Group video conferencing from home
March 24, 2014 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Hello - I am trying to figure out how to host a successful video conference from home. There will be 10-20 people at home in my living room with another ~5 dialing in remotely.

These are the things I have available to use: a projector, Chromcast, MacBook Pro, iPad Air, Asus tablet, Windows laptop, webcams. We also have Skype, Join.Me, WebEx and Google Hangouts.

My main concern is that people remotely will not be able to hear and follow the discussion going on in the main room. Would a mic of some sort be necessary?

Thanks in advance for your help.
posted by lannanh to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think video is not your optimal medium. Optimally you'll need an audio conference line, and a full-duplex speaker phone (like a Polycom.) Neither are super-cheap.

The problem is that the group in the living room are all going to be a blur, and the more people you have, the movement you'll have and the more the picture will need to refresh and the's a mess.

Also, that whole Jetson's face-to-face thing is over rated (IMHO).

You can do the call with a regular speaker phone, but you'll experience cutting out if there's a lot of noise coming from one end.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:26 PM on March 24, 2014

Video is definitely not the optimal medium especially on home broadband. In a one-on-one video call it can get laggy when someone moves around. Multiply that by the number of people you have and the frustration is going to outweigh the benefits of the call.

Even conference call might be dicey as regular speakerphones aren't that great. Is there somewhere you can rent a business speakerphone or a space you can rent one? Some kind of coworking or business rental?
posted by radioamy at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2014

The video part is relatively easy, but probably not that useful (it will be hard for people on the other end to see enough detail to be useful of your large group). Project the incoming video, which will be slightly useful. This assumes you have plenty of bandwidth and low latency, if not consider ditching the video.

The audio part is hard to do well cheaply. I've tried and, while it can be made mostly functional, I don't think you are going to get good results (as in, everything is clearly heard on the other end) without spending a fair bit of money. The mic on your Macbook or any of the other devices is not going to pick up all the speaking voices of 10-20 people. Ideally you want a real speakerphone setup that is intended for use with groups that size. If you have access to mics, you may be able to rig something up with 1-3 in the center of the room (depending on the types of mics) and a mixing board with an appropriate output. You probably want some kind of speaker to plug into the computer as well.

If possible, ask people on the other end to use headphones to minimize the chance of echo on the remote ends.
posted by ssg at 1:25 PM on March 24, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all, I feared there wouldn't be a cheap, workable solution for this. I might just have to tell the remote people they'll have to live with the meeting notes afterwards...
posted by lannanh at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2014

Google Hangout is probably the best option for video. You could also just do an old-fashioned conference call via
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:58 PM on March 24, 2014

We have meetings all the time with professional quality speakerphones where we have one group in a conference room and the other group in another location, either all in one conference room or at individual phones. I can tell you that it NEVER works. The conversation in the room goes way too fast, the folks on the phone can't hear 75% of what is said in the room, and if we need to talk to one person on the phone we all have to shush-everyone-shush-wait-a-second-let's-let-PhoneGuy-talk for a few minutes before he can actually talk. It's awful. Every single project Post-Mortem had a comment about communication, especially on big conference calls.

The only way I've seen this work is to have EVERY participant at their own desk on their own phone dialed in to the conference bridge. Everyone has to pay attention to who is talking and then decide if they should jump in next or let someone else jump in. It's a much more conscious decision, as opposed to the free-form interrupt-each-other pattern that happens when you're in a room together. Usually on these calls, I've got Instant Messenger open with 2 or 3 key people and we are furiously typing relevant questions/comments to each other while a different person is speaking. The only time that didn't work was when I broke my arm and couldn't type so fast.

So yeah, either do meeting notes afterword or have everyone on their own phone.
posted by CathyG at 8:02 AM on March 25, 2014

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