Video Conferencing Equipment Guide – Summer 2015

I’m often asked to recommend a camera, headset, speakerphone, or more for use with our cloud-hosted video conferencing product, Zoom, so I thought I’d collect all of my thoughts about the equipment I’ve used here. All of these devices should work equally well with Lync / Skype for Business, plain old Skype, or any other computer-based video conferencing product.

For the Individual on a Budget

In general, for video, I’d recommend sticking with the built-in webcam on whatever device you have, especially if you’re a casual user of video conferencing. The quality won’t be awesome, but it should be decent enough to get by, and hey, you already paid for it.

For audio, however, I strongly recommend investing in virtually any headset as a minimum. Using the built-in microphone and speakers on your laptop will do nothing more than ensure you sound terrible on the other end, and it will also expose whatever meeting you’ve joined to every random sound in your office. You can minimize the random sounds if you remember to mute yourself when you aren’t speaking, but you can’t solve that, “he sounds like he’s talking from the bottom of a barrel” issue.

The Logitech ClearChat H390 headset is highly reviewed at Amazon, and only runs $27. I don’t have this particular model, but I’ve bought and used many Logitech headsets over the years and they’re all pretty good. I’ll have a pricier option down below if you want to spend a little more money. USB is a must, btw. You can’t be sure every device you would want to plug into has audio in and out ports, and frankly, troubleshooting those when they don’t work isn’t worth the headache.

For the Individual with More to Spend

Either you aren’t satisfied with your built-in webcam or don’t have one, so here are a couple of options for you.

If you’re going to be the only person in the shot on your side of the video conference, I’m recommending the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920. At $67 from Amazon, it’s very highly reviewed and I can confirm it is very high quality. You can find less expensive Logitech webcams, and they’re well-reviewed as well – I just haven’t used them.

If you ever plan to share the screen on your end with another person or two, I recommend picking up the Logitech C930e. It produces as good a picture as the C920, but with a wider angle lens, so you fit more people in the shot. I’ve even used this webcam on a $10 small tripod and used it on the go in a small conference room. Paired with a USB speakerphone, it used to be my recommendation for a portable mini conference room.

For audio, you have to decide what makes more sense in your office environment, or perhaps if you want to share the sound occasionally with a few others.

If you want or need to keep your audio private, then go with a headset. The ClearChat I recommended above may be all you need. If you want wireless freedom and very high quality, I can recommend the one I use, the Logitech H820e. I have used this one for several months now and I really like it. I have a fairly large head, which means many headsets aren’t big enough to fit me comfortably. The H820 does, and it is comfortable even if I wear it for 2 or more hours straight. It’s also wireless, which means I can stand up, move around my office, or even walk down the hall or up and down a floor if I need to. It’s pricey at $142, but I think it’s worth it.

 

If you want to share your audio or simply don’t need to keep it private, I can recommend the Jabra SPEAK410 USB Speakerphone. It’s $97 for the retail packaging, or $70 in what I assume is OEM packaging here. I have the retail package and the sound it produces and picks up from me is excellent. I used to recommend the Logitech C930e and the Jabra SPEAK410 as a nice package for a portable mini conference room, and they would still work great for that purpose.

For the Mini or Portable Conference Room

For conference rooms of 5-6 or fewer people, my recommendation for this is now a single device – the Logitech Conference Cam BCC950. At $186, I think it’s hard to beat, and could see individual users getting it for their offices if they don’t mind sharing their audio. A couple of our departments have a few of these, and I recently acquired one for testing. I’m impressed both with the video quality and audio quality. The camera pans, tilts, and zooms with the included remote control. I really like this device – especially for the price.

 

For the Mid-Sized Conference Room

My recommendation for conference rooms holding fewer than 15 people is the Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e. We’ve deployed several of these and had great luck with them, and at less than $900, they’re reasonably priced. The camera pans, tilts, and zooms up to 10x optically and the quality is outstanding. The speakerphone is very good and the mic pics up normal speech from up to 10 feet away with no issues. We have one in our conference room and we just plug the single USB cable into any Windows 8 PC or Mac and it works without issue. Windows 7 does require a driver install, but then it works fine as well.

We’re deploying the CC3000e’s paired with a tiny Dell Optiplex desktop at multiple facilities across the state this year to replace H.323 (Polycom) units that were no longer supported by the vendor. In some cases, the cost of the CC3000e and the desktop was about the same price as a single year of maintenance for the H.323 unit.

The CC3000e is also semi-portable. While not as small as the BCC950, you can fit the unit and its various cables in a box about the size of a paper grocery bag and take it with you to a remote location. We’ve done that on a few occasions, including our Spring IT Retreat this year.

 

One More Thing

I can’t recommend this device because I’ve only played with it for a few minutes at a conference, but I was intrigued by it. The Logitech ConferenceCam Connect is a portable and rechargeable all-in-one video conferencing solution. At nearly $500 at Amazon, it’s fairly pricey, but I’d like to get one for testing to see if I can find a use case for it. My primary concern with the device would be the wireless screen mirroring, since it’s Miracast-based, and my experience with it has been spotty at best. So – not a recommendation by any means, but it is an interesting device. Check out the video if nothing else.

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