Long-time readers know that I am no fan of webcams for business presentations in public webinars. It's almost impossible to create a professional video image that matches audience expectations created by our collective exposure to commercial productions such as television programs and high end studio webcasts.
But my antipathy does not apply to webcams used in collaborative sessions with people you already know. Why not invoke a little more personal interaction in your virtual meeting? Goodness knows, video is a hot selling commodity today in the web collaboration space.
One of the many problems with setting up a good space for video is getting rid of distractions in the background. I remember watching a professional presentation instructor give a webcast from his office. His webcam broadcast not only his image, but the desk of a fellow worker behind him, who came and went during the course of the webinar. It was immensely distracting and I found myself concentrating on my attempts to see what was on the other guy's computer screen!
When I work from my home office, I am plagued by the same problem. I have bookcases against the wall behind my chair that are filled with knickknacks and paperwork. They don't look very good as a backdrop to my video meetings.
Being a handy guy, I created a jury-rigged solution. Multiple trips to Home Depot and quite a few dollars later, I had built myself a backdrop that I can construct behind my chair. It's made out of heavy wood platforms, PVC pipes, a sheet, holding clips, and some plumber's fittings. Pretty ingenious, if I do say so myself. But it's a pain to set up and take down, and I have to find storage for all the long pipes between uses.
All of which is a long introduction to why I was fascinated and excited by the announcement of a new product to help people block out background distractions when using a webcam. It's called The WebAround, and it's available from a website of the same name: www.TheWebAround.com.
The idea is simplicity itself. It's a lightweight nylon disk with a springform circumference. It springs into full flat shape when you take it out of the bag and then twists back down into a compact disk for storage. You may have seen the same concept used for car windshield sun shades or for beach gear. There is a wide elastic band that slips around the back of your chair to hold the disk upright behind your head. Voila... Your meeting attendees can no longer see behind you!
I got a sample from the company's first production run. Everything is exactly as shown on their website (which is so chock-a-block with photos that I won't duplicate them here). The WebAround comes in blue or green. Mine is green and I'd say that's not my favorite choice. When I see my image on camera in front of a solid green background, I feel like someone forgot to turn on the digital overlay effects on a green-screen! That's what happens when you think like a video producer.
It fit over my very wide chair back without problem, but the elastic isn't big enough to stretch around a fully padded thick executive chair. The company suggests putting the elastic facing forward, against your back. This positions their company logo very prominently next to your head. I think it's overbearing and way too large a product placement. Consumers pay for the product... They shouldn't be forced to advertise it as well.
I chose to turn it around so the elastic faced the back of the room. That accomplished two things. It got rid of the giant logo sticking out from the side of my head, and it placed the fabric between my head and the big wide headrest on my chair. I hate the way my headrest looks on camera, and it was wonderful to be able to cover it up. The fabric is thin enough to mold between your body and the chair without a problem.
The WebAround website also mentions that if you are sitting on a stool or backless chair, you can wear the elastic around your waist as a personal piece of backdrop apparel. I tried it and felt foolishly like a Vegas showgirl with a giant fabric circle sticking up behind my head. But it worked. You might use this for video blogging on location where you don't want the background in your shot.
The disk comes with a nice little thin nylon storage bag, and while it takes a few practice tries to get the hang of twisting the disk back down into its compact storage size, you'll learn quickly enough.
I really like the concept, and at a purchase price of thirty dollars, it's within the reach of just about any home or business video practitioner.
Is it perfect? No, there are a few drawbacks you should know about. When you open the disk, the nylon tends to sport some wrinkles that show up well on camera. I can't imagine that it's safe for ironing (it feels like it would melt), so this is something you simply have to live with. None of the sample images on the company's website show any wrinkles.
As mentioned, the product logo is too large and prominent.
The material needs to be thicker or denser. When I turned it around, I could see through it to the dark outline of my chair's headrest and the dark backside of their logo patch. I got a note with my sample indicating that they already realize this and that future batches will be made with a higher gauge cloth.
But those downsides are more than offset by the ease and convenience of setup and storage, along with the obvious utility of such an item. It's a lot handier than my six-foot backdrop frame!