaces.

$40 at Best Buy

Get a laptop with a decent processor

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga

Sarah Tew/CNET If you’re running an older MacBook Air or Windows laptop that came out several years ago, you’ll find that a single Zoom session can send your computer’s fans whirring and reduce your multitasking options to zero. Getting a newer laptop with an updated processor and webcam software — a ninth- or 10th-gen Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 should do the trick — will make those videoconferencing sessions a lot easier to bear. 

I recently put aside my aging MacBook Air and picked up a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and have been amazed by all that I was missing out on: blazing speed (courtesy of the modern Intel processor), USB-C ports and a touchscreen display. And it’s currently on sale — starting at $1,000. For other recommendations, check out our list of the best laptops for 2020. Read our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (2018) review.

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Ultimate webcam tips: How to look and sound great online 

Zoom vs. Microsoft Teams: Which to use for video conferencing

Best video streaming device of 2020

Best headphones for noise cancellation

How to use your phone as a webcam

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