The hidden considerations of a Videoconferencing Experience by Dan Butch
Often the finer points of the video conferencing experience are overlooked in today’s world of open bids and bottom-line considerations. The conference room is viewed as a cost effective means of reducing travel expenses for a company. The Videoconferencing experience is much more than just cameras and microphones connecting to far-end displays and speakers. The quality of this exchange is greatly affected by many ambient components that influence the experience just as much as the technology, if not, in some instances, more than the technology. The videoconferencing experience can range from a simple phone or web camera application that utilizes coincidental ambience to a full blown immersive room outfitted to look, sound and feel like the far end is simply an extension of the conference room table.
The expense of a fully immersive room is typically a major deterrent. However, many elements of the fully immersive room can be applied to a more typical conference room. The goal is to get the highest quality video and audio experience, to place cameras and microphones in the best positions to get the best coverage, and to create the feel that the far-end participants are life sized and not so far away. Conference rooms are not typically designed around the entire video conference experience, but some simple room considerations can improve the quality of what is picked up by the cameras and microphones to include more of a participant focus rather than a focus on external factors.
With microphones, for example, considerations in addition to technology are really about ambient noise mitigation and cancelation. A typical office room can have ambient noise from adjacent rooms, mechanical systems like heat pumps and fans as well as internal reflections from an echoic environment. Technology like digital microphone arrays offer better pick-up coverage room and clearly sense the ambient noise. Even though digital technology offers ambient noise cancelation at a cost, this technology is best suited if the ambient noise is minimized prior and if the ambient noise is constant and droning.
Minimizing ambient reflections starts with floor, ceiling, window and wall treatments. Carpeting minimizes floor reflections; most ceiling tiles are manufactured with acoustics in mind and open ceilings can be sprayed with an acoustic treatment; drapes and curtains reduce window reflections; and there are a variety of wall treatments to reduce wall reflections. These treatments do not need to be applied to 100% of each surface, and many wall panels can resemble canvas art work.
Minimizing ambient noise from mechanical equipment can be a challenge with some simple solutions. Most HVAC equipment manufacturers offer an acoustical wrap for their compressors which can greatly reduce noise in some situations. Scroll type compressors are less noisy than reciprocating compressors. A heat pump repair can actually turn into an opportunity to upgrade the audio experience. Ceiling microphone placement should remain a reasonable distance from mechanical noise sources. Microphones are very sensitive to air flow, but there are many different air flow pattern ceiling diffusers. A simple diffuser replacement to direct air flow away from microphones can make a significant improvement in the audio experience of a video call.
Video quality is as much influenced by the room layout and lighting as it is by camera technical specifications and placement. Lighting needs to be adequate and properly diffused to offer a smooth, consistent and shadow-free participant for camera pick up. Lighting for a room is usually sized for a nighttime environment. Many video conferences happen during the day when there is a huge potential for a large solar load which can make the participants appear white and glowing. There are many window treatments that can minimize this factor. There are even motorized blinds; their controls can be integrated with a video conference control system, so that whenever a room is in a video conference mode, the blinds are closed.
At the end of the day, designing a video conference room is really designing an experience shared by remote participants. The technology and the ambience both play large parts in determining the quality of the experience. There is a huge focus on the technology, but to get the best life-like experience, all of the ambience factors listed above should be considered as well. This is one of the advantages of consulting a Video Conferencing Integrator like Veraview: the entire videoconferencing experience will be considered, and creative designs and implementations offer many advantages over out-of-the-box, plug-and-play solutions.
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