New Tech May Mean Less Stressful Conference Calls

Taking the edge off all-day Zoom sessions

Key Takeways

  • Video calling can be fatiguing and stressful.
  • Audio and video tricks can make video spaces seem more like real life.
  • New technologies can make virtual spaces better than real ones.
A screenshot from the Reincubate Cameo Studio Pro software of a person in a video conference.

Reincubate

We've gone from badly lit, echoey video calling to augmented-reality spaces, spatial audio, and noise-canceling over the last couple of years, and it's only getting crazier. 

As video conferencing has become a significant part of the workday, technology has raced to catch up. Cameras are getting better, but not as fast as the software that uses them. Apps like Reincubate's Camo let you use pretty much any camera, including the amazing ones right inside your phone, as webcams.

Apple has built automatic background blurring into the latest versions of iOS, and soundscaping techniques remove background noise. But what happens when we use these technologies to enhance video calling, not just fix it up?

"Done the wrong way, video calls and virtual spaces can create fatigue and discomfort, and it's worth digging into some of the science behind that. There are a number of factors that studies show. One is that in a phone call or conversation, people can typically move around. Yet while interacting with a virtual space, a user's mobility tends to be reduced, and they must stay focused on their computer or phone," Reincubate founder and CEO Aidan Fitzpatrick told Lifewire via email. 

"Where video is used, other factors come in, such [as] the tiring effect of a greater-than-usual amount of eye contact, or the dissatisfaction or dysmorphia that users can feel on seeing themselves on screen for long periods of time."

A laptop displaying thumbnails for multiple people on a video call.

Chris Montgomery / Unsplash

Virtual Spaces

The most significant difference between a video call and visiting friends, family, or a work meeting is physicality. When we are in a room with other people, all our natural senses and learned social skills just work. We have no problem working out who's talking or hearing them. And we are never distracted by a little thumbnail video of ourselves hovering over other people's shoulders. 

In a virtual space, all bets are off. Some of the most useful technological tricks sound like gimmicks at first, but turn out to be essential. Take Spatial Audio, a new technology from Apple that places sound in a fixed 3D space. 

"Spatial audio can actually improve things in a few ways," Nick Daniels, founder of the excellent audio-wellbeing app, Portal, told Lifewire via email. "Firstly, it helps to create a much more natural and immersive experience, but research has also suggested that it can help improve speech intelligibility and may even help reduce fatigue as our brains use spatial separation as part of how we interpret speech (see the cocktail party effect). Overall, it can lead to a much more natural, engaging, and less fatiguing experience."

Zoom Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most significant downsides of video calling. Even if you're just chatting to family, it can be a lot more tiring than talking in person. But by bringing the virtual environment closer to the real spaces we're accustomed to, fatigue can be reduced. 

"Done the wrong way, video calls and virtual spaces can create fatigue and discomfort..."

"The level of immersion and realism that's now possible mean soundscapes can deliver auditory experiences that truly make you feel elsewhere," says Portal's Stuart Chan. "[This is] particularly useful if your home office happens to be located in the bedroom, living room, kitchen, or like me, the cluttered box room."

3D audio also could place people in a virtual room, making it easier to discern speakers by the direction of their voice. And noise canceling will remove the leaf-blowing neighbor from the conversation or augment voices.

What’s Next?

These enhancements are wonderful for anyone who keeps in touch via video. But in the future, we could enjoy even better interactions. Camo is just about to announce a new feature that will "make interaction and communication over video easier and more powerful," says Fitzpatrick, and the audio soundscaping Portal already has some enhancements that can really take the edge off.

"Noise-cancelling headphones are a godsend but still can't always block out a screaming baby or toddler, and that's where immersive soundscapes come into their own as they mask noise while also providing a real escape to better surroundings," says Daniels. 

"Imagine drawing inspiration from high up in the Himalayas or allowing your creativity to flow in the Amazon Rainforest during your working day," says Chan.

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