My home studio recording setup

I got a couple of questions this week about my home studio setup that I use for presenting at virtual events. This blogpost is dedicated to share my setup and the reason why I went for this setup.

This year I had a major goal, which was to present at as many physical virtualization events as possible. Due to the pandemic, most of them became virtual. It had its advantages and disadvantages. I spent more time with my family than I could ever hope for, which I really love. On the other hand, I have worked for over 6 months on my 2020 presentation about Deep Learning, Bitfusion, and vSphere. A presentation that really deserves a live audience with a lot of interaction. I think it’s important for the audience to leave my session with a couple of key takeaways and inspiration, but also with the feeling that I have done my utmost to prepare a really slick session. By reading books like slide:ology and resonate (by Nancy Duarte), I learned a lot about the art of storytelling and using slides to support my story, not the other way around.

Presentation books

I really, really, really like to emphasize again, that slides, audio gear, video gear, etc are there to only support your story. If you have ambitions to become a speaker, focus on creating a great presentation first. Read about storytelling and how slides can help you instead of distracting your audience. Work on your presentation skills before you decide to invest in supporting gear!

Now, a virtual presentation might sound a lot similar, but it really isn’t. If someone enters a physical room in which you are presenting, it’s your main job as a presenter to keep their attention. The threshold of leaving the room half way through a presentation is relatively high, so people won’t really step out of the room if they aren’t fully engaged. With a virtual presentation, that’s completely different. First of all, I think most people are fed up with the indefinite number of online events and presentation. Which means they will leave a session earlier by a single click if they are bored or not interested. Another thing is that all presentations look the same and all sessions do too. Most people still use a webcam and a microphone from a laptop and no lighting. I have seen hundreds of online presentations, and the ones that stick are the ones that show a certain quality. Both from a story perspective as well as an audio and video perspective. I strongly feel that the people who decide to join one of my presentations, also deserve to get the best session ever. That’s why I decided to invest in my home studio to offer great quality audio and video.

Now, let me first some pictures of the whole setup:

Video setup

The setup contains a couple of components that I won’t really cover in detail, such as the MacBook, iPad, and three displays. I use the Macbook as my main workstation and also use it to run my presentations from. The iPad is primary used for drawing and in this case as a speaker clock (with the app called SpeakerClock). The rest of the components are there to support my presentation quality. To get the most out of quality, most people think that buying an insanely expensive camera will solve all your issues. I strongly disagree. Sure, it will help, but without proper lighting, the video still looks weird. This is what my video currently looks like:

Video quality

A couple of things that I want to emphasize:

  • I use a full-hd camera. 4K sounds nice, but no video conference software supports 4K. Recording a session in 4K doesn’t make sense either since no virtual conference accepts them.
  • The camera I use has been qualified as one of the best cameras used for streaming. Since gamers are picky, I thought it should work for me as well. Important: make sure the camera can produce a clean HDMI output!
  • I have two main key lights to light me up in a 90 degree angle.
  • The camera is positioned at eye height.
  • The camera and lights are all configured with a manual white balance at 5700 degrees kelvin. Make sure that if you choose to invest in a setup, you take this into account.
  • I don’t believe in virtual backgrounds. I hate them. I choose to design my own physical background instead. It has some colored light strips, a 24-inch display to show customer logos, or in this case a YouTube video with a 10-hour fireplace and since I’m a sneakerhead, it also contains one of my favorite pairs. It always opens up an informal conversation, even in strictly formal meetings, and thus breaks the ice.
  • To connect the camera to the MacBook, I used to have an Elgato Camlink. It’s a cool device, but I got a bit annoyed by the fact it sometimes is a bit hard to share a screen or to share an iPad on within a call, so I decided to use an ATEM Mini Pro by Blackmagic instead. This allows to switch between my camera, slides or demo on a separate Intel NUC and drawing on my iPad. All connected through HDMI and presented to my Macbook as a webcam.
  • I have a dedicated Rode studio mic to record my voice without any disurbance from background noise. The compressor and EQ in the ATEM Mini Pro are sublime and really improve the quality of the audio.
  • The mic is directly attached to the camera, to make sure the audio and video input to the ATEM Mini Pro are completely in sync.
  • The display on top of my camera is used to monitor the ATEM Mini output. I can see what the audience is seeing, but also what is happening on the other inputs and things like audio levels. This is really nice if you are using chroma keys and like to add lower thirds and logos to your video stream.
  • I use in-ear monitors that are attached to the top display to hear the audio output of the ATEM Mini Pro. I use them every now and then to check the background noise (as my lab is next to me).

Here is a list of the products and tools I use:

PartLink
CameraPanasonic HC-V770
MicRode NT1
Camera interface/switcherATEM Mini Pro
Key LightsElgato Key lights
Buttons for macros and automation of lightsElgato Stream Deck
In-ear monitorsShure SE215 in-ear monitors

To show the result, I recorded a short video with Zoom to show you what the whole setup does in a video call.

I will add a future recording of a presentation later in this blog post.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to reach out on the twitters 🙂

Johan van Amersfoort

Johan van Amersfoort

Johan van Amersfoort is a VCDX-DTM, VMware EUC Champion, vExpert, and NVIDIA NGCA member, working as a Technical Marketing Architect and EUC Geek at ITQ Consultancy. He is the author of the VDI Design Guide. More about Johan can be found on the about page.