I participated in CNET’s Reporters’ Roundtable with Rafe Needleman about two weeks ago. The topic was The Future of Laptops. While I encourage you to click the link and watch the segment, self-promotion isn’t why I am blogging today. After the show was over, one thing was readily apparent – my video and audio quality were awful. I don’t just mean subpar, I mean really, really awful. It was embarrassing. I go around talking about Lenovo’s superior VoIP performance (video conferencing for you non-techies) and I was using our premier platform for video conferencing – a T400s with low-light sensitive camera and dual noise cancelling microphones. I should have blown both of these guys out of the water. Instead, it was painful to watch and listen to. Look at these screen shots. The first one is Rafe. The second is Rahul. The last, me.
My PC is clearly transmitting at a lower resolution. The video looks like something from a Fisher Price My First Webcam. (I could have picked a more interesting location too.) I went back and forth with our ThinkPad design team. I had the latest version of Skype. My drivers were all up to date. I was at work, so the data pipe was big enough. They had me check to make sure that I removed the plastic protective camera strip (yes, I had). I even did a few video tests with some 3rd party software which showed the camera was quite capable of capturing high resolution images. Then they told me something I had never considered – one of the ways we save battery life on ThinkPads is to default to lower camera resolutions when on battery power. When I was participating on the video conference, I was in fact away from my desk on battery power. As a result, my system was using my unplugged, battery mode power settings.
The team explained to me that if I wanted high quality video, I needed to set my CPU speed to a higher level (or plug my system in) and then the problem would clear up. Sure enough, it did. Lesson one learned. That fixed my video problem, but during the broadcast, I still had big problems with echoes. I compensated (as did the CNET team) by muting my mic when I was not talking. The whole experience was annoying to everyone. The solution to this problem came from a Windows Control Panel item I had never looked at: Lenovo’s SmartAudio applet. When you launch this applet, it allows you to set your microphone to optimize for voice recording or VoIP, 1:1 chatting or multiple people talking in a conference room. I had mine set for voice recording and as a result, the noise reduction and echo cancellation features were turned off. The system was doing exactly what it was set to do. I just had no idea.
Lesson two learned. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. If you aren’t happy with your ThinkPad’s performance when using Skype or other video conferencing tools, start digging around in your Control Panel. ----------------- As an last thought, I have asked the team to investigate a “camera” or “VoIP” setting in Lenovo Power Manager. We should be able to make this easier for the average person to figure out. I doubt I would have ever figured it out without coaching.