My Office Studio Setup for Video Conferencing, Recordings, and Streaming
Over the last few years, I received many comments and questions about my office studio video and audio setup. In this post, I will walk through what I've put together, why it fits what I need, and hopefully, give you some ideas on how you can improve your audio and video.
TLDR; take me to the list!
My Office Studio Goal
One of my goals, perhaps the primary goal, is to have an "always ready" setup for professional audio and video recordings and streams. I want to minimize the time it takes from walking into my office studio to creating a professional meeting, stream, or recording experience. That goal has influenced the gear I use, my workflow, and my environment.
First, let's talk about the foundation for my system. I'm running a 2021 14" M1 MacBook Pro. This computer not only runs everything I need -- coding, conference calls, streaming, and producing videos -- it's also completely silent and never breaks a sweat. I have the MacBook plugged into a CalDigit TS3 Plus hub which supplies power, lots of ports, and an ethernet connection to my home network. Direct ethernet improves network stability for video calls and streaming. Attached to the hub is a 27" 4K LG monitor using the hub's DisplayPort connector. I'm using the Apple Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, a feature I love, and the Magic Trackpad.
Next, let's talk about audio. Audio is the most critical component of any recording or live stream. Folks can tolerate poor video, but poor audio can seriously undermine the experience and drive people away.
I use an Audio-Technica condenser shotgun microphone mounted on a boom stand positioned about a foot above me, just out-of-frame of the video. A shotgun mic is very sensitive, but also directional, which helps to reject any noises or reflections from the sides or behind it. This type of microphone has an XLR audio plug, so it does not connect directly to a computer using USB. Being a condenser microphone, it also requires "phantom power." Previously, I had this microphone plugged into a Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface capable of supplying phantom power. However, I now run the microphone into a Behringer Flow 8 audio mixer to mix in other audio sources, such as instruments, effects, or music.
I use a shotgun microphone because it fits my goal for an "always ready" setup. A clip-on lavalier mic can dramatically improve audio quality, but it would require additional work each time to hide the wire and prevent my beard from generating noise. I didn't want a large studio microphone in front of my face in every video shot. And I wanted to avoid a microphone on my desk picking up noise and vibrations.
After audio, the next most important ingredient is good lighting. Lighting can significantly impact video quality without investing in more expensive webcams or cameras. I bought a pair of relatively inexpensive LED video lights that are adjustable for brightness and color temperature. The lights came with stands for clamping to the edge of my desk.
The primary "key" light is set up at about 10 o'clock to my left and is quite bright. Directly to my right, the second light acts as a "fill" to soften the shadows on that side. Behind me, I have a 60-watt LED RGB flood light on a stool that bounces blue light off the back wall.
My office has a window covered with blackout curtains. So, regardless of the time of day or weather, the lighting for the videos is always consistent. The curtains also serve to reduce any noise coming from outside.
My primary camera is an Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II with a Sigma 16mm f/1.4 lens. Wow, that is quite a mouthful! The Olympus has excellent autofocus. Even after having a couple of good DSLR cameras for a few years, I still can't tell you the difference between a 16mm or 35mm lens or what values like f/1.4 or f/2.5 mean. All I know is it looks great. The Sigma lens lets me keep the camera about an arms-length distance but still get a wide shot. It gives me a great depth of field so that my background is slightly blurred and looks more professional.
The Olympus mounts to a teleprompter designed to support large tablets, and the teleprompter mounts to a sturdy camera tripod.
My secondary camera is a Panasonic Lumix G7. The color quality of the Lumix G7 is better than the Olympus, but the autofocus is frustrating. So, I use it for overhead shots for recording and streaming illustrations or guitar work. My understanding is newer Lumix cameras have improved autofocus.
Both cameras run on USB power using a dummy battery, and running on a dummy battery saves me the hassle of charging and swapping batteries. Both cameras support a "clean" HDMI output, which is essential when considering using a DSLR camera for video conferencing and live broadcasts. A "clean" HDMI output means the video output does not include any icons, settings, and other data you typically see on the little preview screen on the back of the camera.
My third "camera" is a USB-C HDMI adapter plugged into my MacBook, which appears as a third display. The adapter supports 4K/60Hz, which allows me to mirror the LG 4K. So, whatever I have on my external display is also being sent as an HDMI output, which I can use as my screen-sharing view.
Capturing Video and Audio with the ATEM Mini Pro
Speaking of HDMI, that brings me to the crucial topic of capturing video. Computers cannot take HDMI as input directly. To take in HDMI, you need a video capture device.
I use an ATEM Mini Pro video switcher. The ATEM Mini Pro has four HDMI inputs, and you can easily switch between any of them using the large buttons. Input 1 is my primary camera, input 2 is my secondary camera angle, and input 3 is the mirrored LG 4K display. I can also use the picture-in-picture feature of the ATEM to include a small view of my primary camera in any corner of the secondary or screen share views.
The ATEM Mini Pro has two 3.5mm audio input jacks and can use audio from any HDMI input. I have my audio mixer output plugged into ATEM Mini Pro audio input.
The computer sees the ATEM Mini Pro as a webcam device. That means I can select the ATEM as my video source for whatever video conferencing, streaming, or recording software I use.
I use StreamYard to stream my ReverentGeek content to Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. I use Restream for streaming to Pluralsight's channels on Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
To further improve my audio quality, I use the Krisp.ai virtual plugin to filter out background noise. I've been using it for several years, and it has been rock solid. No matter what might be happening around me, my coworkers or viewers only hear my voice!
I use an old, first-generation Apple iPad Pro as my teleprompter screen, and it is connected to my MacBook running Duet Display to mirror my laptop screen. For example, if I'm on a video conference call, I have the person I'm speaking to on my laptop display mirrored to the teleprompter. In this way, I can look directly at the person and the camera at the same time, improving engagement. When delivering a presentation or recording a tutorial, I can easily read my notes or script while looking directly at the camera.
"Alexa, turn on office."
Almost everything in my office plugs into a smart outlet, and I can turn the system on and off with a single command. I can also manage individual lights, cameras, and devices using Alexa, which is helpful in the rare case of an issue with a camera or the ATEM Mini Pro.
More Office and Studio Details
I painted my office a neutral, light gray color. My desk is a custom-built 7'x3' wood top mounted on an adjustable workbench frame set to a standing height. I have a custom extra tall Roc-n-Soc stool that allows me to sit at my desk without adjusting the table height. If I stand or sit, viewers cannot tell the difference.
I have installed a Primacoustic London acoustic room kit on the walls to help with sound echo and reflections. I use wall-mounted String Swing guitar hangers to hang my guitars within reach.
To make my background more interesting, I have two Ikea shelving units stacked with mugs, hats, toys, pictures, books, and other collections. The item that gets the most attention is the custom glowing "On Air" box my wife and son built for me!
Above my head is a custom ReverentGeek vinyl wall sticker printed by my favorite sticker company, StickerMule.
I have a "thinking chair" (recliner) where I often work, draw illustrations, read, and do my strategic thinking.
Lastly, I have a workbench where I do guitar maintenance and other craft projects.
So, what do you think? Is there something I missed, or I could improve? What is something about your setup that you really like? Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!
Gear and Software List
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
- Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Lens
- Bescor Dummy Battery for Olympus E-M1 Mark II
- Panasonic Lumix G7
- LUMIX G 25mm f/1.7 ASPH. Lens
- Lumix G7 Dummy Battery
- TYCKA 56" Camera Tripod
- Audio-Technica AT875R Shotgun Microphone
- Microphone Shock Mount
- Pyle Heavy Duty Microphone Stand
- XLR Microphone Cable
- Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface
- Behringer Flow 8 audio mixer