The age and specification of the computers you use for your telehealth programme will have a significant impact on the quality of the session. Your computer's ability to encode and decode the video and audio will affect the quality of the video call. For example, a lot of intensive processing is required for high-definition pictures.
We strongly recommend using an external HD webcam for videoconferencing as they offer much better resolution and quality than many built in cameras.
Many older computers will be unable to keep up with the power required to optimally process the video. The video resolution (detail, measured in pixels), and frame rate (smoothness) then becomes reduced. The processor type, speed and RAM are important as well as the camera, microphone and speakers.
WiFi connection is convenient but will reduce both the throughput and the consistency of your connection – even if the WiFi is 100 percent strength. There will be decreases in performance the further you move from the WiFi access point. For the best results, a wired connection to your modem should be used where possible. See Networking for further information.
Other applications running
The quality of video and audio can also be affected if the computer is being used for a number of other applications such as email, documents and graphics. For the best results, the computer needs to be able to put all its resource to encoding and decoding video and audio. Shutting down all other open applications and windows will give you the best quality video and audio, especially when using an older computer.
A software programme usually must be installed on the PC for telehealth. The specific programme needs to fit seamlessly with the rest of the organisation's telehealth solution so will generally be decided as a part of the implementation programme. Popular solutions include Polycom RealPresence, Cisco Jabber, Vidyo, Zoom, Skype for Buisness, Skype and FaceMe.
While some computer-based setups will already be sufficient for a high-quality telehealth programme, others will only be satisfactory for non-clinical uses, and others should not support any form of telehealth.
Although most computers are capable of making a video call, some simple enhancements will make dramatic improvements.
Web cameras built into laptops and screens are generally low quality and not acceptable for telehealth. These cameras struggle in average light conditions and are likely to produce flat, lifeless video.
In comparison, a NZ$100 HD webcam, such as the Logitech C920, will produce sharp and accurate wide screen high resolution video. These plug into the computer’s USB socket.
When selecting a webcam, consider how many people need to be in view. Often it may be a single person, but at other times two or three people may need to be in view. It is important that people don’t need to sit uncomfortably close, or a long way back from the camera as the microphone may have difficulty in clearly picking up voices. Read more in this document: Webcam Field of View PDF Version
Poor audio makes a telehealth session almost unusable. Always try to be in a quiet environment away from other noise.
The built-in microphones on many computers are poor and so audio quality can be greatly improved by using a specialised microphone.
Make sure you get a purpose-designed microphone. For example, a microphone that is excellent for one person may not suit a larger group. This is because it may detect quieter or distant voices as background noise (such as air conditioning) and suppress them.
A headset will generally produce the best quality audio. The distance between the microphone and the user’s mouth is always the same even if they turn their heads or look away. The microphone is designed to eliminate background noise. Headsets also reduce feedback and eliminate echo.
Quality HD webcams will generally detect very good sound if the person is one-to-two metres away from the camera/microphone. These microphones may not be ideal, however, if there is a small group that is sitting some distance from the webcam/microphone.
Omni-directional USB Microphone
Other USB microphones are designed specifically to detect sound from any direction and from anywhere in the room. This example will easily detect someone speaking at five or more metres away but, unfortunately, it also picks up any other background noises.