Much as I abhor video calls, they're preferable to catching the 'rona and other diseases in real-life meetings. That's a big change the pandemic has brought on: I don't know about you, but I feel much less comfortable seeing people in person nowadays. And I must admit that not having to travel to meetings is great, and saves on trouser wear.
That said, the built-in cameras and microphones in laptops usually provide mediocre image and audio quality. There's a reason for that, and it's because laptop lids with screens are thin and don't have the space for chunky imagers and mics that capture your carefully thought out dishevelled looks in high definition.
Laptop cameras are sometimes put in odd places too, like off-centre or at the bottom of the screen, like Dell's infamous "nostril cam".
Good audio is to my mind more important than improved video but if you can get both, that's a bonus.
Newish Apple iPhones and Android smartphones have really good, high-resolution front-facing cameras, and I've used them for many calls. However, handheld video is motion sickness-inducing, so ideally you'd need a holder and a stand of some kind.
For longer video calls, smartphones also get hot and the webcam apps I've found are a bit lacking in features. I've found the iPad Pro with the new Magic keyboard that holds the device in the position you want it to be an excellent video conferencing tool. The iPad Pro has a really good camera and the bigger case dissipates heat well, but okay, it's a bit pricey and big, and not everyone's into Apple.
There are "video conferencing solutions" which are named that way as it makes them sound the bee's knees and allows vendors to charge big bucks for half-decent hardware.
Then there's Logitech's Streamcam device that isn't aimed at video conferencing. Rather, as the name implies, the camera is marketed to live streamers and content creators who hang out on Twitch.tv and YouTube.
The StreamCam is a bit expensive: I've seen it for $267 to $319 online. You get quite a bit of video and stereo audio goodness for that money though, including really good image quality in 1080p high definition, with 60 frames per second refresh rate for smooth movements.
Add to that image-stabilisation, auto-focus and face tracking, and two good front-facing microphones, automatic exposure control and framing, and a fast USB-C connection to the computer, and the StreamCam looks like a big improvement on the built-in cameras in laptops.
As long as you have a USB-C port on your device, installation is dead simple on macOS: just get the easy-to-use Logi Capture application and the StreamCam springs to life. If you're a mad streamer, Logitech says the StreamCam is optimised for the Open Broadcaster Software, XSplit and Streamlabs applications as well.
The downsides to the StreamCam are that it's on the chunky side, which is due to the laws of physics really, and having to use a cable.
Overall, the StreamCam is pretty good and you should probably be worried that I will start recording games and provide running commentary for them, or some feelpinions on YouTube with it.
For now though, the most important feature is that the StreamCam works just fine with Zoom. The image quality in Zoom is much better than my laptop's built-in camera, and I can position the StreamCam away from the computer, which produces a nicer image.
Zoom support is all-important nowadays, which is another pandemic peculiarity. It's not as strange as it seems though. Even though Zoom has had its share of hair-raising bugs and design flaws, including an installer that made security experts compare it to malware thanks to the hacks the programmers had made, it just works and the free tier is useful.
You might recall my lost battle trying to get Microsoft Teams going not so long ago. I was asked to join a roundtable via Cisco Webex last month, and the registration and login for the service was a five-step process after which you had to click some more to join the actual call and log in… again.
Life's too short for that, and with Zoom you just log in with Google or Facebook Open Authentication (OAuth) and click on a link to get going. Slack is designed to work in a similar fashion, and while it might not be right for all enterprise users (for example), not having to jump through hoops to use software as intended is how people want things.
Apple's Group Messages is in that category too but Cupertino missed the boat here by not making Windows and Android versions of the app. And, Apple won't do that for privacy and security reasons, so for easy cross-platform interoperability as geeks say, it's Zoom as a free or paid service option for Cupertino customers. And it has custom backgrounds and handles multi-people calls rather well.
In other words, Zoom's here to stay. The one thing that could derail Zoom and force us to use awkward-ware is its China connection. Zoom's a Chinese company, which is rapidly becoming a liability in a world that doesn't trust an aggressive China where human rights are trampled. India is having border skirmishes with China and has banned TikTok, but only advised people to not use Zoom.
Zoom will probably have to decide soon where it has to be based, inside or outside China, if it wants to sell its service to the world. Crazy really, but hey, it's 2020 and that's just the way things are now.