‘Hello’ to a Better Camera Angle

The next big update for Windows 10, coming to your computer next month or in May, will feature the ability to switch between two webcams. For many that will be toggling a built-in laptop camera and a second camera mounted on a separate monitor. It will help you make better eye contact during meetings. But remember, not all devices are created equal.

The “most equal” device for Windows Hello is the Microsoft Surface, which I use regularly along with another computer and multiple monitors. Its built-in camera is high resolution, but like with all built-in cameras, you get locked into a single direction and camera angle. If I’m video conferencing with a client through my Surface and need to look at data on another monitor, we lose eye contact. We all know eye contact is critical for effective personal communication. It’s why we are more aware of it now that the pandemic has forced us to work from remote locations.

By placing a second camera on the monitor I use for the extra data I need, I’m able to make better eye contact with the others on the video conference.  With Windows Hello, the biometrics make it possible to use facial recognition to essentially “toggle” the camera I’m looking into directly. It can all be configured in the settings for my Surface and a Hello-compatible external camera. It’s all done through the Device Manager settings in Windows.

The key is to make sure your external camera is compatible with Hello. It gives you a plug-n-play setup, and once it’s configured, you can use its facial recognition to sign onto other devices connected through Hello. It’s faster and avoids the need to enter multiple passwords. The benefit of that, too, is that you can use a single, secure routine for logging in on everything. (Remember, one of the benefits of new technology we always push is eliminating the need for passwords.)

If you don’t have a computer or device that works with Windows Hello, you can still use multiple cameras or an external camera with Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other platforms. Most external webcams can be mounted on a monitor – or even a large flatscreen TV – and connected to your computer. A USB connection is most common, and we recommend using the fastest USB connection available. If you have Bluetooth capability in the device you’re using for your video conference, that will give you more flexibility in placing your camera. Either way, you also have the option to mount your webcam on a tripod, with Bluetooth most likely extending your range.

External webcams with Hello and Bluetooth compatibility are readily available for anywhere from $30 to $70. You should look for 1080p resolution because it will work much better for anyone who’s watching on a large TV. Just think of what you like to view when you’re watching a show or streaming content on a large TV. You can even go to 4K resolution, but for most of us, 1080p does very well.

If you don’t have Windows Hello, you can still connect an external camera – even with Bluetooth if your computer or device supports it. You’ll need to go into your Zoom settings and select the camera you want to use. Most people use the built-in camera as their default device. (It’s the same with their microphone and speakers.) However, you have several options with both an external camera and your built-in camera. These include setting the video ratio and – if your camera supports more adjustments – the ability to set a closer (zoom) or wider viewing angle.

Again, not all devices are created equal, so you’ll need to live with the technology you have or upgrade.

We can help you determine what hardware will provide the videoconferencing capabilities you want and help you configure your hardware to maximize its capabilities. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs, your current technology and your budget. They’re all factors in making your system as “equal” as you want it to be.

Why Ford’s Manufacturing Problem is Yours, Too

Ford Motor Company has made a big fuss about the semiconductor shortage. They simply can’t get enough semiconductors to make enough vehicles to meet the demand. Well, they’re not the only ones who can’t meet demand. Here’s how you’re being toppled as the dominoes fall.

This is related to the chip shortages we’ve been experiencing for the better part of the last two years. That caused a scarcity of computers at a time when companies were upgrading hardware to run Windows 10 and then when families scrambled to get computers for online schooling.

Now we have a shortage of semiconductors, which are used in all motor vehicles of all sizes as well as home appliances ranging from microwave ovens to refrigerators to washing machines. We’re also facing shortages of building materials because of all the remodeling and home renovations we’re doing during the pandemic. What that means for anyone doing a major project and upgrading technology is that you’re going to wait a long time to complete your projects, and they’re going to cost a lot more.

What’s happening is that we’re being caught by the law of supply and demand – the first rules you learned about in economics and probably haven’t given much thought to in a long time. Just like with Ford Motor Company, you’re now having to wait a longer time for things you need, and you’re paying more money for them. If you need technology for work or business, your productivity is suffering. If you felt like you were caught between a rock and a hard place before, they’ve tightened their grip

A client who relies on laptop computers for field service techs is caught in one of those untenable situations. The software that makes it all work is tied to Windows 7 – which is still usable but far from ideal. We can’t backload the software onto newer computers because we can’t backload Windows 7 onto them. They really need older, rugged Windows 10-compatible computers, but they’re not readily available – and there’s one more law: the law of diminishing returns.

At some point, it costs more to run old equipment than it does to buy new stuff. The biggest factors are that it becomes harder if not impossible to find parts or tweak the operating system or application software. At the same time, the units’ performance decreases to the point that it affects a company’s bottom line. Supply chain and manufacturing issues have turned these problems into much larger ones.

Another client, who has a Mac, got a PC back from an employee who left the company. The PC is newer, but because everything was stored just on the Mac, we needed to load everything into the cloud and then bring it back to the PC.

That incident reminded me of how our systems have evolved in my time as an IT professional. I used to carry big notebooks and CDs to install drivers and other types of system software as needed by clients. Then, we didn’t need the cases of CDs because we had thumb drives that plugged into a USB port. Today, it’s hard to find a computer that has a CD drive. The cloud is making them extinct.

The cloud is also more efficient. By being able to upload all manner of data and application software to a server, where it can be stored until it’s needed and then downloaded, we’ve dramatically cut the time it takes to do our work. No matter how much somebody might have saved by keeping old equipment and workflows in place, the time has come where the lack of productivity is costlier than the equipment. Shortages of equipment or higher prices make the problems costlier.

Everyone needs to take stock of their technology now, no matter how old or new it is. If you haven’t reached the point of diminishing returns, it may be closer than you think. Even if your technology is fairly new, you need to have a plan to phase in replacements in the most cost-effective manner. That means you need to shop continuously to budget for the most advantageous time to make your moves.

We can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up a technology assessment and replacement program. You’ll maximize your cost-efficiency and avoid the catastrophic effects of the law of supply and demand.

Satellite Internet Connectivity May Help Those on the Move

Starlink, the satellite-based internet service provider from Elon Musk is generating a lot of buzz. If you hate your current ISP, it’s a promising alternative. If you live in a rural area, it’s an even more promising alternative. And if the pandemic pushed you into a more mobile lifestyle, Starlink could up the ante.

Satellite internet and phone service has been around for a long time, but it’s expensive and not nearly as fast as what you can get from your current ISP in an urban area. Viasat, one current provider, offers the fastest satellite internet speeds – up to 100 Mbps – and the most generous data allowances – up to 300 GB/mo. That runs up to $150/month. If you exceed your cap, the speeds drop. They have an unlimited plan that is $200 per month after an introductory period. HughesNet, the other big player has plans from $60 to $150 per month for 10 to 50 GB/mo. but with speeds up to 25 Mbps.

This is where Starlink enters. They’re hoping to take advantage of your hatred for your ISP (they claim 51 percent of Americans would sign up for their beta program once it’s available), and at first glance, it has an attraction. According to their figures, the average internet connection speed is 57.2 Mbps for $65/mo., an average of $1.13/Mbps. They claim you’ll be able to connect to Starlink at 103.1 Mbps for $99/mo., an average of $0.96/Mbps.

For terrestrial use, Starlink’s target is cities from 45 degrees north latitude (Lake Champlain, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Salem, OR to name a few) to 53 degrees (Calgary and Winnipeg in Canada). That’s way north of where most of you are likely to be. At 40 degrees, you might get some coverage in Newark and New York City. Starlink has already launched 1,000 satellites, but with a plan to have 42,000 in orbit, they have a long way to go. The FCC has approved 12,000 satellites.

But Starlink is not alone. Amazon has plans for Project Kuiper. While it hasn’t gotten off the ground yet, it is pitting Musk against Jeff Bezos. As two of the world’s richest individuals, they’ll be playing us as they square off, but at some point, we might win. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Amazon has approval for 3,200 satellites so far and hopes to have half of them launched by 2026.

In the meantime, Starlink is not cheap, either even though it may prove to be a bargain. You’ll need to pay $499 for a dish to use it. For most of us who are landlocked in urban America, we can generally do better with our current ISPs given all the demands we make on our bandwidth with working at home, schoolwork for our children and all those streaming devices we use.

But with the right equipment, Starlink will work in cars – and RVs. That jumps it to the head of the line for us. Before travel was restricted, we drove up and down the East Coast quite often. And anyone who’s run the length of I-95 knows that cell service decreases dramatically once you hit the South Carolina state line. It doesn’t get any better until you hit Florence.

If you have an RV and travel off the beaten path, getting internet service is always a concern. After all, we’re not willing to give up all the streaming capability we have at home, especially if we might still do work from the road. You’ll need to keep your Starlink dish in the car or RV with you.

You can go to Starlink’s website now to order your dish and download the iPhone or Android app for installation. Wherever you hope to use it, you will need a clear line of sight from the dish to the satellite(s).

We can help you decide if Starlink is for you and help you configure your system when it’s available. Just call us -973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.