With the 2020 Tournament of Champions and NSDA online debate tournaments around the corner, the University of Michigan Debate Team thought we would try out a bunch of technology so you don’t have to. Through a series of practice debates and meetings we’ve tested different microphones, speakers, internet connections, and computer setups. Here is what we’ve found:
Ethernet connections are essential. While many laptops no longer have Ethernet ports, you can get an adapter for pretty cheap online and from our experience, any adapter will do. If a hardwired connection into your router isn’t possible, we suggest debating close to the router or buying a range extender with an Ethernet port built into it. Extremely long ethernet cords are available to extend the range of any hardwired Ethernet connection. Alternatively, now might be the time to convince your family to switch into a mesh network.
Most internet data packages that you have coming into the house will be sufficient and shifting into a higher speed is likely going to achieve little. Several internet providers are lifting data caps during the coronavirus. This Marketplace story is a good listen if you have a few minutes to learn about how internet pricing works.
We have tested dozens of different headsets/microphones and have some recommendations.
Gamer headsets are ideal. This set and this set have great fidelity and fit comfortably. If you want to look a little less nerdy, pick up a pair of these which are lighter and a little smaller, while having the same performance.
AirPods and other earbuds that are designed for phone calls are mediocre. They will get the job done if needed but the volume is not the best on them for people on the other end. If you have to use them, we suggest using the microphone on your laptop.
If your laptop has a webcam, it is not necessary to buy an external one as what you have now will be good enough. If you have to buy one, we suggest this one (currently sold out on Amazon) or this one. Globally there seems to be a run on webcams, so if you need to get one you should order it today.
The desk set-up
The cool thing about debating online is that you can use an external monitor to have Verbatim, Zoom, Dropbox, and flows all up at the same time. A 32′ monitor will do the trick, but is not required. If you go with an external monitor, make sure you have your laptop’s webcam pointed at you. You may need to adjust the tilt/angle of your laptop slightly downward when debating for maximum viewership and performance. It goes without saying that having a clean work area and playing around a little with your setup is worthwhile.
Use a stable Ethernet connection when at all possible, buy a gamer headset, and feel free to further test out the technology, as this is an evolving field. There is a run on supplies because of the rapid shift in the world to videoconferencing, so it is best to order things as soon as possible.
If you have any tips or thoughts from your experiences, feel free to share them with us.