If your Zoom calls are looking drab after six months of constant use, maybe it’s time to add some flair to your video conferencing.
Improving Zoom doesn’t mean you need to load up on equipment and get a ring light. Instead, you can download some software and add a few digital tools so that everything from your Zoom invites to your backgrounds really stand out. Because, although it may feel like it, it’s no longer March 2020. It’s time to level up on Zoom.
Krisp — Noise canceling
If background noise is still plaguing your weekly stand-up, you need some extra help. Zoom already has noise suppression built in (find it in the Audio settings), but it doesn’t catch as much as Krisp’s separate desktop app.
Free up to 120 minutes per week or $5 per month (or $3.33 per month if paid annually) for unlimited use.
Circles — Multi-tasking and new interface
Circles lets you look at something besides the same old Zoom screen you’ve been staring at for months. Everybody on the call becomes a small video circle (as in the photo at top), and your desktop becomes available for you to do whatever you need while on yet another Zoom call. Don’t worry: The host won’t know that you’re going through email while on the call. And even with your desktop more accessible, you can still use the chat and video-sharing features through Zoom.
Otter.ai — Transcribing
Live transcription means you don’t have to take copious notes during a Zoom meeting. Otter.ai is integrated into Zoom’s API, so you don’t have to think too hard about setting it up.
If you’re the one speaking on the Zoom call, Otter.ai will turn your spoken words into text. The transcription, which works for all speakers on a call, shows up on a separate webpage that you can send to your different devices.
Included with Otter for Teams, which is $30 per month.
Luma — Invites and calendar listings
Instead of using default Zoom invites and registration pages, Luma lets you personalize and improve invitations to your Zoom event, whether it’s a small call or a massive webinar.
You can customize an event page with a cover photo, include special questions for guests, and add a section for payment if it’s a ticketed event. Your Zoom event will also integrate into a calendar listing that can be organized however you like, instead of as the Zoom default.
Free during the pandemic. For ticket sales for paid events, there’s a small credit card processing fee.
Canva — Backgrounds
Canva is like a simplified Photoshop on your web browser, which allows you to make your own Zoom background in a few clicks. You can customize one of the site’s templates or download one of the pre-made Canva backgrounds for your next call.
Free to make your own background or download from Canva. A paid Canva Pro account with even more features is $12.95 per month.
Grain — Video highlights
Create a video clip using footage from a recorded Zoom meeting that you can then send as a link in Slack or through iMessage and other communication apps. Grain also takes notes of what speakers say during the meeting, and you can highlight sections of text to create a quick video clip from the transcription. You can also mark important moments or comments during a Zoom video with an emoji “bookmark” to go back and turn that section into a shareable clip.
Free during Grain’s early access period, but there’s a two-week wait to sign up.
SparkoCam — Virtual webcam
If the camera built into your laptop doesn’t cut it, you can set up Zoom to use your fancy “real” camera, like a Canon or Nikon. Set up the camera on a tripod or stand and connect it to your computer. Then Windows users only (sorry, everyone else), can run SparkoCam, which turns your DSLR or other camera into a webcam that can connect to Zoom.
Along with higher-quality video, SparkoCam lets you add effects, graphics, animations, and other features on the screen.
Pricing for SparkoCam starts at $39.95. For Canon- and Nikon-specific licenses it’s $49.95.
Nvidia Broadcast app — Noise canceling, backgrounds, auto-framing
This app requires a bit more than just your laptop — you’ll need some Nvidia equipment like graphics cards. But once you’re set up, you can start video streaming like a pro for a TV broadcast or for a big-audience event like a virtual university lecture or online convention or conference.
The app removes background noise, can blur your IRL background, and will give you a virtual green screen for new background images. For anyone who is presenting or leading a Zoom call, the auto-framing feature keeps you front and center, even if you move to the right or stand up.
Free to download, but compatible Nvidia GPUs start around $300.