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My bet is a big part of the issue is webcams not being embedded in the screens. It's literally impossible to have eye contact because either you are looking at the webcam and not seeing other people, or you are looking at your screen. Many animals are very good at recognizing direct vs indirect eye contact and so I would assume the same is true for humans too.

Agree. The importance of eye contact cannot be overstated.

I have a 43" screen. I bought a very small but generic UVC camera on AliExpress. With this I can lower the camera down on the screen without be too obtrusive while dangling on the wire. This gives a really great result even if the change is just on my end. People seems much more "present". I can only imagine how "real" it would feel if done on both ends.

Before this I was using an Elagato CamLink with a Canon EOS RP. While it gave a great quality image the offset position was not worth it. Furthermore it seems that most common video chat programs downsamples as noone saw a difference between this and a crappy 720 webcam even though it looked glorious on my end.

So have a go with a cheap small FHD UVC camera. It made wonders for me.

Interesting. I want to try this.

Could you share you camera number/link and your setup(pc or living room, distance) ?

From a paper I wrote on the downsides of using video for mediation:

"The most important element of body language is eye contact. “Gaze is vital in the flow of natural communication, monitoring of feedback, regulating turn taking, and punctuating emotion. The lack of eye contact shows timidity, embarrassment, shyness, uncertainty and social awkwardness. (Edelmann and Hampson [1]).” Having a camera on top of a monitor, as the vast majority of video endpoints and laptops have, creates the appearance that participants are looking down. If you do look up into the camera, you aren’t looking at the other participant’s faces. Seeing someone look down makes them seem disinterested or even dishonest. Our minds are programmed to interpret looking down as gaze avoidance. Of all the problems with using videoconferencing for mediation, eye contact is the real show stopper. Again, corporate room-based systems mitigate this with multiple special cameras and other technological tricks. There are some solutions in the pipeline but they will take a long time to “trickle down to the masses.”

The solution I have settled on is to have a webcam on top of an external monitor set up far enough away that you can't really tell that I am not looking directly at the lens. It would be so much better if Zoom allowed me to rearrange the video panels. My perfect video conferencing app for mediation would allow rearrangement of each video stream and have a simpler breakout room functionality.

That's interesting. If having a monitor above the monitor makes it seem like you are gazing down (timid) then is there anything about having the webcam near the bottom of the monitor (nose cam in dells or just putting a webcam below it on the desk)?

There's a neat DIY project to try to overcome this:


TL;DW - use some cardboard a two way mirror and an external webcam to make a box you place over your laptop so that it lines up the camera + your eyes.

I don't think I'll be trying this, but it's a really interesting DIY solution to ensuring eye contact when video conferencing. https://youtu.be/2AecAXinars

Before I clicked I wondered why you wouldn't be trying it. Understood, I suppose I won't be trying it either. Maybe there's a business idea here though, in pre-made special-case videochat boxes. I bet there are other optimizations to be made as well.

I think some(?) smartphones adjust your eyes via post processing to create the illusion of eye-contact when taking selfies, I wonder if this is fast enough to also do it with built-in webcams in laptops.

Yes - Apple put this in to newer ARKit phones. They demoed it for Facetime during beta, but I haven't seen more on it since. Not sure if it will work with other apps like zoom.

Something about this creeps me out even though I probably wouldn't notice it if it wasn't pointed out to me.

I try to look at the camera when I'm speaking rather than the screen, but you're right -- that's not real eye contact.

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