Improving Online Presentations With Reflect For Chrome

Reflect Example   IconWhen giving an online presentation, whether via Hangout, Webex, GotoMeeting or Jitsi Video Bridge, a screen sharing function is how the slides are presented. Screen sharing goes beyond the common death-by-PowerPoint scenario, allowing software demonstrations in real-time.

In most cases the use of screen sharing defeats a view of the presenter. This can make for a frightfully dull audience experience. I’ve long wished for a convenient way to show slides or demo software without completely losing sight of the presenter. I’ve done this myself using tools like Wirecast or vMix, but these are costly and complicated things to setup. That’s beyond the reach of most people.

In a post late last year I challenged the WebRTC community to take up this idea. WebRTC remains a battle with many fronts. They may yet bring forward such capability, but the wheels of progress turn slowly.

Happily, I’ve recently discovered an extension for Chrome called “Reflect.” Authored by Bryce Thorup, Reflect grabs your webcam stream, displaying it as an overlay on your monitor. Thus when sharing your screen, your audience can see both the slides (or software) and your webcam.

The Reflect UI is blissfully simple. The circular icons in the upper left are the only controls.

Reflect-UI-Annotated

With the app set to use 16:9 aspect ratio the four window sizes are as follows:

  • Small = 320x 180 pixels
  • Medium = 480 x 270 pixels
  • Large = 640 x 360 pixels
  • Xlarge = 960 x 540 pixels

Given a 1920 x 1080 pixel display, and the requirement to see the presentation or software being shown, these certainly seem to cover a suitable range of sizes.

When set for 4:3 aspect ratio the window height is sustained, so a narrower view is shown in each case. The screen capture below shows how a 4:3 aspect view of the webcam can be useful in allowing enough space for the other facet of the presentation.

Reflect Example 600px

You can position the Reflect window anywhere you like. I especially like the fact that there’s no border or other window-bling. When not making adjustments to the app the five circular icons simple go away, as they should.

When run on my desktop, which has a diversity of video sources attached, the app found every last source. It was perfectly happy taking video from SparkoCam, the AVer HDMI capture card or the Logitech C920 camera. The color bars pictured above are the output of the vMix video device when the vMix application isn’t actually running.

Reflect shows fluid, full-motion video in it’s window. The authors stated intent was to include his camera while recording screencasts. A screencast application might capture the video window at its full frame-rate. In contrast, if you’re using an online screen sharing tool you may find that the screen share delivers a reduced frame-rate view of the video stream. This is to be expected.

Earlier this year Aswath Rao tipped me to a similar app called Bubble Mirror.  Bubble Mirror is similar to Reflect, but only works with the Dev Channel (Canaray) release of Chrome. The reason for this was that it uses an alpha channel technique to render a round view of the webcam stream. This I felt was entirely arbitrary, to the point of being impractical.

The Reflect extension for Chrome is the simplest and most refined tool I’ve found for giving an online presentation that includes both the desktop and the webcam at all times.