Tweaking audio and (webcam) video quality in Windows 10

Back in the spring (whilst I was on Furlough Leave and had time for weeknotes), I wrote about some upgrades to my home office. The LED lights didn’t work out (battery life was too short – I need to find something that works from mains power) so they went back to Amazon but the Marantz MPM-1000U microphone has been excellent.

I’ve seen a few tweets and videos recently about using software to use a smartphone camera as a webcam. Why might you do that? Well, because many laptop webcams are a bit rubbish (like the one in my Apple MacBook) or poorly placed, giving an unflattering view from below.

I had a play with the Iriun webcam software recommended in this video from Kevin Stratverdt and it worked really well, with the phone on a tripod, giving a better angle of view.

Ultimately though, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 that I use for work has a pretty decent webcam, and my Nokia 7 Plus was no better quality – all I was really gaining was a better camera position.

I do still have a challenge with lighting. My desk position means that I’m generally back-lit with a north-facing window to my left. Some fill-in light in front might help but I also wanted to adjust the settings on my webcam.

Microsoft Teams doesn’t let me do that – but the Camera app in Windows 10 does… as described at Ceofix, there is a “Pro mode” in the Windows 10 Camera app that allows the brightness to be adjusted. There are more options for still images (timer, zoom, white balance, sensitivity, shutter speed and brightness) but the brightness option for video let me tweak my settings a little.

The next challenge I had was with audio. Despite using the volume controls on the Surface Pro to knock the volume up to 100% whilst I was presenting over Teams earlier, everyone else on the call sounded very quiet. It turned out that 100% was not 100% – there is a Realtek Audio Console app on my PC which, as well as letting me adjust the speaker and microphone settings, including volume, balance, Dolby audio, sample rate and depth. Finding this revealed that my volume was actually no-where near 100% and I was quickly able to increase it to a level where I could hear my client and co-presenters!

Bose Soundlink Mini II speakers turn off at low volume levels

Listening to music a couple of nights ago (streamed from Spotify on my MacBook, though I’m not sure how relevant that is), I found that my Bose SoundLink Mini II speakers kept turning off after 5 minutes (running on battery power, connected with a cable). Spotify kept playing but the sound stopped until I turned the speakers off/on again.

I hadn’t seen this issue before – and I was using the same 3.5mm AUX cable setup that I often use with our small TV (to improve its sound quality), so I hit the interwebs to see what I could find…

Some hunting around suggests that the issue may have been the low volume level on my MacBook (I was in the room directly under my youngest son’s bedroom, after bedtime).

“The Speaker does have a power-save mode, but it will generally only enter this when no audio is detected. The most likely explanation here is that the speaker is getting a very weak signal […] and boosting it enormously with its internal amp.

[…]
If you are using a headphone jack or similar […], try increasing the […] output level while turning the speaker’s volume down. This should provide a stronger signal on the AUX port which would prevent the speaker from sleeping automatically.”

Sure enough, increasing the volume on the MacBook to around level 4-5 and decreasing the volume on the speakers seems to stop the power-down. Indeed, to make sure this was the case, I turned the MacBook’s volume back down to 1 and waited for the music to cut out… then, when it did, I just increased the volume to around level 4-5 again and the speakers came alive!

On a related note… I stumbled across these Spotify tips and tricks that might be useful…