Conducting a conference call was once a hassle — even for a simple audio session. In the past, a typical conference call required bundles of wires sprawled across a table, some of which were connected to phones that frequently produced distorted sounds and noises. Sadly, not much has changed in some organizations' conference rooms, due to either a lack of familiarity or an unwillingness to invest in AV integration.
Now, organizations are expanding, and they need conference room AV solutions to keep pace with their growing operations. Cloud collaboration also happens every day, and having the ability to remotely connect with colleagues across the globe is paramount. As such, today's organizations need conference call tools that support remote collaboration.
Designed for Success
TSP Smart Spaces operates internationally, so we know the importance of effective video conferencing that allows participants to stay connected with minimal effort. We don’t start each meeting spending time setting up a microphone, and we aren’t confined to certain seats at a table just so said microphone can hear us. Just as important, our remote users aren’t hunched over a phone or a laptop and forced to listen to inferior audio.
Video conference design incorporates more elements than what you can see — when it comes to video conference design, the less you see, the better. Although acoustics, software and other elements affect the AV integration experience, top-level microphones and speakers deserve your full attention.
Location, Location, Location
One of the biggest conference room AV mistakes is microphone placement. Depending on the type of microphone, placement determines its behavior. Having a poorly placed microphone can lead to audio issues like feedback from nearby audio sources. Fortunately, using the correct microphone in the right place helps prevent these issues.
Many microphones are designed to be installed into or suspended from a ceiling. Benefits of using these microphones include:
Superior voice coverage across a room.
Removal of a microphone from a table, or deck, which helps prevent feedback from user-created noise like shuffling papers or typing.
Elimination of wires and other tech clutter, which creates a more natural experience and enhances a conference room's appearance.
Companies such as Biamp have developed beamtracking and other technologies to help microphones focus on us rather making us focus on them. Biamp’s beamtracking microphones have one focus: our voices and where they are in the room.
For example, Biamp’s Parlé microphones can be outfitted for tabletops or mounted to a ceiling. Using power over ethernet (PoE) and network-based audio, installation of these devices has never been easier. Beamtracking technology resides in three to four zones of each microphone and provides 360° coverage. Parlé mics minimize unwanted background noise and track each voice in a conversation. At the same time, they maintain consistent audio levels, regardless of who in a room is speaking or his or her distance from a microphone.
Other mics such as the Shure MXA910 blend into a conference room and capture every voice in a conversation. This microphone replicates a 2’x2’ ceiling tile and takes the place of a typical drop ceiling fiberboard. Like Pailé microphones, the Shure MXA910 is PoE-powered, and eight steerable lobes cover an entire conference room. Similar to beamtracking, a lobe activates based on voice locations, and it uses autofocus technology to create clean, balanced sound. Plus, installers like TSP can adjust each lobe to optimize conference room audio coverage.
The Technology Tie-in
High-quality microphones feature internal digital signal processing (DSP) to distinguish our voices from remote voices and background noise. Having a standalone DSP unit in a conference room is crucial, and microphones with built-in DSP improve the overall conferencing experience.
Network-based audio is becoming more prevalent in commercial spaces as well as in our homes. Audio video bridging (AVB), for example, utilizes the strength and technology of a dedicated ethernet network. AVB provides strict timing protocols and prioritization of signals to help improve the latency of audio packages being sent to their targets. Mark of The Unicorn (MOTU) and similar companies have developed networking switches to use AVB for home audio, recording studios and even live musical performances.
While AVB remains on its own isolated network, Dante prioritizes flexibility, and it uses IP addresses in a network to direct uncompressed audio where it needs to go. Dante takes advantage of unicast and multicast traffic in networks using time protocols to create efficient and controlled audio disruption. These methods result in an ecosystem that allows TSP to manage audio at a network level, with the added benefits of security and service via remote access, saving the client time and money.
To complete the ecosystem, PoE with AVB can be used for speakers as well. Biamp has introduced a PoE amplifier that uses AVB to power multiple speakers and distribute audio using just a CAT cable. Thus, the days of chasing speaker cable are over — a technician's dream come true! And the upside for you? TSP installs and services your conference room AV, so only a single vendor is involved in the process.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Audio distribution can be the difference between a great and awful conference room experience. Let’s say you have a great soundbar on your new conference room display, and it sounded amazing during a small development team check-in. The all-staff meeting, on the other hand, is a different story. In a full conference room, employees in the back cannot hear, and increasing the volume only blasts people in the front every time the remote team speaks. (But all is not lost! The soundbar is perfect for a small huddle space where sound distribution reaches everyone equally.)
Use multiple speakers in a large conference room to evenly distribute sound to all participants. Keep in mind that more speakers doesn’t mean more technology to distract you from what is important, either. For example, based on conference room size and seating plan, using more speakers for balanced sound over a greater area results in lower output, because all speakers are close to users.
When designing a conference room, TSP takes the discovery process to the next level. Choosing the right equipment for a conference room to ensure the best-possible experience is a priority, but understanding the client is also a fundamental step of the discovery process. Company culture, industry regulations and business ethics all play into conference room design as well. Ultimately, technology should not determine how a company conducts itself in the conference room; it should only enhance the experience to allow each participant to focus on the subject matter.