6 apps and tips to virtually connect with your family – including for Christmas dinner

The holidays will definitely feel different this year by not being able to gather with friends and family. But that doesn’t mean that Christmas is cancelled! With the power of technology, you’ll still be able to hear your uncle’s dad jokes, or your cousin’s elaborate stories – it will feel as if they were seated right at the dinner table with you! We’ve compiled a list of video call apps and equipment to use, as well as some set up tips and tricks to help make this year’s virtual Christmas a memorable one.

Best Apps to use for Video Calling

With all the apps and services out there to choose from, it might be overwhelming to know which one to use. Below, we have broken down some great video calling apps, and what sets them apart to help you choose the right one for you.

Zoom
Zoom is an excellent choice if you have larger families, as you can call with up to 100 people using their free plan, although only for 40 minutes of video calling. It works on Windows and macOS (desktop), and Android and iOS (mobile). Click here for a Zoom how-to set up guide.

Facetime
Facetime is great for those Apple product lovers, as it works on all Apple devices such as iPads, iPhones and Mac computers and laptops. You can host a video call for up to 32 people. Click here for how to set up FaceTime.

WhatsApp
WhatsApp is a great choice for video calls when you have friends and family living across the globe. You can have up to 4 users, and the calls are on the phone’s data plan or via WiFi, so voice calls do not use up any of your phone minutes. It works on Windows and macOS (desktop), and Android and iOS (mobile). Click here on how to set up a WhatsApp group video call.

Skype
Skype is another great app to use, especially if you have family living in other countries. What makes it a little better than Whatsapp is that it lets you make free international calls online for up to 100 people for audio or video conferencing on any device (Hello, big virtual family gathering!) Works on Windows and macOS (desktop), and Android and iOS (mobile). Click here for how to set up a group chat in Skype.

Houseparty
If you love being the life of the party (or your friends and family do), you’ll love Houseparty. It’s a social networking app that allows up to 8 people to video chat at once in a “room,” plus you can also play games on it, such as Heads Up!, Trivia, Quick Draw and more! Works on Windows and macOS (desktop), and Android and iOS (mobile). Click here to learn more about Houseparty and how to set it up.

Facebook Messenger
Facebook Messenger lets you easily chat and video call with your friends and family. It’s great because most of your friends and family will probably already have it if they have a Facebook account, making it an excellent choice for those who aren’t as tech-savvy. Plus, video calls have a limit of 50 users. Works on Windows and macOS (desktop), and Android and iOS (mobile). Click here for how to set up Facebook Messenger group video chat.

Set Up Tips

Lighting
Of course, you’ll want to look your best when video calling with your friends and family, since someone might request a group screenshot to capture the moment. If you are using a laptop, set up a light source behind and above your screen. This way, your face will be nicely lit up and visible. Also, use lighting from multiple sources and angles, so that it is dispersed nice and evenly. This can help you avoid harsh shadows casting on your face or in the background.

Sound Check
Nothing is worse than not being able to hear your video caller, or them struggling to hear you. If you have a microphone plugged in, make sure your computer isn’t sticking to its default audio input device. Check by making sure your microphone settings on your computer are correct. You can check on a Mac computer by clicking the volume control in the menu bar and selecting “sound options.” In the “Input” tab, make sure that your external microphone is selected from the list. Once it is selected, ensure that the “Input level” bar is moving to show that the computer is picking up any sound. Lastly, check that the volume slider isn’t all the way down.

If you’re using a PC, right click the volume icon in the taskbar and select sounds. Choose the “Recording” tab and choose your external microphone from the list. If you are using you computer for the first time or it is fairly new, you can select “Set up microphone” to go through the Microphone Setup Wizard.

Go Hands-Free
If you don’t have a laptop and will be using your phone, instead of awkwardly propping it up on your table, use a mini or table top tripod. This way, you can eat or do other things while you chat with friends and family. As well, many tripods have convenient, bendable legs that you can securely place on any type of surface or wrap around anything, like a floor lamp post.

Tidy Up!
Lastly, if you’re planning a big family video call, make sure the space in the background is somewhat tidy. The last thing you want is a big pile of dirty laundry sitting in plain sight, or the dishes you forgot to put in the dishwasher the night before on the counter behind you. It’s not the end of the world, but it might save you some embarrassment!

Take it to the Big Screen

If you have your set up ready to go, take it one step further and run your video calls through your TV screen! It is a lot better than hunching over a laptop or trying to see everyone on a tiny mobile screen. If you have any Apple or iOS devices, use a Lightning-to-HDMI adapter. Just plug the adapter into an HDMI cable, hook the cable up to the TV, and switch to the appropriate input.

If your laptop has an HDMI port, you can also simply plug an HDMI cable from the laptop straight into your TV. For newer Macs and Windows PCs with USB-C ports, you can use a USB-C to HDMI cable. Once you have plugged it in, press Windows-P on a Windows laptop to switch between display modes. Choosing “Second-screen only” will disable your laptop’s screen while it’s connected to the TV.

BONUS TIP: If you own a camera, you can also check out our blog on Using Your Camera as a Webcam | How-To Guide for Better Video Calling at Home.

We hope you found this blog helpful on how to virtually connect with friends and family over the Christmas holidays. From choosing the right video call app or service, to setting up, and even using your TV for enhanced visual and sound, it will feel like your loved ones are right there with you!

Using Your Camera as a Webcam | How-To Guide for Better Video Calling at Home

Do you ever wonder why some webcams feel like you’re using MSN video in 2004? If you’re working or learning from home, your webcam plays an integral role in communicating with the world. If you have a newer model camera, and don’t want to invest in a webcam, Canon, Fujifilm, GoPro, Nikon, Olympus and Sony have all developed ways to allow you to use their cameras as webcams. Find your manufacturer below for instructions on how to turn your camera into a webcam. Be warned that some of these are in beta versions and can contain errors. Certain manufacturers also don’t warranty the use, so be sure to follow the instructions closely.

Canon

What you’ll need: A compatible camera, a USB cable, Canon Webcam Utility. Be sure that your EOS Utility application is not running as it will interfere with the Webcam Utility.  Make sure your camera is in movie mode (if equipped).
To install, download the software from Canon here.

Compatible cameras:

Fujifilm

What you’ll need: a compatible Fujifilm camera with the latest firmware, a USB cable, a compatible streaming application (Google Meet/Microsoft Teams/ Skype/Zoom).
To configure your camera, in the main set up menu, go to “connection Settings”> USB Mode and select Webcam. You can then use the exposure compensation button to adjust your exposure. Once in Webcam mode, it’s plug and play.
To install, download the software from Fujifilm here.

Compatible cameras:

GoPro

What you’ll need: GoPro HERO8 Black with the newest firmware, a USB-C cable, a mounting option, and  GoPro Webcam desktop utility. Currently they support Mac and PC versions, however the PC application is still in beta. Click here to download the GoPro webcam desktop utility app.

To use an older model requires the use of a HDMI-to-USB video converter, and a GoPro with an HDMI output. The HERO7 Black, Hero6 Black, HERO5 Black, or HERO4 Black, should all be compatible using this method.

Nikon

What you’ll need: A compatible Nikon camera, a computer with Windows, USB cable, Charged battery, video conference software, Nikon Web utility software.
They plan to expand to offer a Mac version in the near future. Click here to download. Once the software is installed, it’s a simple plug and play procedure.

Compatible cameras:

Olympus

What you’ll need: A compatible Olympus camera with a memory card, a USB cable, and OM-D Webcam Beta.
Olympus require you to follow detailed steps to ensure proper function. For full details and to download and install the software from Olympus, click here.

Compatible cameras:

Sony

What you’ll need: A compatible Sony Camera with the latest firmware, Sony’s Imaging Edge Webcam software specific to your model, a USB and a Mac or PC.
On models without ‘Control with Smartphone’ option, it’s a simple plug and play. For cameras with Smartphone control, you will need to go into your settings to configure them to work. You can download the Sony Imaging Edge Webcam software here.

Compatible cameras:

E-mount

A-mount

Digital Still Cameras

 

We hoped this help upgrade your at home webcam experience! Remember to also check out our vlogging lighting accessories and tripods online or in store to ensure you look your best on your next video call!