By
Clemens Lode
,
January 21, 2022
Diagram of the data streams of a virtual camera in Zoom

Virtual Camera and OBS for Zoom

With the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the Zoom conference software gained significant popularity in 2020. With more and more events happening online, the demand for a better online experience grew. With a virtual camera and OBS for Zoom to control your picture, you can provide a better experience for all participants.

In real-life meetings, you, the organizer is in full control what and how your audience sees you. Online, the challenge is that all of your participants are using different devices to watch and listen to you. Even worse, in Zoom, your audience can adjust the layout of the screen.

Diagram of a common problem in Zoom: you have no control over what your participants see.
Your participants control what and how they see your Zoom call.

The solution to this problem is to tell the participants to switch their Zoom to your image and set it to full screen. This way, you are in full control of what they are seeing. The problem here of course is that the only options Zoom provides you to control your own image is to select a camera.

The solution is to use a software to control your appearance, and have it act like a virtual camera. Instead of sending your camera picture directly to Zoom, you send it to this software which edits your image, and forwards that image to Zoom.

This way, you can, for example, show your main speakers (or singers) prominently and your other participants on the side–just like you would assign seats to the audience and to your speakers or singers on the stage.

Techniques to accomplish this have been around for years. It has been especially popular among role play gamers who streamed their games online. With some effort, you can not just assign positions of your participants on the screen, you can also add fancy borders and backgrounds to your video stream.

Example of the use of an overlay for a conference call.
Screenshot from “Episode 1 – Roll20 Presents: Ghosts of Saltmarsh: The Final Enemy

To accomplish that, we first need the Virtual Camera and OBS for Zoom:

  • Download and Install Open Broadcaster Software OBS from here.
  • If you are using Windows, make sure to also download and install the OBS virtual cam plugin installer from here.
  • Start OBS.
  • Click on Tools / VirtualCam and make sure the VirtualCam is running. For this, make sure “AutoStart” is selected and click on “Start” if possible.
Setting up the virtual camera in OBS.

Once started, the VirtualCam acts as a virtual camera you can use in Zoom. We shall now test whether the VirtualCam works:

  • Click on the arrow beside the video symbol and select “OBS-Camera”.
Selecting the virtual camera as the source in Zoom.

Now, Zoom shows the output of OBS. To test, let us connect our webcam to OBS:

  • In OBS, click on “+” in the “Scenes” window in the bottom left corner.
  • Let’s call the new scene “Main Scene” and press OK.
  • Next, click on “+” in the “Sources” window at the bottom.
  • Select “Video Capture Device”, select “Create new”, name the entry “Main Camera”, and press OK.

Congratulations, both Zoom and OBS should now show your happy face, and you are in full control of what other people see when they maximize your picture in Zoom.

The next step is a bit tricky. You now want to show other participants as well. For this, you need to capture your Zoom window, and import it to OBS. Ideally, you have a second monitor exclusively for your Zoom meeting window, while controlling OBS on your main screen (or vice versa).

To illustrate, the process looks like this:

Information flow for using OBS to grab the screen from Zoom to arrange the participants' images.

To show other participants as part of your image, you need to grab the screen from the Zoom window. For this, we need to add a separate “Window Capture” source for each participant.

  • Click on “+”,
  • select “Window Capture”,
  • name the source, for example, “Participant 1”,
  • select Zoom as the Window, and
  • press OK.

Next, we want to add a filter to each of those sources to show only a certain part of the window. Select the source, right-click on it, select “Filters.” In the new window, click “+”, select “Crop/Pad”, and adjust the values for Left, Top, Right, and Bottom until only the participant in question is shown. Repeat this for every place in the gallery of pinned Zoom participants, and move each source to the right place in the OBS window.

As a finishing touch, you could add a background image as an overlay. You can do this by clicking again “+”, select “Image” (or video, if you have one), and select the Overlay image. An overlay image has frames around the people participating in the call, for example:

Overlay for use in OBS as a background for Zoom meetings.
image source: Shutterstock

That’s it!


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About the Author

Clemens Lode

Hello! My name is Clemens and I am based in Düsseldorf, Germany. I’m an author of books on philosophy, science, and project management, and coach people to publish their books and improve their approach to leadership.

I like visiting the gym, learning to sing, observing animals, and creating videos on science and philosophy. I enjoy learning from nature and love the idea of optimizing systems.

In my youth, I was an active chess player reaching the national championship in Germany, and an active pen&paper player leading groups of adventurers on mental journeys. These activities align with my calm approach to moderating meetings, leading meetups, and focusing on details. My personality type in socionics is IEE/ENFp.

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