Conference Rooms and Collaboration solutions increasingly require some form of video conferencing component. For simple spaces, these may be as simple as Skype, Lync, Google Hangouts, or some other variation. Moving up the scale are hardware based video conferencing solutions, with full blown telepresence at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The complexity of the solution will help determine your best solution provider. For simple solutions, this may be an IT or AV integrator. Larger organizations may have an internal IT department capable of delivering these solutions, or they may hire an independent IT/AV consultant. For the largest deployments, an experience internal IT department often specializes with an AV/IT video conference consultant or video conference consultants to deliver a custom enterprise solution.
Increasingly, the most challenges usage scenarios are when you are implementing a mixture of the solutions over an enterprise network. Managing presence dial plan and other aspects of your configuration become more challenging as all of these components become forced into a single enterprise solution that must communicate across the firewall and merge multiple protocols that were never designed for full interoperability. These implementations can become complex rapidly. On the simpler side, here are a few of the most basic elements that a video conference consultant will coordinate with your architect.
One of the most important considerations with videoconferencing is the location of the camera. You should try to keep this as close to eye level as possible, especially in the vertical. This will keep all the participants “eye to eye” for a proper feeling of connection. If you have a large display and the camera is mounted above, the other end will feel like they are watching security footage of that room, instead of interacting with room participants. This can require some thought in multiple camera scenarios.
Another important consideration for videoconferencing is room lighting. Cameras do not perceive light the same way that our eyes do. This is covered elsewhere on this site, but in summary, you will have poor results if you just use traditional down-lighting.
There are products out there that can provide proper lighting without making your space look like a broadcast studio, but you need to take these into consideration, as this is a common source of scope gap when video conferencing is implemented by those less experienced. Several vendors make lighting elements that look like traditional fixtures, but operate as necessary for proper on-camera viewing.
The color of wall coverings in the space can make a significant impact on the look of those on camera. While this is clearly the domain of interior designers, the video conference consultant will often make recommendations or advise on the impact of selected colors.
Audio Source Localization
In large conference rooms, consultants often implement overhead speakers. The reason is because this allows us to wire each speaker individually and use digital processing to get higher levels of volume in the room before the microphones begin to make a squealing noise (feedback). In contrast for video conferencing systems, the preferred format is to have the audio source localized at the display, so that it sounds like the audio is coming from the remote presenter. In large rooms, this can actually require more complex speaker design.
Simple video conferencing designs require only one or two microphone elements that are often integrated directly with the main conferencing hardware. For larger, more complex spaces, multiple microphone arrays are deployed and mixed through separate hardware.
The most complex aspect of video conference design. This is an entire set of subjects in itself. Security, bandwidth, and enterprise standards all must be considered to create a system that doesn’t “fix one thing and break something else”. As mentioned in the introduction, the most challenging usage cases are those where unique systems like Skype, Lync, and others are deployed along with hardware based conferencing. This often requires specialized hardware and software for protocol translation to enable a seamless experience across the enterprise.
At the extreme of videoconferencing solutions are spaces that we refer to as Telepresence. These are specialized conferencing solutions, where we are trying to emulate as accurately as possible the experience of being in a meeting with people who are physically remote. In order to do this, we typically need one camera and one display per participant. This allows each person to be shown on the display as close to their actual physical size as possible. Similarly, the displays would typically be situated so that the images of the remote participants are at the same height as if they were sitting across the other side of the table. Telepresence requires a significant amount of internet bandwidth, as we essentially need one video stream for each participant.
If you are considering a video conferencing installation with a budget of less than $100,000, we can help point you in the direction of a systems integrator in your area with the appropriate qualifications to deliver a system that meets best practices. If you are considering a more complex video conferencing implementation, you can review our six questions to ask when selecting a design consultant, or download our resume.