Two of the biggest challenges when making video calls at home is to:
- Look each other in the eye — because your camera and the screen are often in different places, it often looks as if you are talking past each other
- Avoid unexpected interruptions — letting the rest of your household know you’re on a video call
Challenge 1: Look each other in the eye 👀
One solution to the first challenge is to use a teleprompter.
Teleprompters are used by television studios to show the speaker’s text in a one-way mirror, and behind the mirror is a camera that films the speaker. News readers often speak to teleprompters, for example.
Great, but what about my home setup?
For your home video calls you too can create your own desk-teleprompter. In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to get a teleprompter setup, and create our own little improvements for your home video calls.
Challenge 2: Avoid unexpected interruptions 😱
For the second challenge; letting the rest of your household know you’re on a video call, I recommend building a red “On Air” light, also similar to the ones used in TV studios.
Where the “On Air” light will switch on when you start using the teleprompter.
To get started you need the following:
- A small desk teleprompter for mobile phones that you can mount on a tripod. We use this one from Amazon (3)
- A USB camera to be attached to your computer and the teleprompter (4)
- A mobile phone to go on the teleprompter (2)
- Software that allows you to show the mirrored image of your computer screen on the device. I use Screens Connect for macOS and iOS however unfortunately at the time of writing, this software doesn’t allow me to mirror the image yet. If you know any software that is able to mirror the image, please leave it in the comments
- Gravio, the IoT edge Computing Platform to create a green/red “On-Air light” (4, 6, 7) outside your door to indicate whether you are on a call or not. In this tutorial, I use a Gravio Standard package, but you can also do it with Gravio Basic, in which case you need a computer to run the IoT Edge Computing software. You can Download and Order it on Gravio.com
- A small extendable tripod that you can screw to the teleprompter (8)
- Some light-blocking gaffer tape (10)
- Thick double-sided tape (9)
Optional, but cool:
- An NFC tag sticker to automatically launch the screen mirror app, and the setting on your phone to prevent it from going to sleep (11)
If you have any ideas on how to improve this tutorial or add even more ideas, please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Preparing the Teleprompter
Before you start, ensure your camera settings and distance are correct e.g. the right focal length for your seating distance.
- Place the camera carefully in the hole of the Teleprompter and attach it with the Gaffer tape so no light can enter from behind
2. Mount the tripod and set it to a height that will put the camera at your eye level — this will give the most natural effect on the call
3. Next, install screen-sharing software for your mobile phone and computer.
The goal is to be able to mirror your computer’s screen on the phone. Even better would be if the phone’s image could be mirrored, but I’ve not been able to find software that does that yet. Again, please comment below if you know any that’s capable of mirroring!
For this tutorial I use Screens, since I use macOS and iOS
4. Place the phone on the Teleprompter with the picture upside down (yes you read that right, the mirror will then make it right side up).
Note that you may need to put the phone in “non sleep mode” in your settings so it doesn’t go to sleep.
Your teleprompter system is now ready to be used for video calls!
Preparing the On-Air Light
The On-Air light is a bit more tricky as you need an IoT (Internet of Things) system that allows you to control the color of the light. You can order your own system (subject to availability in your country) on Gravio.
In this case, we are simply going to use a button sensor mounted on the Teleprompter to turn the light on and off.
Note that Gravio is very flexible, and you can use it to build all sorts of IoT applications with ease. This may sound like overkill for this tutorial, but with other sensors you can do a lot more to help your home setup, like: measure the air quality, temperature, humidity, etc, and connect Gravio to APIs and other systems.
The steps you need to prepare on Gravio are:
- Set up the Gravio Hub (video tutorial here)
- Connect the light and the button to your Gravio Hub (video tutorial here)
- Create two Actions (you can find out about Actions here):
- One that will switch the light to red — here’s a very basic sample Action on GitHub
- Another Action that will switch the light to green
- Create two Triggers that run the respective actions upon push-down of the button (turn red) the release of the button (turn green)
Which should behave as follows
Green by default:
And when you press the button, the light should turn red:
Placing the button
As a next step, we stick the button to the teleprompter upside down with a thickish double-sided sticky tape.
The idea is that the phone’s weight will push the button down and trigger the red light.
Now you should be able to put your phone on the button which should toggle the light between green and red:
And you’re done!
Just mount the Gravio Light outside your room, visible for the rest of the family, connect it to a USB-C power outlet or power bank and enjoy your eye-to-eye conversations with your fellow meeting partners!
Bonus: Use an NFC tag sticker to automatically set up the phone ready for video conferencing
If you have an iPhone with NFC capabilities, you can use an NFC sticker to automatically set it up for a video call, which means switching off the auto-sleep and opening the screen sharing application.
For this, you will need to create an iOS Shortcut that gets triggered when the phone touches the NFC tag sticker.
Here are the steps:
- Put an NFC sticker on the Teleprompter — here’s one on Amazon
- Open the Shortcuts app on your iPhone (install it if you don’t have it) and select Automation at the bottom
3.Click the + sign at the top right and choose “Create Personal Automation”
4.Scroll down to where it says “NFC” and choose the menu item. You can now click “Scan” and then scan the NFC tag
5.Give it a name and click OK. After that, click on “Next” on the top right and choose “Add Action”
6.You will need 3 Steps:
Open the URL in Safari, which will redirect you to the correct setting
8.Open the application you like to use for the screensharing (in my case ”Screens”)
The action should now look like this:
You can try this out by doing a test-run of the automation, where it should open the Settings screen where the sleep time setting is and then go straight to the screen sharing app.
Note: unfortunately, I don’t think you can “stop” at the settings screen. Therefore you have to switch back to the settings screen to change the duration before going back to the screen sharing application.
And that’s it, now you’ve got an almost TV studio-like setup :)
Please let me know if you have any more ideas how the system could be improved!
And happy videoconferencing!
PS: Don’t forget to switch the sleep time back to normal after your call, otherwise your phone will drain its batteries.