In general, the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend is great. It gives employees freedom and choice, with the ability to have the tool they need for their specific job, work habits and tastes. Even employers who aren’t ready to let employees select their own PCs have partially embraced the trend by equipping employees with mobile-ready devices, such as laptops and tablets, that allow them to work wherever they are in a flexible work environment. This way, employees can address issues any time the need arises, whether the employee is at home or in the building, but away from their desk.
The result of this trend is that employees expect to be able to bring their devices (particularly laptops) wherever they go—including meeting spaces. Employees have everything they need to operate their meetings directly from their laptops, and when they bring them into meeting spaces, they expect to be able to quickly and easily connect the device to the screen in the room.
Thankfully, AV systems provide a simple solution to this challenge. With an AV table box and video distribution technology, employees can connect their devices and share their content in moments. They can even use wireless screen sharing to connect to a device like AMX Acendo Core, eliminating the need to physically connect to anything in the space. These simplified solutions make sharing content from a mobile device with people in the room a quick and painless process.
However, problems arise when employees want to have a web conference to include people outside the room in meetings. While employees typically connect to the local screen using HDMI or WiFi, for video conferences, they often use the microphone and camera built into the laptop. Although this is great for one-on-one web conferencing, the cameras and mics in laptops are not designed for use in meeting spaces.
What results is typically rather awkward. At best, the remote employee can only see and hear the person who brought the laptop. With the camera, this is an obvious issue and a pervasive enough one that has led to underutilization of video in corporate web conferencing. The same problem is also prevalent with audio conferencing, which is much more commonly used than video conferencing.
With audio conferencing, the issue is that microphones on laptops tend to employ cardioid polar patterns. This is ideal for laptop microphone applications, as it focuses its pickup directionality forward to the person who is in front of the screen, facing the camera. This minimizes the pickup of fan noise and other sounds coming from the laptop itself. However, this is not an ideal pickup pattern for a microphone located on a laptop that is only facing one side of the conference table. Since the employee brought the laptop to use during the meeting, they rarely (if ever) place it in a location that ensures everyone in the room is heard. This results is a poor, confusing experience that often involves the person at the far end of the room constantly asking, “What did they just say?” whenever someone on the other side of the table speaks.
Of course, there is often an alternative solution in these spaces: the room PC. Well-equipped conference spaces in recent years have typically included a PC along with some sort of microphone and camera setup (usually a consumer-grade web camera). These cameras provide decent (if not ideal) coverage of the room if mounted correctly, but the microphones are typically nearfield, meaning no one can be really heard on the far end. In addition, using them requires logging into the room PC, accessing files, entering credentials to setup and access the calendar, and then finally joining the web conference. This is all using an interface that was designed for a 20-inch screen located two feet from the user, not a large flatscreen TV mounted on a wall, where the user can’t even locate the mouse. Traversing the interface and getting everything setup on a room PC often results in frustration and lost time, which is why BYOD is so popular in the first place. My laptop is already configured the way I like it, and Microsoft Outlook is already setup and ready to go.
There are certainly better options for occasions when you need a permanently installed device in the room to handle document viewing and video conferencing. For example, AMX Acendo Core offers document viewing and a one-touch start to Skype for Business meetings in addition to the wireless screen sharing I mentioned previously. However, for those who want to use their own devices, there is a middle ground. A video conferencing soundbar, like the AMX Acendo Vibe, provides the capability to use a USB port to easily connect to quality cameras, speakers and microphones designed for conferencing. The soundbar, which can either be mounted under the TV or placed on a credenza or table, provides good coverage of the room, so everyone can be seen or heard.
The difference between a professional conferencing soundbar and a consumer webcam is that the soundbar is designed with the meeting space in mind. For example, webcams typically have a 90-degree field of view. This results in people seated on the sides of the room falling out of frame. Soundbars like the Vibe have a 120-degree field of view that ensures everyone can be seen. Similarly, conferencing soundbars employ far-field microphones that provide coverage for everyone in the space.
Conferencing soundbars also provide another benefit over webcams that make them better options for conferencing in meetings: the fact that they are soundbars. The audio for the web conference in most BYOD situations is typically output through the laptop. While this is a serviceable solution in a smaller conference room space, it is far from ideal. Conferencing soundbars come with quality speakers and microphones—which, in the case of the Acendo Vibe, include JBL-tuned audio signal processing and echo cancellation—ensuring that employees can hear everything that is said during a meeting. The speakers, microphones and camera all use the same USB connection, making it an easy process to get excellent sound and visuals without a complicated setup process.
While using a laptop or tablet for web conferences in meeting spaces has its challenges, with the right technology, it is possible to make it an extremely successful experience. With a conferencing soundbar connected to the laptop through an AV table box, employees can have a great audio and video experience with technology specifically designed for meeting spaces. Do you have experience enabling BYOD web conferencing in meeting spaces? Share your insights in the comments.