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Top Five Features an Audio Visual Integrated Conference Room Must Have

By Nina Parker

When a conference room's audio visual (AV) systems are properly integrated, meeting participants focus on the meeting and not the underlying technology. Without the right integrated equipment, the meeting's quality diminishes and users get frustrated, resulting in less frequent use of the technology and a reduced return on investment (ROI).

IVCi 's senior vice president and resident AV expert Tim Hennen created a list of five features an integrated room must have to deliver a seamless user experience.

1. Appropriate seating design.

There should not be any "cheep" seats in a well-designed conference room. A meeting environment needs to provide an optimal experience to as many participants as possible. Requirements for video conferencing and graphics viewing differ, so seating must be designed to accommodate both scenarios. Video conferencing can be comfortably viewed on a five-foot screen from a distance of two to eight times the screen height (ten to 40 feet away from the screen), and data can be viewed well from a distance of two to six times the screen height (ten to 30 feet away from the screen).

2. Evenly distributed audio system.

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"Can you hear me now?" is not a desirable phrase to be uttered during a meeting. To prevent distractions caused by inadequate audio distribution, microphones should be implemented evenly to provide complete coverage for all users. The best location for a microphone is on the conference room table in front of the user. If this is not possible due to portable furniture arrangements, ceiling microphones can be implemented, as long as interference from HVAC systems and other sources is limited.

Speakers should also be designed to provide even coverage of the conference room. Distributed ceiling speakers are often used to accommodate larger spaces; however, zoning may be an issue if a voice-lift or mix-minus solution is needed. Front wall program speakers are ideal for spatial audio from video conferencing, telepresence, or other multimedia content.

Audio processing for the mixing and routing of the signals generates the best performance from the room's audio equipment. Sound processing like echo cancellation, noise cancellation, feedback suppression, and equalization creates a superior audio effect. An open-frame solution should be utilized for a complex audio environment, as it allows customized audio programs to be created for each conference room.

3. Provisions for complex video switching and routing.

Welcome to the brave new world of switching and routing. Today's complex environments present challenges with numerous analog and digital signals, including those from composite video, s- video, component video, RGBHV, DVI, HDMI, SDI, and HDSDI. Therefore, it is important to plan for all signal and routing requirements. All destination devices such as displays, recording devices, codecs, and encoders must be compatible with the signals from all sources. Video conversion boxes are useful because they scale or convert signals from lower to higher resolutions, ensuring they will be compatible with the destination device.

In addition, HDCP has to be considered with digital signal routing. Digital content that is copyright protected is limited by the number of keys provided by the content player, or by the content itself (as determined by the manufacturer or studio providing the content). Digital video matrices manage the distribution of these keys, but have potential limitations with multiple destination sources.

4. Audio and video collaboration tools.

Participate in an audio-only meeting and you may end up wondering what was lost in translation. Add video conferencing, and users experience the visual cues of a face-to-face meeting. Video conferencing is becoming a critical communication tool that is found in many conference rooms. Not only is video cost effective and environmentally friendly, but a growing number of organizations are mandating that whenever possible, video be utilized in place of travel.

Although high-definition video conferencing provides the best quality, there is still demand for standard definition video conferencing installations. Camera placement is especially important in achieving the most realistic effect. Strategically placed cameras provide better eye contact and create more personal interactions. Telepresence rooms utilize life-sized viewing and capture solutions with simplified user interfaces to create a truly immersive experience.

Audio conference bridging (conferencing in of multiple audio participants from remote locations) is still a requirement for most meetings. Provisioning POTS Lines, and analog and VOIP ports for the conference room allows seamless conferencing among all participants. Audio bridges can also be used to archive meetings.

5. Easy-to-use control system.

The writer Stan Lee said, "With great power comes great responsibility." A well designed control system gives the user the power to easily control all AV systems in the room. A control panel with an intuitive GUI (graphical user interface) can be designed to control all of the room's AV hardware including audio, video, lighting, presentation tools, and HVAC. The GUI should be easy to use; numerous conference room systems can be tricky to navigate at once. The end result should be a seamless and intuitive navigation process.

A user's level of expertise dictates the control system design. Basic user controls include a simplified task selection such as macros, or a three-buttons-to-press approach to accomplishing the desired task. Simplified rule-sets such as fixed routing allow the basic user to easily navigate the room's systems.

Advanced user controls accommodate the needs of more seasoned operators. Advanced controls can create a customized meeting experience, but require more training. Administrators have the responsibility to deliver a seamless experience to all users.

Once user interfaces are deployed, significant testing must be conducted to assure high-reliability. If the system is unstable and the end user does not experience an easy-to-use system, the room will not be used as frequently, affecting the ROI of the solution. End of article icon.

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