I'm aware of other bloggers publishing rather splendid accounts of their remote wargames, and I'm very impressed, not to say envious.
I started off using Zoom for wargames with great enthusiasm early in the pandemic lockdown, I hosted a number of games, and I was very pleased and excited by the results and the potential. It was only later, when I took the trouble to find out, that I realised that the video quality I was sending out was so poor that it wasn't such a great experience for the generous friends on whom I was inflicting it. I was sent some very iffy-looking screenshots of what was visible at the far end, and then the Bold David mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised to see how attractive my wargame figures were, when he studied the photographs which I took during the refight of Kilsyth in which he had been involved. The wonders of what I could see on-site had nothing to do with his view, far, far away.
I confess my crest was more than a little fallen.
There was a time when it seemed possible that Zoom offered all that was likely to be available for the foreseeable future in the twilit world of Covid. I had a paid account, since I was involved with the musical activities of the Folk Club of a neighbouring town, and I'd learned a lot there about what could be achieved on a shoestring budget. For the wargaming, I had grandiose plans to spend money on a top-quality streaming video camera, to improve the pictures. My youngest son made the useful observation that I could spend what I wanted, but Zoom would take one look at the available bandwidth out here in The Sticks, and would automatically dumb-down the picture resolution to what it thought our broadband could sustain reliably.
The set up I used here consisted of my (5-year old) Android tablet as the main camera/host, with my alter ego Max attending the sessions using my old iPhone to provide a second camera from the far end of the table. Both of these devices have excellent built-in cameras, and the pictures I can see on-screen at my end of the sessions look very good, but the cruncher has been the dreaded rural broadband. Our service arrives by radio broadcast (no, you read that correctly), by line-of-sight transmission from a hill about 8 miles away. The maximum service available was a humble 12Mb/sec, which may sound laughable but was easily the best of all the options available. No wonder, then, that my Zoom sessions produced pictures with the resolution of a Roman mosaic floor.
[In passing, I must note that when we were originally being sold the idea of the radio transmission service, one of my neighbours was not happy at all, since she believed that a line-of-sight transmission would not work at night - this has been one of the brighter moments in our experience.]
Well, time has passed, and my internet service provider has upgraded the kit, so we now get a handsome 32Mb/sec, which would still be regarded as a joke in Kensington but represents a whole new age of promise here. Buoyed up by the new possibilities, I roped in some brave volunteers to check out what effect this had on Zoom pictures, and I regret to say that it didn't seem to make any notable difference. The quality at the far end of the connection was still, to coin a technical term, duff.
So I wrote to the technical support people at Zoom. If you have never attempted this, by the way, I recommend you do not bother. They are pretty good at debiting money from your bank account very promptly, but their customer service is non-existent. It would be tempting to suggest it is about as bad as you can get, but my world survey is not yet complete; however, I think it must be up there.
So I am left to wonder what is possible. How do those guys out there successfully run remote wargames, with no-one getting frustrated or going blind?
* Despite our local pride in the upgrade, 32Mb/s may still be show-stoppingly slow. I tried connecting the devices directly (by cable) to my hub, rather than use the wi-fi, but it made no difference.
* I could try some more modern mobile devices, but that would cost money, and doesn't seem to offer any guaranteed improvement.
* There must be something in my Zoom settings, you would think, that would sort this out? Well there isn't. I can choose to have my wrinkles blurred a bit, or the background replaced by a photo of Miami, but the picture resolution appears to be a given.
* It does occur to me that the overall traffic on a Zoom session can be cut back a bit by switching off the video pictures from the remote generals, but at this point I am just tinkering with details.
That's about it, really. I am disappointed, since I got the Zoom games quite nicely organised, video quality apart. If I am not going to be able to improve this I shall stop the paid account and go back to the freebie one, which restricts the number of participants and the length of multiple sessions.
I would be really very pleased to get any useful advice here. I thought of moving to Kensington, but decided against it.
***** Late Edit *****
I came across this notice on the Zoom site, which may be bad news; it seems that Zoom have restricted display on sessions involving more than 2 participants to "standard quality" rather than HD. It is hoped this is a temporary measure, and apparently it is because of Covid, and apparently it may only be Zoom that got us through Covid anyway. Humility does not seem to come naturally to Zoom's marketing people, but I guess we have to be grateful.