WFH — Studio In a Box

As most of us continue to work from home during shelter in place, I was trying to put together a setup at home for work for video conferencing and presentations. This is a fairly cost effective “Studio In a Box” solution I came up with. The total cost was $1,036 for this setup and you can use it not just for better video conferencing but also for live streaming on YouTube, Twitch, etc. With schools and colleges mainly switching to remote learning, this setup can be used for live streaming of classes in an interactive way. This article also includes options that do not require a full purchase of this setup, eg if you want to use your existing camera

Studio In a Box

At a high level suggest the following components to create a studio in a box

Camera with Home Streaming Kit

First at a high level options for a camera are below

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Option ║ Pros ║ Cons
╠══════════════════╬═════════════════════════╬═════════════════════╣
║ DSLR / ║ Support high resolution ║ More costly, unless ║
║ Mirrorless ║ Better in low light ║ reusing existing ║ ║ ║ Most flexible ║ ║ ║ ║ ║ ║
║ Webcam (built-in ║ Easy to setup & use ║ Generally lower ║
║ or external) ║ Generally cheaper ║ resolution ║
╚══════════════════╩═════════════════════════╩═════════════════════╝

I highly recommend a mirrorless camera streaming kit over web cams because you will have more flexibility over a webcam. Key must have requirements for any camera you decide to use (new or existing) should be

Clean HDMI output: This is HDMI video that does not contain any of the screen data that you see in a typical camera viewfinder, such as aperture, exposure, battery charge, etc

AC Charging (aka dummy battery): This helps you stay on calls throughout the day without having to swap batteries

No automatic shutoff due to overheating: Avoid DSLRs that show an overheating warning after about 30 minutes of live view mode and shut off

Video output resolution: Should support atleast 720p output

I went with this kit which has worked great so far

Sony Alpha a6100 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 16–50mm Lens and Home Streaming Kit

Source: B&H Photo
  • Lens: The kit 16mm-50mm, f/3.5 lens is ok but consider upgrading to the Sigma 16mm f1.4 lens
  • HDMI to USB Type-C Video Capture Device: Pengo
  • Filter: Chiaro Pro 40.5mm 98-UVATS UV Filter (not included with kit)

Camera settings

  • Video Mode - Manual exposure
  • Focus Mode - Continuous AF
  • Focus Area - Wide
  • HDMI Resolution - 1080p
  • HDMI Info. Display - Off
  • File Format - XAVC S
  • Record Setting - 30P 50M
  • Aspect Ratio - 16:9
  • Shutter speed - 1/60 (rule of thumb is double your frame rate)
  • Lens aperture - f/3.5 (choose the smallest f/stop your lens will support. The lowest on the kit lens is 3.5 which is not great)
  • ISO - Keep on auto so camera auto adjusts exposure since you are keeping shutter speed and aperture fixed. Since the kit lens is not great, you should adjust exposure mode to +1 EV

Setup instructions

  1. Place the Sony camera at eye level on your desk next to your computer screen
  2. Insert the dummy battery in your camera and insert it into an AC outlet. Do not use the real battery. The dummy battery is ideal for streaming mode since your camera is being used for extended periods
  3. Connect the HDMI output from your camera to the HDMI input port on the Pengo card
  4. Send this video stream to your Mac or Windows computer by connecting the USB connector from your Pengo card to your computer USB-C port

Cost: $763.90

Green Screen

A green screen helps you create visual effects by separating the foreground from the background. So you can drop in any background image / presentation / video behind the foreground actor

Source: Emart

There are many cheap ones in the market but selected this Emart Green Screen, Collapsible Chromakey Panel for Photo Backdrop Video Studio because it is a portable pull-up with wrinkle-resistant green screen background with a solid aluminium base. You can easily store this once you collapse it in the hard case

Setup instructions

  1. Place the green screen behind you. It should be parallel to you
  2. The ideal distance between the green screen backdrop and subject (you) is 10 feet but I have it working fine even though it is only 5 feet behind me
  3. Do NOT wear green if you want the green screen effects

Cost: $185

Lighting

Lighting makes a big difference in video quality. While you can go with a 3 point lighting setup, I recommend getting one LED key light first and see if that suffices

I got one LED light — GVM Bi-Color LED Ring Light (18") which seems to be working fine so far

Setup instructions

  1. Place the LED Light as a Key light so it shines your face
  2. If you go with a 3 light setup use the above configuration and placement
  3. Suggest light with a Softbox for the fill lights so you can light the green screen evenly

Cost: $88

Broadcasting Software

I highly recommend Open Broadcaster studio not just because it is free but is very easy to setup and has many high quality free video production tutorials on YouTube.

Open Broadcaster StudioVersion 26.0.2 (64 bit) on Mac

OBS VirtualCam plug-in — The key reason to use this OBS virtual cam software is because it works with video conferencing solutions such as Google Meet, Zoom, etc and can help with special effects like custom backgrounds, video backgrounds, picture in picture, etc

Since I am using Google Meet, I need a way to output OBS as a virtual camera and recognizing it as a video source within Meet. Download the OBS Virtual Cam plug-in (latest version for Mac, Windows). Here is a good Medium article that explains this

Setup instructions

  1. Configure the above settings in OBS
  2. Add Video Capture Device in Sources “+” and select as follows
    Built in camera: Select FaceTime HD Camera (Built-in).
    DSLR/Mirrorless camera: Select HDMI to U3 to select your video capture card

3. I chose 1280 x 720 resolution which should work in most cases

4. Post #2, right click on the Video Capture card you added and select Filters.

5. Select Chroma Key and select Green. I left the default settings

6. Depending on what you want your video production to be add other Sources like Image, Window Capture, etc. Here is a good guide on Sources

7. Go to Tools -> Start Virtual Camera

Google Meet

In Google Meet Settings (invoke menu from lower right hand corner), just select the OBS Virtual Camera as your video source and make sure you select 720p resolution (highest that Google Meet supports)

Cost: $0

Now start streaming or video conferencing! Hope this setup helps you create a Studio In a Box at home or at your educational institution.

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Prakash Hariramani

Interested in landscape photography, payments, education & meditation