There’s more to video conferencing than meets the eye.
It may be a visual medium but there’s a lot of equipment that goes into making a great video call, or live stream, or online gaming experience–let’s face it, video is everywhere these days.
And the best video conferencing equipment of 2018 makes great holiday gifts for the digital native in your life. To help you select the right video conferencing accessories to impress your family and friends, we’ve put together a sampler of some of the finest video conferencing gifts you can give this year, from webcams and microphones to headsets and speakers.
We’ll leave you to make the final call on who makes the “nice” list this festive season, but with rewards like the ones below in the balance, they’ll be glad they stayed on your good side.
The Best Video Conferencing Equipment of 2018: Webcams
The past year has seen the release of some innovative webcam technology. We’ve previously highlighted some of the most interesting webcams of 2018, but below you’ll find standouts to impress the gamer, live streamer, or video calling professional on your list.
Logitech BRIO: With best-in-its-class visuals and as the first affordable webcam to feature 4K imagery, the Logitech BRIO is about as professional a webcam as you can get for less than $200. The webcam’s dynamic range technology provides better colors and light balance in low light conditions (perfect for telecommuters) and its array of lenses also makes it able to perform facial recognition for compatibility with Windows Hello’s biometric security system.
Logitech C922 Pro Stream: Excellent HD video quality coupled with a smooth 60-frame-per-second output makes this affordable cam ($99.99) a great choice for the live streamer in your life. It works well even in dimly lit areas, and comes with a three-month XSplit premium license, which gives your loved one access to the leading live stream hosts. The C922 (as well as the BRIO and the Logitech C920) is also compatible with a new software update from Logitech designed specifically for content creators and streamers, which lets you add borders to a live stream, save webcam settings, and live stream directly to YouTube (among other things). Along with the included XSplit license, this makes the C922 a no-brainer gift for aspiring YouTube stars. The C922 and the very similar C920 are both popular gaming webcams, as well, in case you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to the Razer, below.
Razer Stargazer: You’ll have to search a little to find one of these as Razer has stopped production, but it’ll be worth it to your favorite gamer–and Amazon should still have them in stock for around $125. The cam has solid visual and frame rate performance, but the real treasure is the automatic background removal power by Intel’s RealSense Camera that makes it easy to cut the clutter from your stream and preserve the gaming environment. One caveat: make sure your giftee’s computer meets all the requirements needed for this webcam.
Microphones That Impress
Audio is half the video calling experience, but microphone quality often gets overlooked in a video conferencing setup. You can get by with the built-in mics in your laptop or webcam, but nothing delivers like a stand-alone device, especially when your gift recipient is a vlogger or live streamer.
Blue Yeti: One of the best all-around microphones on the market, the Yeti is compact and easy to set up and can be used in a variety of different polar patterns–the directions from which it captures sound. It looks great, and there are a variety of models–from the Nano to the Yeti Pro Studio–for giftees of every experience level.
Samsung G-Track Pro: Something of a next-level microphone, the Samsung combines a whole lot of features–including the ability to plug in an extra mic–with a reasonable price, at around $150. Perfect for the kind of two-person interviews you might broadcast over a live stream (or use to create a podcast), it’s also more than capable of being your hands-free video calling favorite.
Audio-Technica AT2020: We’ve discussed this model before and are still impressed with its potential as a gaming mic. Its solid build, natural sound quality, and ease of use make up for the fact that you need to buy a special cable to get the most out of the device.
Headsets That Combine Comfort with Performance
The benefits of wearing a headset during a video call, or while gaming for that matter, are twofold: a good pair will pump in high-quality sound while also keeping out the distractions of the real world.
Logitech 820e Wireless Headset: We’ve long championed the advantages of going wireless with your headset and this Logitech model is one of the better ones at combining that freedom with high performance (it’s not uncommon to sacrifice sound quality once you unplug). With a ridiculous range of 300 feet and a battery life of ten hours there’s no chance you’ll get caught out on a call, and it also includes echo and noise cancellation.
Sennheiser PC 373D: Affectionately known as the King of the Battlefield, the PC 373D is a little more expensive than your average headset at about $250, but it’s one of the best gaming accessories currently available. It has 7.1 Dolby surround sound (no surprise coming from Sennheiser, which has long made headphones with great sound quality), ergonomic ear cups, a sound-canceling boom mic, and a strong yet lightweight design that will survive gaming marathons without crushing your ears.
Logitech H650e: At less than $80 for the mono model (the stereo model–with two speakers instead of just one–is $90) the H650e is a great option for the video calling professional or telecommuter. It doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as the gaming models above (or the wide frequency response), but its minimal sleekness should convert even the headset-phobic. It features a boom microphone–one less accessory to buy separately–and has the necessary noise and echo cancellation to make sure the world around you doesn’t interfere with business.
Speakers With Style
There are some truly funky sets of speakers out there this holiday season. Every video conversation comes with an audio element so there’s a practical need, but if you just want to impress with your eye for design these units will do the trick.
Edifier e25 Luna Eclipse: You’ll find these groovy egg-shaped speakers among the highlights of VC Daily’s Guide to VC Accessories, which is filled with even more holiday gift ideas. They feature the power of 74 watts and an 85-decibel signal-to-noise ratio and will cost around $200.
Logitech MX Sound: These high-quality Bluetooth speakers match portability and flexibility with a flat black circular design that looks clean and elegant with your computer setup (or in any room). They cost about $100 and hit a peak power of 24 watts, more than enough in a high-quality set like this.
JBL Pebbles: Another cute circular design, the JBL series is well known for packing big sound into small speakers and these award-winning speakers are no exception. They have plug-‘n’-play simplicity and will cooperate with any leading desktop or laptop. While they’re technically discontinued, they’re easy enough to find on Amazon for around $135 for the pair.
For the Young and Young at Heart
Finally, we come to the frivolous aspects of video conferencing. This isn’t equipment, per se, more like apps and add-ons that can make video conferencing more interesting, especially for the kids. The addition of video conferencing to many messaging services has opened a world of video calling fun and accessibility for younger users, due in large part to the presence of emoticons, avatars, and digital masks.
Here are two services that are determined to make video conferencing fun:
YouCam 8 Webcam Software: Like a desktop version of those smartphone apps that add special effects to videos and video calls, YouCam 8 gives you a choice of more than 200 effects like emoticons, avatars, and masks that you can add to live calls and streams. You need a webcam to make the software download work, and the full package costs $49.99, but it works across video platforms and is perfect for a budding Twitch, YouTube, or YouTube Live star.
JusTalk Kids App: Our recent review of JusTalk Kids compared the app to social media training wheels. It’s about as safe as video conferencing can get, with parental approval and password control at every turn and not a trace of advertising or in-app purchasing. If you’re ready for your kiddos to start their online social lives, this is the way to go.