Services like Skype let you videoconference for free, but it never feels like a natural conversation. You see the other person staring down at the computer screen rather than looking at you. We humans are wired to look each other in the eye while we talk, at least occasionally, and when someone doesn’t, it’s only natural to wonder if they’re hiding something. Here’s a setup that I use to make videoconferencing feel more like real face-to-face communication.
My device is simply a box, open at each end, with a piece of glass splitting it diagonally and a hole in the top for a camera. It follows the same principle that teleprompters use to display text to on-camera presenters.
For the camera, USB webcams are probably the best choice for family conferencing, since their wide-angle lenses will include everyone. For conferences between individuals, using a camcorder (with WebCamDV software) has the advantage of letting you zoom in; the software routes the camera’s FireWire output to your videoconferencing application.
You can point the camera straight down the hole, but I now use an SLR camera spy lens (a right angle adapter) to fold the optical path like a periscope. This has the additional advantage of righting the image.
With your computer screen in back of the box and your camera on top, you’re ready to go. Your friends will see you looking directly into their eyes. Yes, it’s clunky, but no more so than those CRTs we used not so long ago.
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