A hacker’s guide to frugal high definition video conferencing for startups

June 28, 2017

I have always drooled over the extra-sized HDTVs with high definition camera setups that some venture capitalists have. It turns even the most boring of meetings into something really interesting and convenient.

The propensity to travel for an in-person meeting is inversely proportional to the confidence you have on your VC system. That’s why having an excellent quality video conferencing system is an essential tool for enterprises, but we already know this!

However, a hacker doesn’t follow the same path as the investors. He looks for something that is faster, simpler to set up and definitely suits his resources.

So, here is my version of getting a fully functional video conferencing system by reusing the devices that we might already have or would require investing in just the essentials.

Note: It is possible to go cheaper than my setup, but I didn’t want to compromise on clarity. Ultimately, I wanted a system that allows me to get on with my meetings seamlessly.

THE HACK

Using the desktop sharing feature of the Chromecast app from Google Chrome. This will enable me to share the Google Hangout or Skype video onto a TV. Mounting a webcam on the top of the TV, let’s me look straight into the camera instead of the smaller screens and make it look just the same as a VC system.

As for clarity in the voice, using a Bluetooth speaker with a mic did the trick!  

GETTING STARTED

Like I said, you’re going to have to put together a few things that you already own and run to the electronics store for some of the must-haves for a VC system – I promise you, it is still going to cost you 10X lesser than an actual VC system.

What do you already have and can be used?

Things almost everyone in your company has! So just get your hands on the one which is free and the most decluttered.

1. A laptop

2. A fast internet connection with wifi (this one’s very important!)

What else would you need to buy?

1. A chromecast – Rs 2,999: You could also choose the latest 4k chromecast Ultra for about Rs 7,000. While you could check out other cheaper alternatives like Roku, Amazon Fire TV or any of those unbranded Chinese versions, just ensure that a screencast from your laptop is possible only with the casting device.

2. A television with HDMI input – Rs 10,000: This is the one we chose, but you can find a 32 inch LED TV for even lower. If you have the budgets available, you could also choose an HDTV or a larger TV.

3. An external webcam – Rs 8,000: I chose the Logitech c930e here. This webcam is an enterprise edition with features like auto focus, pan, zoom in or out, etc through a software. Although we won’t need much of it once the setup is done, it’s always something good to have.

Additionally, the field of view is pretty good for smaller meeting rooms. I wanted to ensure that within a 5 meter distance, 3 people can sit comfortably and still show up inside the view of the lens.  With a 1080p camera, the video quality is impressive.

4. A Bluetooth speaker – Rs 10,000: I chose the Jabra Speak 510. At the time of writing this article, the company also launched a newer version of their speaker, for about Rs 14,000. Both the speaker and the mic work perfectly for a 5×5 space, with 3 people sitting around a round table – exactly what we need!

5. USB Cable – Rs 600: A 5 meter (or less) USB cable depending on how far the TV is from your laptop. Try not to get a USB cable that’s longer than 5 meters as this will almost certainly result in power loss due to the resistances on the wire.

Note: When going into a meeting, we don’t trust the inbuilt speakers of the laptop or the webcam. The mic needs to be as close as possible to the speakers as the audio levels during the meeting help create the right impact.

Total budget spent so far: Rs 31, 599

SETTING IT ALL UP

With everything bought and in place, it is time to put things together. The setup cost us Rs 1,000 – checking on how much I saved here from a VC system, I still have the scope to spend a little for my hack!

1. Wall mount the TV at a nice height in a corner. Hook up the chromecast and set it up.

2. Mount the webcam on the TV. Connect the USB end to the USB extension cable. Draw the wire through panels on the wall, slide it beneath the carpet until the end reaches the USB port on your laptop.

3. Install the Chromecast app from your chrome store and set it up. We will be using the cast desktop option. Uncheck the Audio from being cast as we will use the Bluetooth speakers.

4. Connect the Jabra Speak to your computer via Bluetooth and put it at the center of the table.

And voila, you’re done!

Total budget spent: Rs 32, 599

Now you can enjoy your enterprise-grade video conferencing system for just Rs 32,599!

(Yes, we’re not rounding it off because a saving is a saving!)

A huge shout out to our Admin head, Naveen and our IT colleague, Satish for actually making this hack happen.

Today, all our colleagues are actually enjoying this video conferencing system and grinning every time we get on a call – simply because no one knows how much we saved here! (But now you do)

Sounds like something you’d like to try for your company? Go ahead and experiment, and do let us know how it goes!

Any tips on making this hack better? 🙂

Shivku
Written By
Shivakumar (Shivku) Ganesan is the Co-founder & CEO of Exotel.

Try Exotel free for 15 days

Get Rs 1000 worth free call & SMS credits