Using the Raspberry Pi for Fantastic Video Communications with Zoom

Moving slightly off-piste this time, not talking about tomatoes or any other garden related things.

Lockdown has meant that we haven’t physically seen our children/grandchildren much this year (in fact hardly at all) so we’ve got used to talking to them via Skype and Zoom. Some games work well (Uno, UnoFlip, Bingo, Go Fish) but it really isn’t the same, particularly as our main computer is up in the office.

So after Christmas, I thought I would investigate how to use the Raspberry Pi as a video conferencing system which would plug into the TV downstairs using HDMI and give us the opportunity to talk in comfort on a large screen. I decided to invest in a Pi400 which means that it comes complete with keyboard, mouse and the necessary cables and power supply all for under £100. An inexpensive webcam (£32) completed the set-up and away we went.
(Note: Before you start, make sure you’re TV has HDMI)

I’ve always been a fan of the Raspberry Pi but this time I think they have excelled themselves. Connect up the various cables, turn on the TV and plug in the power supply and the Raspberry Pi goes through a simple set-up asking all the right things, connecting itself to your WiFi network (once you get the password right) and you’re up and running.

I recommend that you make sure the system is fully up to date as the system ships with whatever version of the software is current at the time of manufacture.
{sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade}

I’d further suggest you check the sound from your TV
{speaker -test -t wav} when you should get a lady saying “left front” repeatedly until you cancel with “Ctrl c”.

It took a while to get the Audio working with the camera but, with a little help from the Pi Forum I got it going. The issue seemed to be that the camera (or at least the audio) doesn’t initialise properly when the Pi boots up so you have to wait a while and then plug the camera in. That way it works fine.

As a final bit of help I would recommend that you install the PulseAudio Graphical User Interface (GUI). (sudo apt install pavicontrol pulseaudio-utils) this gives you a GUI in the “Sound & Video” part of the drop down menu so you can see what’s visible to the system

After all that you’re ready to go. There isn’t a Zoom app for the Raspberry Pi so you have to launch Zoom from the Browser which is fairly straightforward, just open up the Chrome Browser and go to www.join.zoom.us and “JOIN” or “HOST” a meeting, you’ll have to use the web version so when you get the pop-up “Open xdg-open?” click on “Cancel” and scroll down to the “Join from Your Browser” request. First time, you’ll get requests for Zoom to use you microphone and camera so allow those.

That’s it. Perfectly adequate quality video conferencing for less than £150, what more could you ask.

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