Episode 54 – Getting the best audio and video quality for Teams meetings

In episode 54, Jay and I discuss how to get the best audio and video quality in Teams meetings. And in this episode it’s not just about getting the network right, or advice to get a certified headset…

We dive into the pros and cons of different options, and new features coming to Teams – such as how will the new Music Mode make it easier to get better audio quality.

And – how can you check mid-meeting whether folks are seeing in full, glorious HD rather than potato-quality 240p? We discuss why a certified headset isn’t necessarily the best quality for audio but often is the best compromise all-round and what you need to do to get decent video quality in meetings.

Yep – it’s end to end in this episode from the light coming in through your window to the packets flowing gently down the internet’s series of tubes!

Our show notes are below – and this time round, I’ve added some of the advice from the show into the notes as there’s some key useful points for what mics are worth buying, what webcams are best and what not to do…

  • New features arriving in Teams
  • Call Quality in the Client
  • What is the Satin Codec?
  • Music Mode in Teams isc oming soon
    • Message Center post 267133
    • It offers hi-fidelity music transmission over Teams
    • Use it for Music Lessons, Music Performance or other “non-speech content”
    • Late July > Late September
    • Assuming SATIN codec
      • 48Kb/s – 128Kb/s
      • 32Khz audio
      • Switches for Echo Cancellation, Noise Suppression and Gain Control (Last two already in client)
    • Recommend Professional Microphones, Speakers/Headphones
    • “Built in speakers/mic e.g. in Surface Book” will also provide a good quality experience. Why not certified headsets? We discuss..
    • How to enable – first go to Settings > Device Settings > High-Fidelity Music Mode – Do it prior to the meeting
    • Then in the meeting – In the UBar switch the Music Mode icon, then toggle off once you have finished.
    • Microsoft say it’s best used to transmit music or non-speech content, not conference calls with speech content “to conserve bandwidth”.
    • Use a wired connection rather than wireless
    • Standard Audio is up to a maximum of 36Kb/s using Satin, Music Mode is up to 128kbps – a big increase, but does that mean it’s over 300% better?
    • Microsoft 365 Roadmap | Microsoft 365
  • Certified Devices versus Professional Equipment
    • Microsoft recommended Surface Book/Pro 7 Studio Mics for Teams Music Mode – why?
    • Experiences with Teams certified devices
      • Remember, Teams certified devices often are designed to make sure you are clear in calls, but the audio processing might compromise quality as they are designed for speech
      • Sometimes a cheaper Teams certified headset can equal better because it’s less intelligent – it’s passing the audio directly to the computer
    • Avoid the most common mistake with pro audio equipment (or for that matter prosumer streaming microphones)
      • Don’t buy a microphone for your meetings because you think it looks good. For the podcast, I use the best gear it’s worth buying – but I use a UH36 in Teams meetings because the most important thing is that I am heard clearly and the attention is on what I say, not on fancy kit.
      • The biggest mistakes people make with buying and using a podcast microphone are:
        • Buying a USB microphone without zero-latency monitoring (i.e. a headphone socket on the mic) and then wondering why when they want to hear themselves, it’s delayed. Do your research first. Or, buy the Rode NT-USB Mini for £100; or the Shure MV7 for about £250.
        • Not using headphones. You aren’t supposed to be using it like a speakerphone, you are supposed to put headphones on when you are using it. That’s why people keep saying to you when you unmute and they are speaking “er… I can hear myself as an echo… can you mute please?!!”. Put the headphones on if the mic is unmuted.
        • If you do want to go headphone-less then just go for a Teams-certified speakerphone. They also sound terrible, just like the expensive mic 30 inches away from you does in your echo chamber, but at least they are designed and certified for working this way.
        • If you insist on buying a Blue Yeti because they used to be popular, then first don’t. If you already did, see if you can return it or sell it on eBay. If nothing else then obviously – use headphones plugged into it, and switch the pattern to cardioid and position it about 6 inches away from your mouth with a pop-filter in place, with low gain. The challenge with mics like the Blue Yeti is they work at their best in acoustically treated rooms, which you probably don’t have. This is why dynamic microphones, like the Shure SM7B, Rode Procaster, Podmic, Reporter, NT-USB, NT-USB Mini, Shure MB7 and so on are much better at providing clear audio without sound reflection or echo.
      • Unless you are a streamer or actually have a podcast, the “on air” light and microphone arm look silly. The on air light isn’t supposed to be behind you either, by the way..
      • Finally – acoustic treatment. The cheapest way to make sure you sound good in your meeting using your high-end expensive microphone is to do what voice-over-artists and radio presenters had to do at the beginning of the pandemic. Built a fort around you made of thick duvets. A less good but adequate approach is to make sure your room isn’t all hard, flat surfaces. Plants in the room help, curtains and carpets and other furniture., You can buy professional acoustic treatment for the room, such as specialist foam that you attach to the walls, but honestly this is overkill just for a Teams meeting. Just move the mic a bit closer and close the curtains, buy a couple of plants to dot around the room and you’ll be just fine.
      • If you’ve read this and thought.. OK that sounds a lot to do, then you’ll realise why Teams certified devices like headsets with built-in noise cancellation are good value.
  • What about Video?
      • You absolutely need decent video – thewebcam in the laptop just isn’t good enough
      • If you want something good and simple, the Logitech Brio is a solid bet – available often for around £150 on Amazon UK and is Teams certified.
      • Other non-certified devices designed for streamers are available like the Elgato Facecam or Razor Kiyo Pro, which in various device reviews are not noticeably better quality than the Brio, though the Facecam has more advanced controls.
      • If you want the best quality, you’ll need to go down the mirrorless camera route – such as a Sony ZV-1 combined with the Elgato Camlink.
      • Whatever the webcam lighting is important. Don’t ever sit with the window behind you unless you intend to look like a silhouette. A £15 USB ring light from Amazon isn’t worth buying – you need decent LED lights, ideally two either side of your desk – the Elgato Key Light Airs are excellent. If you end up in the bargain basement for lighting one tip – avoid traditional video lights – they are hot and you might be well lit but you’ll be sweaty, too.
      • You don’t need a green screen, honestly. Unless you’ve got a side gig streaming or vlogging professional is best.
  • Teams + NDI + OBS
    • Use this for ultimate customisation of meeting recordings
    • Or use it for custom streaming to YouTube and other platforms from your Teams meeting.
    • You need a decent PC, ideally with something like an NVidia GTX1660s or higher for GPU offload of the encoding process.
    • It is complex, but can be worth it.
  • Stream to YouTube, Facebook, Twitch and More DIRECT from Teams – but why?
    • Message Center 268726
    • Users stream meetings and webinars through RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol)
    • Usually use NDI+OBS or StreamYard, Riverside.FM
    • Rolling out to desktop on PC & Mac mid-July – Late August
    • Microsoft 365 Roadmap ID 83562 https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-365/roadmap?filters=&searchterms=83562
    • This feature will rollout default OFF. If you would like to enable this feature, you can do so by turning on LiveStreamingMode user-level policy with the following command in Powershell: Set -CsTeamsMeetingPolicy -LiveStreamingMode Enabled Visit this help documentation (https://docs.microsoft.com/microsoftteams/meeting-policies-in-teams-general)for more

You’ll find Episode 54 above, and at our podcast site, on iTunes,SpotifyTuneIn RadioStitcherGoogle podcasts and you can subscribe with your favourite podcast app using the feed. If you’ve got any suggestions for what you’d like to hear on the next shows, let us know. You’ll find us on Twitter as @SteveGoodman and @jaywynn