Re-Print from AV Magazine by Paul Bray……….
The collaboration market is extremely competitive at the moment, with a number of hi-tech, proprietary collaboration tools, such as the Mersive Solstice Pod that facilitate rich image, desktop and file sharing in realtime with unlimited participants across the LAN and WAN.
“At the lower end, simpler products such as AirTame are starting to capture the BYOD/display-sharing market. Both products are enterprise-capable, supporting QoS on the network, VLANs and centralised management.”
There is a strong trend towards cloud-based communications tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and RingCentral, according to Brad Price, senior product marketing manager at Audinate. Theoretically this requires no dedicated, in-room hardware, although a host computer with a keyboard, mouse, screen and perhaps a drawing surface can ensure a more satisfying experience.
No meeting room is going to give satisfaction unless users can connect to it, and quickly.
“Users want BYOD-ready spaces to instantly present and share content wirelessly, and they don’t want to waste time downloading additional apps,” says David Margolin, vice-president of marketing at Kramer. “So any collaboration system must play well with popular platforms and operating systems, including AirPlay, Miracast, and Chromecast secured mirroring.”
USB-C – high-speed, backwards compatible and widely implemented on the latest laptops – can provide the ideal interface. “Simple, one-cable connection enables users to complement the familiar benefits of the desktop-driven UC experience with high-quality audio and video,” says Aidan Crowe, group sales manager at Pure Audio Visual. “AV manufacturers need to be quicker to respond to the demand for USB-C.”
“Collaborating with colleagues who aren’t in the room has been the most significant growth area over the last year or so,” says Crowe. “Skype, Teams, Zoom and many more web conferencing applications are now widely used, so integrating this technology is extremely important.”
“There’s no question that video conferencing is key to a worthwhile meeting space,” adds Jane Hammersley, director of global alliances and collaboration at Maverick. “Products such as Zoom, Logitech Rally and Huddly have proved that VC can be just as simple and quick as dialling a number, and we expect it to become embedded in the workplace culture, especially as companies attempt to become more carbon neutral.”
“Most of the major VC solutions now offer similar features – high-quality video and audio, in-meeting chat and more – and as a result, customers are looking to ease-of-use and additional capabilities when selecting video solutions,” says Sion Lewis, EMEA vice-president of LogMeIn. “A true unified communications solution helps to streamline a work day by providing a space where all scheduling, pre-meeting information, in-meeting chat and post-meeting content is housed.
Functionality such as realtime note taking and AI-powered transcription also goes a long way to making sure the meeting adds value instead of extra administrative work for attendees.”
Technologies that would have seemed like science fiction a few years ago are now becoming a reality. “For instance, we can have a holographic virtual presence using specialised glass to enable figures past and present to give a talk at a meeting,” says Jay Dickman, AV manager at IET London: Savoy Place.
A major enabler of seamless virtual attendance is low-latency networking, according to Jason Larcombe, senior project manager at White Light. “To the delegates in the room it appears as if the virtual participant is physically there with them, making meetings and events infinitely scaleable.”
AV-over-IP provides flexibility which can reduce the cost and complexity of meeting spaces. “Compared to fixed, legacy meeting systems, AV-over-IP system components such as networking ports, switches, encoders, decoders and displays can be changed, expanded, upgraded and reconfigured at any time,” says Garth Lobban, director of marketing at Atlona.
It does raise the issue of network bandwidth, however. “With the growing trend to AV-over-IP or IP-based control, buyers should work very closely with their IT teams to ensure their main network can support their high-performance meeting demands, including high-quality video, without adversely impacting day-to-day business traffic,” says Lobban. “Otherwise it might be wiser to route meeting traffic over a parallel network structure.”
Security is increasingly important in the way meeting room solutions are evaluated, according to Lewis. “Unified communications vendors that integrate threat detection and prevention technologies and policies into their offerings, and work with buyers to help minimise these risks, offer a significant advantage over ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions. Enterprises should be questioning their software and services vendors on their level of security, where their software is developed, and what control they have over their data and communications.”
The quality of audio and video are fundamental to the quality of the meeting experience, and workers now expect slick and intuitive technologies to drive this, says Andrew Hug, EMEA vice-president at Poly. HD video is now available even in plug-and-play cameras, while noise blocking and acoustic fencing are being built into phones and webcams to minimise distractions, and intelligent cameras can automatically zoom in on whoever is speaking.
Image resolution is important for ease of viewing, says Jasmin Stemmler, product marketing manager at NEC Display Solutions. “For close proximity, especially for larger screen sizes, UHD is recommended for pixel-free viewing. As a guide, a small meeting room for up to six people requires a screen size up to 55in, a medium sized room for 6-15 people requires 55-86in, and a large room for more than 15 people needs over 75in.
“In smaller rooms, an element of interactivity will stimulate better engagement. Medium sized meeting rooms will benefit from two screens for presentation and to aid workflow. The largest meeting rooms and auditoria can be uplifted with repeater displays.”
Interactive screens are generating more interest for ad hoc meeting environments and specialised ideation and design areas, according to Crowe. “However, for general and multi-purpose meeting rooms they’re still seen as a nice-to-have by many corporate clients. It will be interesting to see whether the increased promotion of the Whiteboard app by Microsoft will accelerate usage in the same way that the Microsoft Hub accelerated the use of interactive screens outside the formal office space.”
On the audio side, beam forming or beam tracking microphones can accurately home in on whoever is speaking up to a distance of several metres, increasing sound quality and reducing the need for multiple mics.
It is also possible to co-opt attendees’ own phones as mics. “An example is Biamp’s Crowd Mics which lets audience members use their smartphones as delegate microphones, as well as texting questions to the moderator and taking part in voting,” says William Turney, business development manager at Polar.
Data and analytics
According to Fulton-Langley, an interesting area to watch is data and analytics which looks set to play an increasingly important role as IoT devices proliferate. “In addition to simply highlighting how often rooms are used and by how many people, data will provide more information on the room environment, with systems talking to one another and providing actionable insights.”
As an example, Hammersley cites the newly launched Windows collaboration displays from Avocor and Sharp which include built-in sensors that monitor light levels, CO2 levels, meeting room capacity and other data.
Sensor technology, such as proximity detection and heat mapping, will help organisations make critical decisions about the development of their meeting rooms, as well as freeing up meeting rooms when people forget to cancel a booking, adds Turney.
Room booking systems themselves have become much more intuitive and informative, according to Carl Standertskjold, corporate segment marketing manager at Sony. Combined with interactive tablets outside the room and integration with Google or Microsoft calendars, they can obviate diary clashes and last-minute panics.
“Increasingly organisations are not only employing room booking technology but overlaying it with a central management system that enables AV and IT managers to easily manage all of a building’s IP devices, from standalone screens to projectors and tablets, through one simple portal,” says Standertskjold.
If artificial intelligence fulfils its potential, meeting rooms will become almost fully autonomous, believes Margolin. AI will study user habits and preferences and create automated, zero-touch environments.
“Imagine a meeting room with facial recognition that works with cloud-based AV devices and room booking. It will turn on the lights and open a web browser or VC based on user profiles and schedules. It’s also a data-rich meeting room with room utilisation software that’s self-learning and self-improving. User experience will be the major impactor on AV technology in meeting spaces, and will pave the road ahead.”