Hosting Studio20 using OBS with Zoom

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This week I hosted the 3 day BCcampus online event Studio20: Engaging Learners Online. The workshop was designed to push the boundaries of what can be done in a synchronous online environment and to inspire educators to think differently about facilitating online, focusing on three themes, Vision, Voice and Active Learning.

I had a few roles for the event.

First, we asked the participants to do quite a bit of creating (images, audio) over the three days and we wanted to have a central place where people could share their creations. Sounds like the perfect use of a SPLOT. So, I set up a Studio20 SPLOT on the OpenETC to act as a resource collector for people during Studio20 activities and created a short 60 second video on how to SPLOT, co-produced with my 13 year old son who helped me with a few finer points of DaVinci Resolve to edit the final product.

It worked perfectly and it didn’t take long for it to begin to fill with contributions from participants.

My main role for the conference, however, was to act as the host and M/C for the event and in keeping with the theme of experimentation I wanted to experiment with doing something different with Zoom.

Earlier this spring, I spruced up my work from home setup, purchasing a green screen, a good mic, and an external webcam that was a bit better quality than my built in webcam. Seeing some of the work that Ken Bauer was doing with his TechEdTips, I began experimenting with an open source platform called OBS – Open Broadcast System – as a way to add some more visual appeal to my weekly course videos (here’s an early example of a weekly course update video I did for my RRU course)

Even though OBS is made for live streaming, you can record MP4 videos with it as well and that was primarily how I was using it in the spring as I didn’t feel super comfortable with the tech to use it in a live stream session. But by the time Studio20 came along I was feeling comfortable enough with the tech to use it as my video source for live streaming.

The advantage of using OBS as your video source should become apparent once you watch the video below, but in a nutshell it gives you so much more control over what you share on the screen, and, once you get comfortable enough, you can create different scenes and seamlessly switch between these different scenes during a live synchronous session. And, as Alan Levine points out in his recent post on using OBS for his hosting role for the recent OEGlobal conference;

Well, anyone using Zoom can attest to the fumbling around needed to do screen sharing. And to compound thing, when you screen share, you end up in some kind of disconnected space because you do not see the full zoom interface.

OBS gives you much more control over the video and screen sharing experience, and allows you to add on a few extras like on screen timers (Zoom, honestly, why is this simple yet powerful tool not a thing in your platform?)

One of the other reasons I wanted to use OBS was that, as a virtual host, one of your roles is to help keep participants oriented and progressing through the event, and you often provide the instructions needed for people to help orient themselves to what is happening. I hoped that by providing a different visual look it would provide a small visual signal to participants that my role in the event was different than the other participants. That when this distinct looking video feed came on the screen it was to provide an important piece of information about the event; announcing breaks, introducing sessions, that kind of stuff. So, I wanted to look a bit different in order to gather participants attention to keep them oriented.

Here’s a behind the green screen glimpse of what I put together in OBS for Studio20.


In the video I mention using Powerpoint in Reading mode to give you more control over the slides and prevent it from taking over your whole desktop. This is only for Windows users, but Alan Levine found a similar workaround for Mac users.

Image by Alan Levine CC-BY

To use OBS in Zoom, you need to add a virtual camera plugin to OBS (UPDATE: Tim Owens has posted a comment on Alan’s post that the virtual camera source is now available by default for Windows users so you may not have to install it separately) . Like WordPress, OBS is open source and there is a robust developer and user community creating extensions, plugin and tutorials, and one of the plugins you need to add to OBS to get it working in Zoom is the  virtual camera OBS plugin that turns OBS into a virtual camera in Zoom. Once you have it installed, OBS appears as a camera source in Zoom.

screenshot of Zoom showing location of OBS Virtual Camera under Zoom camera settings

Once that is setup and you click “start Virtual Camera” in OBS, whenever scene you are running on OBS will appear in Zoom as your video feed.

When I am running OBS with multiple scenes, I like to run it in Studio mode, which gives me 2 different scene windows. On the right is the Program, or Live, screen. Whatever scene is loaded on the Program side is the one that is live in OBS. On the left is a Preview screen where I can preload the next scene I want to switch to. Between the two screens is the Transition button that allows me to make the Preview scene live. This way I can see ahead of time what scene I want to switch to.

Here is a screenshot of OBS running & the different areas I use. Click for a larger image.

Screenshot of OBS showing different regions of the OBS interface

While this all seems complicated, when you are running an actual event it was not more complicated to switch between scenes than it is to switch between slides in a Powerpoint presentation. Click the pre-built scene and it appears in the Preview. Click transition and it is live.

In my next post I’ll touch on how I built the scenes in OBS. Alan also has a very good post that walks you through the process.



Bob Bodily November 20, 2020

Your OBS/microphone/green screen setup is awesome. Looking forward to additional details on your setup and what kinds of things it enables you to do.

Clint Lalonde November 23, 2020

Having some of that equipment does definitely help boost the production value. The green screen has been a worthy investment, although I should mention that you don’t need a dedicated green screen. Any solid colour background that provides good contracts between subject & BG will give you the ability to do the same kind of effect using the chromakey filter.

Cog.Dog November 23, 2020

Great to see your setup, Clint. Having multiple scenes is a powerful concept, as it means you can deftly switch as needed for different kinds of information to present. I really liked your note about the different visual layout subtly signalling your role.

Also, your labeling of the audio mixer brings to mind that you can have segments cued about, even transition music, to bring in. I’m anxious to experiment more. I just need a real microphone like yours.

Christina Hendricks November 25, 2020

Thank you so much for sharing your setup and the things you can do with OBS! I am very intrigued and will look into this next time I am doing an online workshop. I’m inspired by what you and Alan have done, and very appreciative that you’re both taking the time to share the process with the rest of us!

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