This morning I want to explain the tech side of how we do our hybrid services and offer some suggestions as to how your viewing experience might be improved.
As I have mentioned to some of you in conversations or emails, we are doing our hybrid services with a bare minimum of equipment. My brother’s congregation (of which he is currently the president) put in $40,000 worth of camera and sound equipment last spring and hires two people to run the system for every service. We are using two laptops, a recently-donated 70 inch TV securely mounted to a mobile cart, and a device called a “Facebook Portal TV” which normally sells for $149 but was on sale for $99 when I bought it. I set the equipment up for every service and Bryan Levenson and I take it down after. A number of congregants serve as Zoom hosts.
The Portal has a very good microphone which is its main advantage. This is important because, as you may have discovered, if you and another person are both on Zoom in the same room, more than one microphone enabled in the same space causes tremendous feedback. The Portal also has a very good camera which is motion-sensitive so it focuses itself wherever someone is (in other words, we don’t control it or point it in a certain direction). This is why the Zoom box called “Central Bimah” might be showing someone sitting in certain seats rather than the person chanting from the bimah. We’re trying to identify and block off those seats to reduce the chances of this happening.
The Portal is placed with the camera facing the Bimah but roughly equidistant from the Bimah and the two podiums at the front of the shul. So if I am standing at my podium and speaking, my picture is coming from a laptop on my podium but my sound is actually coming through the Portal. And therefore if you have your Zoom set to “Speaker View” rather than Gallery you’ll see an empty bimah and hear my disembodied voice. If this is disconcerting to you, you may have a better experience if you view the service on Gallery rather than Speaker View (if you are using a laptop -- I know very little about using Zoom on tablets or phones). If you know how to “pin” a video you could also try to pin both the bimah and my podium.
On Yom Kippur we will have an additional laptop focused on the Ark so that you can see it when it is open and you will be able to see the Torah scroll held during Kol Nidre. So there will be three Zoom windows running from the Sanctuary and they will be labeled “Central Bimah,” “Rabbi’s Podium,” and “Aron Kodesh.”
Because we’re using only the one microphone, I am aware that for some people it is hard to hear me when I am speaking at my podium. This could be solved by moving the microphone closer to my podium but then the sound would be worse from the bimah. Our solution has been to leave things as they are and for me to give my sermon or teaching from the bimah rather than from my podium. We’ll also try to turn the volume up on my microphone on the Sanctuary PA system and this might help as well.
We ask (really insist) that you keep your microphone muted unless you are actively having a speaking part in the service at that time. If you have your microphone unmuted, depending on your equipment and sound settings, those of us in the sanctuary will hear both the active service and then an echo of that service a second or so later. This is why our Zoom hosts will mute you if you turn your microphone on (except if you are saying Kaddish, etc.) and if you keep doing it they will have to remove you from the Zoom entirely.
Finally as to troubleshooting. There are lots of things that can go wrong but fortunately we have had decent luck so far with our Zooms. But if you are having a problem that no one else is having (hearing a hum, sound cutting in and out, your video freezing) chances are the problem is with your Wi-Fi or your equipment. If many people are having the same problem at the same time, then it is likely a problem with our equipment or settings.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Shabbat Shalom and l’shana tova,
Rabbi Charles L. Arian