President Joe Biden tweeted about his Zoom setup on Friday, and it looked so good that I suddenly wanted to know everything about it. The tweet, of course, wasn’t about his video equipment; it should have patted itself on the back for the fall in gas prices. But I don’t want to talk about it. I also don’t want to talk about the diagram next to the screen, which was obviously put there just for this photo and is very hilarious. I want to talk about the large, easel-like Zoom setup in front of Biden as he sits at his desk at the White House residence.
It makes sense that politicians would have better video chat equipment, right? No one else will benefit from looking good on video and no one will lose more from a dropped call, low resolution cameras, or that you can only hear half of the words they say, and you end up making bitcoin the official currency United States. Zoom diplomacy is the name of the game these days and you should bring your best game. In addition, high-ranking government officials have been making video calls around the world for many years. They know how it works.
Gas prices are falling at one of the fastest rates in more than a decade – we are not stopping our work to reduce costs even further. pic.twitter.com/suEKuKXyKP
— President Biden (@POTUS) July 22, 2022
I’m pretty sure Biden is looking at the Neat Board, which is made by a Norwegian company that’s only a couple of years old. Whiteboard is a dedicated video and collaboration gadget with a 65-inch 4K screen, built-in touch screen and whiteboard tool, and a 12-megapixel camera with 4x digital zoom. It’s very similar to Google’s Jamboard or Microsoft’s Surface Hub, and the Neat hardware works with both Teams and Zoom. (This appears to be on Zoom, as the White House has been using Zoom for the government for some time now.) The entire rig in front of Biden stands about six feet tall and weighs about 125 pounds. It also costs $7,280 as it’s set up, although it doesn’t appear to use a $760 planning display or a $760 controller, so it carries some financial responsibility.
The White House must love this device because it’s been used in the Oval Office just after Biden’s inauguration. swing and turn either facing the couch in the office or Biden at the Resolute table. At the time, Neat confirmed that it was in fact the Neat Board, although the company seemed surprised to see its product in the Oval Office. (The company did not respond to my request for comment.) The whole setting is impressive: Biden looks comfortable at his desk, and the camera is at the perfect distance so he looks interested, but the attendees aren’t staring at his nose.
However, I have a couple of notes, Mr. President, if you will. First, you really need a microphone on your desk: you are far away from the microphone, and I know that Zoom and its partners have improved sound isolation, but you will still sound like you are shouting from the other side of the football field. Maybe replace one of those two desk phones with a dedicated Zoom microphone? (Or just build one right into the desk and into the Resolute desk in the Oval Office. I’m sure Rutherford B. Hayes wouldn’t mind.) Also, add a couple more things to your background so it’s not just a flat wall behind you. Maybe a plant or, I don’t know, those huge flags that usually hang right behind you. And while I’m picky, I could clean up the table a bit. Or at least put a coffee cup on a stand.
There are all sorts of video conferencing devices around the White House these days. For the most formal, highest-stakes moments, Biden seems to prefer setting up a high-quality camera and streaming it to Zoom as if he were on a standard TV broadcast. But Roosevelt’s room has a fairly standard camera over a teleconferencing setup, and Biden always seems to be at the head of the table, facing it. (Plus, there are mics on the table!) The Situation Room has a custom setup, as well as a camera and Sharp TV built into the wall at Camp David. If all this “democracy” doesn’t work, the White House will be a great WeWork.
I’ve been trying to figure out how Biden is compared to former President Donald Trump, but mostly to no avail. Before the pandemic, Trump was videoconferencing from a huge oil rig in Mar-a-Lago, but during the pandemic… I can’t find much. Trump has held many video conferences, including from the Oval Office, but there is much less evidence of what he used. However, looking at how he looks in various Zoom videos and grids, it looks like he prefers the quirky camera approach. And he seemed to prefer regular phone calls anyway.
For a more achievable presidential Zoom setup, I could recommend former President Barack Obama’s setup: an iPad on a stand. In a recent video, you can watch Obama’s video chat from your desk with an iPad Pro on an adjustable desk stand. I can’t say with complete certainty, but I think it’s a Lisen tablet stand that you can buy on Amazon for $24. It’s not as nice a setup as Biden’s and we’re here in edge I still have mixed feelings about the Center Stage on the iPad, but it’s still definitely better than your laptop.
Oh, and here’s the most important lesson you can learn from the president’s behavior on Zoom: turn off your own view. In virtually every videoconference I could find, Biden’s own feed was not on screen. It’s good for your mental health, it’s good for your focus, and it’s just better than staring at yourself all day. None of us need to see our face anymore, even when we are presidents.
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