Skype On The Big Screen

There seems to be a fair amount of interest in doing Skype calls during services lately. It seems I’ve seen 3-4 threads on doing just that in the past few months. We had to do a little Skyping today for our SVBS program; we did a video call with a woman in Kenya. While setting up a Skype call is something your grandmother can do, integrating it into your projection, video and audio setup can be a bit more challenging. Here’s how we did it.

Video

This is perhaps the easiest of the three—getting video into Skype. While you could do it with a built-in laptop camera, the better option is to send a video feed through a video card or FireWire converter. We have a MacPro at presentation, with a Blackmagic Intensity Pro card. The Intensity Pro will input and output HDMI and Analog video, along with analog audio (and S/PDIF out). 

For our system, we sent a composite program output from our switcher (actually it was from the DA) to the Intensity card. While the card can do component, I figured composite would be good enough. We originally came straight out of camera 1’s CCU, but then realized it would be good to be able to return the audience cam to the woman in Kenya. So we switched it. That let us get a shot of the person on our end doing the talking, and add in the kids as well. Which leads to audio...

Audio

Skype audio can be tricky. No matter what audio interface you try to use, Skype will only use the first channel (or left) for input. We have an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra at presentation that we use for playback of videos and such. After playing around with a bunch of different options, we determined that we could use the Fast Track for both input and output. 

We routed Skype’s output to the M-Audio, and sent an Aux from the SD8 back in. It’s important to use an Aux (or a Matrix, or perhaps a group if you must) to send the audio to Skype to avoid feedback loops. Do not send program out or you will get feedback. We sent only the interviewer mic and a little bit of the audience mics (post fader) back to Skype.

Getting the call set up before going “live” can be tricky. You need to be able to talk to the person on Skype, and hear them before going to the house. For us, that means solo’ing up the Skype audio feed in our NS-10s at FOH to hear the caller, and using the talkback mic to talk to her. The SD8 makes it easy to assign the TB mic wherever we want, so we sent it to the Skype Aux send.

If our FOH position was closer to the audience I would probably put on cans, but because we’re in another zip code, we can get away with the speakers at low volume. And now, how do we get the Skype video feed onto the main screen?

Presentation

This part really only applies if you’re using a Mac with ProPresenter (which you should be anyway...). There is no easy way to route the Skype screen to the ProPresenter output screen directly. You can’t use the “Web” function, because Skype doesn’t work that way. You need a way to get the video image from the Skype window onto a slide.

Enter a nifty little program called CamTwist. It’s a free little app that does a lot of things, but what we’re interested in is a feature called Desktop+. Desktop+ allows you to not only turn the contents of a user-definable capture window into a video feed that ProPresenter can use, but it will do it while the window is behind ProPresenter. 

So that means you can set up the call, select the area, then bring ProPresenter to the foreground and pipe CamTwist in as a live video input and voila, you have Skype on the screen. We created a slide with a background JPG and added a smaller live video window in front. So all we had to do to take Skype to the screen is to hit that slide. Easy.

Of course, if you had even a semi-decent switcher feeding your main screen this is pretty easy. But we don’t, so we make do with this. One thing to keep in mind is that the order you launch programs is important. 

You must first launch Skype, then CamTwist, then ProPresenter. If Pro starts up before CamTwist, it won’t recognize the CamTwist input and you’ll get a blank screen. Also, Skype audio can be funky; play with it a lot to make sure you get the settings right before trying it out during a service. We found that sometimes we just had to re-start Skype to get a setting change to stick.

So there you go. That’s how we do a Skype call to the main screen.

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