Q: I have an odd situation, I think. Occasionally in my Zoom life, people tell me my voice sounds deep and dark, what I call a Darth Vader voice. I have to leave the meeting, restart my HP Envy laptop and rejoin, and so far, that resolves the problem. It’s very annoying and I can’t tell it’s happening until I speak and everyone laughs at my horrific voice. I’ve downloaded new sound drivers three times but it still happens occasionally. I’m about ready to throw the computer out of the window! Please advise.
— Gerri Tyler
A: Yes, it might be a hardware problem that is bringing Darth Vader into your Zoom life.
If that’s the case, attaching an external microphone should clear up the problem. And you can get an excellent microphone for around $100. An adequate microphone can be bought for around half that price.
But I have one thing for you to look into. Some users have had the Darth Vader experience when their computer is configured to “listen” to your microphone, which results in feedback and distorted audio.
The next time Vader appears, before you reboot the computer open the Sounds utility in the Control Panel. Click on the Recording tab, then highlight the Microphone Array section, and then click on the Properties button at the bottom. Finally, in the new window that opens click on the Listen tab. If the box next to “Listen to this device” is checked, uncheck it.
If the box was checked, some piece of malware may be at work.
Q: My Windows 10 taskbar won’t go away even though I have configured it to autohide. How do I fix this?
— B. Austin
A: I suspect that one of your apps is calling out to you.
The most common cause of the taskbar not autohiding is that an app is telling you it wants your attention. It may, for example, be your email program telling you that you have new mail or an appointment. Check the app icons in the taskbar to see if one of them is “backlighted.” Then open the app to see what it wants you to do.
Q: With so many professionals reporting on TV and other business sites, it is obvious current webcams, and videoconferencing services like Zoom and Skype, are not stepping up. These are professional people with literally poor optics. I know good quality is possible because I see it on some calls. Others are blurry and sound terrible for who knows what reason. Even the Queen of England last week had the worst image in a Zoom call. What is the problem? Are we undereducated or are the devices and services extinct? What can we do? I know a small front light and low back lighting helps, but are there recommended devices and software anywhere?
— Richard Hawes, Bothell
A: It would probably be futile for me to ask the queen what her setup is, so I’ll just wing it.
For starters, I wouldn’t blame the web conferencing services for poor video since, as you note, some interviewees come across nice and clear.
Yes, we all should pay a little attention to our lighting when videoconferencing. It’s pretty easy to tell when lighting is the issue and it’s a pretty easy problem to solve.
But the two most common culprits implicated in poor video are low-resolution webcams and insufficient bandwidth in the internet connection. Yes, you can get a “high-definition” webcam for $25 to $35 but if you’re unhappy with the performance it delivers you’ll want to invest in a webcam in the $100 to $200 price range.
And a low-bandwidth internet connection can result both in low-resolution images and skips and pauses. That’s a bit more expensive to fix.
Unfortunately, there’s little we can do when the problem is with the other person’s equipment or internet bandwidth except plead with them to upgrade.