Joining a videoconferencing session over platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Skype with a slower internet speed or a high latency connection can sometimes be a challenge. Some platforms handle slower speeds or high latency better than other platforms.
Below are some suggestions that may improve your experience.
Check out our Connecting For Education At Home video for tips on improving your set up for educational video conferencing in distance and online education settings.
Check out our Connecting For Health At Home video for tips on improving your set up for online and phone (telehealth) appointments, as well as the nbn™ Telehealth video conferencing connectivity guide.
Buffering and why you need to know about it
Audio or video services over the internet generally download and store the content on your computer, and then play the local content back to you using the specific program. This temporary location is called the “buffer”.
The buffer is the reason satellite connections handle videoconferencing better than might be expected, given the 3-4 second delay in each direction. When you speak or move, it still takes a few seconds until everyone else sees and hears you, but you’ll tend to see everyone moving and reacting at roughly the same time.
If the content can’t download more quickly than it’s being displayed to you, the buffer empties too quickly. The software then then has to wait until the buffer is filled up again with enough content to play. That’s when you see “waiting” symbols on a range of movie streaming programs.
Videoconferencing, however, doesn’t tend to give you a “wait” symbol. You might instead see one of the following common behaviours.
Note that these behaviours can and do occur even on the very best internet connections. They may, however, be seen more frequently on slower or more-overloaded connections.
- Freezing. The sound or image may freeze (stop temporarily), and then jerk back into action.
- “Stop-motion” or “fast-forward” effects. When the playback catches up with the buffer content, it might skip frames to try and get back in sync with the audio, or you might see a “fast-forward” effect.
- Judder, stutter, choppiness. The display isn’t smooth and natural, but broken up or jerky. The sound may break up or become unclear.
- Pixelation/blurriness. The display may break into a much lower-resolution display, where all the edges are blurry or pixelated into square blocks.
- Video stops completely. Your video simply stops working.
- Audio stops completely. This is much less common, as sound takes up less bandwidth than video, but can still occur.
If these issues occur continuously, we suggest running some speed tests and contacting your service provider, to ensure you have the best possible service for your connection.
Before you start
Give your videoconferencing experience the best possible start.
Firstly, ask yourself: does your meeting really need to be a full videoconference? There are other options such as group phone calls or typed “chat” systems that will use up much less bandwidth. Some people aren’t comfortable with video calls, and may prefer an alternative option. Discuss options beforehand.
- Make sure you have the latest version of the conferencing software installed.
- If you frequently have issues with the software, consider viewing the videoconference in the web version instead. (Web browsers tend to have larger buffers – caches – than stand-alone software packages).
- If you’re connecting over Wi-Fi, have the best-quality Wi-Fi router you can.
- Get as close to your Wi-Fi router as you can.
- Consider connecting directly to your router or modem using a cable – wireless connections can break up due to interference.
- If you’re using your mobile device and connecting to the mobile network, find the best possible reception in your location that you can.
- Try to reduce the number of other people connecting to the same internet service, or to your router, as you can.
- If other people need to use the service or router at the same time, get them to turn off or pause any internet services they don’t immediately need.
- Multiple people streaming or videoconferencing at the same time will cause problems on all but the very fastest connections.
- Consider dialling in using a phone, if your video presence isn’t needed.
- If you are using a VPN, turn it off if it’s not required for the meeting.
- Shut down, close, or pause any applications or software that you don’t need for the meeting.
- Close as many browser windows or tabs as you can. This stops the information on those pages from automatically updating and taking up your bandwidth.
- Pause file downloads and uploads if you can, including file synchronising with Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and so on.
- If your app/software allows it, reduce the resolution of your display.
- Test that your sound and camera are working beforehand.
Check videoconferencing app settings
These are changes you can make to the software itself, before you join a call or conference.
- You can change your background image. This is handy if you don’t want people seeing what’s in your background – people walking around, lots of activity, excessively bright lights, and so on.
- Some services allow you to blur out your background, just leaving you clearly displayed in the centre.
- If you choose an alternative background picture, use a still picture, not a moving one. Moving ones look fabulous, but use up bandwidth to broadcast it, which may cause “jitter” or “choppiness”.
- Don’t watch the video in full-screen mode – this will slow down the video.
Tips to fix or improve sound
- Check that you haven’t turned off the sound on your computer itself. Test the speakers and microphone using the software or application’s test systems.
- Check that the other person hasn’t turned off the sound on their computer as well!
- If you are hearing “echoes” during the conference, check that no one else on the same call has both computer and telephone audio active at the same time.
- If possible, use headphones to minimise background noise competing with the video conference.
- Headphones that plug into your computer/device may be more reliable, or have better sound, than wireless or bluetooth ones.
Ensure you mute yourself when you’re not actively speaking. This ensures that no random background noises break up what you’re hearing.
Tips to improve visual quality
- Adjust your lighting. Natural, side and overhead lighting work best.
- A strong light behind you can make your face hard to see. If you can’t change the backlighting, try to put another light in front and to the side of your face.
- Strong light in front of you can cause flare on your face. Try to put another light behind and to the side of your face.
- Background images can fix many lighting issues; make sure they’re static, not moving, images.
- If you can’t adjust the lighting, try moving your computer or web camera itself. Even a small move can make a big difference.
Tips to improve accessibility
Teleconferencing is generally a very inclusive form of communication. These are ways to ensure everyone can participate equally.
- Provide a written agenda or document with key points, and a written summary afterwards.
- Speak clearly and try to avoid interruptions.
- Ensure everyone is muted when not speaking, to reduce background noise.
- Turn on captioning, if available.
- Describe any video material being presented.
- Introduce yourself before speaking.
More information on accessible videoconferencing:
Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children: Videoconferencing with vision impairment
Australian Network on Disability. Practical tips on accessible and inclusive communications
Accessible Telecoms: Video Call and Conference Apps
While the videoconference is running
- Turn off your video and mute your audio unless speaking (or video is needed). Many teacher: student lessons can be done without two-way video of a whole class.
- Let other people finish speaking before starting to speak.
- However, remember that people may be joining over high-latency connections such as satellite, and that their audio will arrive 3-4 seconds after they’ve actually started speaking. Such interruptions may be accidental.
- Give everyone a chance to speak.
- Type comments into the “chat” function of your software.
- Keep an eye on the “chat” function of your software.
- Lifewire: How To Avoid Buffering Issues When Streaming Video
- Choice Australia: Free group video apps review: Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts & more
- Choice Australia: Video conferencing app reviews (Zoom comes out on top, then Facebook Rooms. Microsoft Teams is not reviewed, however).
- Choice Australia: How to find the best video conferencing apps
- Digital Ready: COVID-19 Videoconferencing Etiquette