There are a few relatively simple things that you can do in your Connect room to improve the experience and efficiency of your sessions. A few of the best practices that have the best ‘return on investment’ are below.’
In any of the scenarios below, take the time to click on the green bars to the top-right of your room and you will see the ‘Connection Status’ and more importantly the ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ bandwidth averaged of maybe 10 seconds.
Up is what you are sending into the room, down is what you are receiving from the room. Having this open during some of your dry runs or even live sessions will give you an understanding of the overall bandwidth being used and where you can cut a few corners.
PowerPoint is the center of almost all presentations so there is a great return if you can make it even a little more efficient. Here are a couple of initial tweaks that you can make to the content and your processes.
Load the PowerPoint file into the Share Pod in the Connect Room vs. Screen Sharing the Content
Screen sharing is a constant flow of data and unnecessarily inefficient for a PowerPoint deck that is unlikely to change during the presentation.
Loading the deck into the room Share Pod allows the slides to load into the individual cache of the attendees. This is transparent to the attendees, presenters and the hosts in the room but it means that changing animations or slides takes essentially zero bandwidth. The presenter is effectively ‘telling’ the local copy of the slide deck to move to the next animation or slide and the attendee already has that content stored locally.
This also means of course that the content is ready in your room when you begin your session.
Run a ‘Compression’ on the Images in the PowerPoint Deck Prior to Loading it into the Connect Room Share Pod
Unfortunately, many PowerPoint decks and in particular the images can be unnecessarily large. Typically the images might come from the media department and they will send over the highest quality images they have. Even if the image is smaller on the slide, it can still be huge in terms of data size.
This can manifest itself in the Connect room as a delay in the images appearing in the Share Pod, they are pre-loading but even in this ‘cached’ scenario, a 10MB image can take a little longer to load on a slide.
There is a very simple tool in PowerPoint that allows you to compress the images in the deck. It is entirely possible to compress the images in a PowerPoint deck and see the size of the deck reduced to a small fraction of the initial deck.
On a Windows PC – Select any image and in the ribbon select ‘Format’ then select ‘Compress Pictures’. In the next dialogues box, deselect ‘Apply only to this picture’ (as you want this to be applied to the whole deck) and then select ‘Delete cropped areas of pictures’. For the ‘Target Output’ ‘Screen’ and ‘OK’.
Re-save the file and you should see a significantly smaller resultant file. It is extremely unlikely that you will see any difference in the images in the slide deck with the naked eye.
This is not always necessary, but even though your personal best practices may be to keep the decks smaller in size, you have little control over the content produced by others and this is a good fail-safe to create good content for use in Connect.
On a Mac – Select any image, from the ribbon select ‘Format Picture’ and ‘Compress’. Follow the Windows PC instructions above.
Keep a PowerPoint Deck in Cache (keep it ‘alive’)
This may seem like an odd comment, but you may have noticed that when you move away from a PowerPoint deck in a Share Pod to another layout, and then back again…the PowerPoint deck needs to reload (the spinning ‘Adobe Presenter’ message). Although this is not a critical issue, it is inconvenient and it can slow the pace of the presentation.
To avoid this, include the same Share Pod with the PowerPoint deck on other layout, but as you do not want to show the deck to the audience, make it very small and ‘hide’ the Share Pod behind another pod in the layout(s).
Your audience will not see the hidden Share Pod but your slides will return instantly when you return to the original layout. You are freeing up the bandwidth that was taken to reload the slides each time you change layouts.
Cameras and Live Video
Camera streams are critical to engaging your audience, but they can of course use a significant amount of bandwidth. The best practices below are not intended to discourage the use of live camera feeds, they are intended to respect the bandwidth of the attendees and in some cases, their sanity.
Use Only the Cameras you Need
Technically there is no limit to the number of cameras you can use in Connect, but understand that the bandwidth take is linear. If one camera take 500kbit/s then 10 cameras take 5mbit/s (and that will essentially overwhelm most network connections).
Turning on 10 cameras is often an easy choice, but when you are presenting with 10 live feeds it can be incredibly distracting for the audience, particularly if only one person is actually presenting at a time.
Consider having presenters turn their cameras on and off when they need to present and keep the focus on a single or maybe two presenters at a time.
Alternately, use the ‘Film Strip’ option in the Camera Pod (top-right of the camera Pod). This keeps one camera in focus and places the other cameras across the bottom of the Camera Pod. This allow you (as a host in the room) to act as a producer and select the camera you want to be in focus or on-stage as the presentation evolves.
From a bandwidth perspective, only the main camera is shown at the higher resolution, the other cameras are all visible but at a lower resolution. This is a great ‘hybrid’ option to allow multiple cameras but respect both bandwidth and the focus of the audience.
Consider a Software Video Studio Solution
There are some excellent virtual studio solutions available that are very inexpensive, they can add a professional to your camera work and save a significant amount of bandwidth.
ManyCam is a simple option with a free trial, XSplit Broadcaster is a more sophisticated option, also with a free trial. Both free trials have limited features and a watermark, but useful to see what they can do.
Both of these solutions produce a ‘Virtual Webcam’ feed that the Connect Camera Pod can use. Using this technique you can transition between camera feeds at your location using fades etc. and use effects such as picture-in-picture. The feed into Connect is a single camera feed so it is very efficient.
Match the Camera Quality with the Camera Pod Size
You can dynamically change the quality of the camera during a session by opening the Preferences pane and moving the slider beside the ‘Video’ section. I dynamically change to a lower quality when my camera is smaller in a layout beside a PowerPoint deck (for example). I have never had an audience member notice this as my Camera Pod is so much smaller.
I will typically have the quality set to the second notch from the right when my camera is larger (480p and 20fps) and move it one notch to the left when my Camera Pod is smaller (240p and 10fps). Although this seems like a small change, the difference in bandwidth being sent can be 6-8 times smaller.
Hint – To get to the ‘Video’ section of the Preferences pane more easily, go to the ‘Pod Options’ menu to the top-right of the Camera Pod and click ‘Preferences’ there…this will take you straight to the right section.
It is good to be aware of the bandwidth taken by screen sharing in Connect. In a perfect world, all attendees would have great connectivity…in the real-world it is less simple unfortunately.
Select the Appropriate Bandwidth for your Use-Case
If the bandwidth for screen sharing has not been fixed by your Connect Administrator, you have the option of changing it inside of your room. Go to the Preferences pane and in the ‘Screen Share’ section you can choose a setting that reflects the fidelity and frame-rate that works for you.
The settings a reasonably simple, but the key is that you may not need the highest quality setting if you are sharing relatively static content. You may need a higher quality setting if you have a lot of detail in the content to be screen shared.
Look at the result on another monitor and you will be able to see what works and preserves the most bandwidth for you.
Only share what you Need to Share
Screen sharing is going to take bandwidth based on the activity on the screen. If you have a full-screen movie it will take more bandwidth than a relatively static web page.
If you have scrolling ads (for example) that you do not need to share, don’t share them. If you can share a single window vs. your whole screen then do so…this is a good idea in most circumstances anyway as it avoids sharing content that you would wish to keep private (such as a messaging tool).
Reduce your Screen Resolution
Reducing the resolution of your monitor saves an exponential amount of bandwidth and it makes your screen share far more readable for your attendees.
Consider the typical use-case these days where you might have a nice large monitor with 1900 resolution. If you share that wth your audience and they have even the *same* monitor it will be scaled down inside of the Connect room Share Pod. Now a more common monitor at the attendee side might be 1400 or 1200 resolution and your huge monitor is going to be squeezed into that small space.
The text will be unreadable unless they zoom in and then they cannot see everything you are sharing at the same time.
You often find that the aspect ratio of the ‘receiving’ monitors is closer to 4:3 and your wide screen will result in blank space above and below the image (as Connect will not warp the image to make it fit, that would wreck the image).
As a best practice and to respect the majority of use-cases, set your own monitor to 1280×1024 and you will find that the text is very readable on the attendee side *and* as a bonus you will find that you have reduced the bandwidth required for the screen-share very significantly.
Your attendees will thank you for the readability I promise.
Convert Documents to PDF Files
Some of the documents you might usually share from your desktop might be Word or Excel for example. If you share these then (as noted above) you are constantly streaming.
If you have time you can convert these to a PDF file and load the PDF into your Connect room Share Pod (save or print to PDF). Just as with the PowerPoint files above, these documents will be loaded into the individual cache of the attendees and when you navigate through them the bandwidth taken will be negligible as you are ‘telling’ the local copy where to go.
This also has the added advantage that you can let individual attendees navigate through the documents on their own by deselecting the ‘Sync’ button to the bottom-right of the Share Pod. It also means that any hyperlinks you have in the document will still be clickable in the room and they will launch web pages etc. for the individual attendees.
Pre-recoded Video (MP4)
Make no mistake, converting and managing the bandwidth taken by video is almost more of an art than a science. Different use-cases make for very different requirements. Below are some fo the factors to consider when converting (or requesting) video to be used in your Connect room.
The key here is not the size of the video file (although Connect limits any single uploaded file to 100MB). The key is the amount of bandwidth the video takes to load and ‘stay ahead’ of the playhead. If the bandwidth requirement is too large then the video will not be able to load in time and it will buffer while it waits for the next segment. If the bandwidth requirement is reasonable then it will stay ahead of the playhead and play cleanly.
Remember that they key here is the bandwidth at the attendee side. As a presenter or host you are simply telling the Connect server to play, pause, stop etc. the video and it is then relaying the video as instructed to the individual attendees.
Overall Conversion Guidelines
Resolution or Size – One of the easiest mistake to make, and relative easy to solve is that most people believe that the video needs to be at a high-resolution to fill the screens. Connect is very good at scaling content so if you convert your video to a relative small resolution (720p or even 480p) it will automatically be scaled by Connect to the size of the pod on the screen of the attendees.
The difference in bandwidth required by a 480p video and a 1080p video is almost exponential and the difference in quality can be very minimal as the video will be scaled in the room.
Video and Audio Bandwidth – When a video is converted, you (or your media team) will have the option to choose the bitrate (bandwidth) for the conversion. This is measured in kbit/s as you have seen earlier in this document.
Im my experience, 500-600 kbit/s of overall bandwidth for audio and video is going to be fine on any connection. This is the sum of both the bandwidth used for the video and for the audio.
If you need very high quality audio for a music video you may choose to have 64 kbit/s dedicated to audio. You can then make up the rest with the video at say 512 kbit/s. So you are asking the conversion tool to create a conversion that will need 576 kbit/s to load and play (64+512).
Then you will decide on the resolution as discussed above, say 480p.
Also you will decide on the frame-rate (frames per second or ‘fps’). Regular movies are made to play at 24 fps, the Hobbit trilogy was made at 48 fps and it is highly unlikely that you need the quality of Peter Jackson in your room! In fact it is unlikely you could tell the difference.
If the movie has a lot of action (a sports video for example) you may want to use a higher frame rate, say 15 fps. If the movie is more of a ‘talking head’ then you may find 8 fps is more than adequate.
The key is balancing the bandwidth requirement with the bandwidth available at the attendee side and respecting it.
When you make these decisions in the conversion tool, it will convert the video and constrain it to the bandwidth you have chosen. If the fps are higher it may need to compromise the quality of the video…if the video quality or resolution are higher it may mean that the audio quality or fps may suffer.
Again, this is more of an art than a science *but* once you get the hang of what you end-users can handle it it very reproducible and reliable.