Modern Workspace’s Video Conferencing Beginner’s Guide
By Wes O'Donnell, Founder of Modern Workspace
Tech-Savvy CEO: “Should I buy a video conferencing setup for my company? Where do I begin?
There are many applications for which video conferencing would be a great solution. Some of these situations include:
There are many benefits to video conferencing that can impact a wide variety of businesses and institutions by advancing their goals and reducing environmental impact at the same time. The ability to tele-communicate allows people to work from home preventing exorbitant relocation cost and operational costs, while increasing morale by giving the employee the freedom to live in a location they desire and eliminate hours of stressful commuting. Another huge advantage is to be able to connect customers and employees to experts in the areas of their concerns no matter where they are located across the globe, increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction tremendously. Global meetings become a simple task with this technology. Customers can be kept informed on products and services with minimal effort on their part which helps sway their decision as to where to go for their purchases now and in the future.
When it comes to video conferencing each situation and need is different. There is not one system that suits all needs. It is important to create a solution that will help your company reach their goals and fulfill your needs. In doing so you will be able to determine what particular components are needed to complete your system, as well as optimal room placement. However, there will be situations in which the rooms available are less that optimal and for those situations there are a few tips that can maximize the space you have available.
By answering the following questions, you will be able to determine the best design for your video conferencing system:
Ask Yourself These Questions
There are six main components that make up a complete video conferencing system: the camera, microphone, codec, monitor, loudspeaker and A/V furniture.
Sound and image is captured at one location by the microphone and camera. At that point a codec takes the audio and video and converts it into digital form and sends it across the network to the end receiver where the codec decompresses the signal to create a picture displayed on the monitor and sound transmitted by a loudspeaker. The conferencing system can be comprised of two units or many units depending on the needs of the user. Depending on your individual needs, there is a video conferencing system for everyone in every situation, spanning from boardrooms to personal desks to manufacturing floors. The solutions are there for you to customize to maximize your benefits given your needs, budget and location. Of course, once you've invested in your videoconferencing system, you can't just set it on the floor. From a simple wall mount for a flat-screen TV with an integrated camera shelf, to a full credenza and conference table, to mobile carts that can be moved anywhere in the office that they're needed; AVTEQ Inc. provides some of the highest quality A/V furniture in the industry. You can see their products right here on ModernWorkspace.net.
A complete telepresence video conferencing solution encompasses a full range of video systems, infrastructures for various environments, as well as centralized management tools. External devices and productivity tools can be added to expand the experience even further. Your complete solution may include any number of the following products:
An Immersive system provides you with the most realistic personal meeting experience. It can be a system that is room based or sit on an individual executive desk. With this system, the participants will feel as though they are conducting the meeting sitting across a table from one another when in reality they can be hundreds or thousands of miles apart.
The Group Video Conferencing system, also known as the Room or Multi-purpose video conference system is specifically designed for situations in which the environment is shared. For example, they could be used in boardrooms, meeting rooms or auditoriums. It is a high definition system that provides the same audio and visual clarity as the immersive system but for a larger audience.
The Desk or Personal Video Conferencing system focuses on the individual user and usually includes video VoIP phones, executive systems and personal computer based systems to be used in offices, homes or on the go locations.
These various types of systems cover a wide range of applications to aid in communication within many industries, some of which include mHealth and telemedicine, defense industry and distance education. With the variety of choices available it should be easy to find the system that works for your goals and needs.
Another option you have when choosing your system is a centralized management system. This will give you a significant amount of increased control over the running of your system without a great expense. It will allow you to perform such tasks as remote diagnostics and system upgrades as well as have control over associated resources and connect to third party communication tools. You will also be able to obtain usage reports allowing you to calculate return on investment.
You might find that adding a Mulitpoint Control Unit could be of added benefit to your system. This unit allows you to join multiple video and voice participants into a single conference. They offer Mulitpoint Control Units with high definition features that will be continuous over the entire network ensuring the best quality for all participants. These devices are highly scalable media service engines that allow for growth to accommodate your business needs.
AddPac: VC series, HVC series systems (South Korea)
Aethra: X-Line series (Italy)
Audisoft Technologies : Frontline HD, Fronline Communicator FC03 (Canada)
Avaya: (Radvision) Scopia systems (United States)
AVer Information: HVC330, H300 (Taiwan)
BrightCom: Lumina Telepresence (United States)
Cisco Systems: Cisco TelePresence (United States)
HP: Halo (United States)
IOCOM: Visimeet (United States)
LG-Nortel: LVP series PSTN, ISDN and IP videophones (South Korea)
Librestream: Onsight (Canada)
LifeSize: LifeSize Team, LifeSize Room & LifeSize Conference (United States)
Magor: HD-Duo, HD-Trio (Canada)
Panasonic: VC500 (Japan)
Polycom: RPX, OTX, ATX, HDX, VSX series (United States)
Polycom: VVX (United States)
Sony: PCS systems (Japan)
Tandberg: T3 Telepresence (Norway)
VeaMea: VeaMea Streaming Server & VeaMeaUC (United States)
Vidyo: VidyoRoom & VidyoDesktop (United States)
Video infrastructure is one option that can be added to systems for companies operating out of multiple locations. This infrastructure ensures that users on different networks can connect through the same video solution and that the bandwidth can be regulated. Calls are connected securely with NAT-firewall traversal which hides addresses of private networks behind a single IP address on the internet.
Another feature available to companies is an option to have units call an individual instead of another unit. What this does is allow a user to have calls to their video devices be forwarded to another device or location such as a mobile phone or laptop to keep you connected even when you’re out of the office.
Content servers can also be added to a video conferencing system. This enables the user to record video meetings to be played back to an audience at a later time of their choosing. This can be very useful in training situations.
There are also a wide variety of accessories and peripherals that can be added to your video conferencing units to enhance the experience. Some of these include wide angle and high definition cameras and upgraded microphones and speakers to improve the quality of communication. Document cameras are also available to allow documents and drawings to be shared through video. Through your personal computer, the system can be linked to DVDs, whiteboards and document and media applications as well.
After you have decided which system and additions are the best solution for your needs it is time to create the best environment in which to put it. You want to make sure you get the most benefit and the highest quality experience possible no matter whether you are using the system in a boardroom, home office, multi-purpose room or manufacturing floor. There are several adjustments that can be made to make the most out of the space you will be using.
The most important thing to consider when creating the environment is comfort. A comfortable space for the users should be a priority over technology. Another thing to consider is the color and texture of the walls to allow for optimal camera recognition. Soft colors and textured wall coverings are recommended but if this is not possible, adjustments in lighting will boost the cameras ability to capture a good image. Be aware of the coloring of the furniture as well to allow for maximum video quality. If using an immersive room, all of the components are created to work symbiotic with the system. Immersive rooms have the sole purpose of video conferencing and all the components are made to work with the system, for example color and texture of walls and furniture fabrics, lighting and sound system are custom chosen for this application.
Keep in mind that the camera will also pick up whatever is behind the users. It is best to have a simple, calming background preferably in a neutral color to give contrast to the users. It is recommended to have the cameras facing walls that do not have a pattern. Also make sure to avoid backgrounds that have moving things, such as flowing curtains or people walking back and forth as it may reduce the quality of the image as well as distract those on the other end of the video feed. For the same reasons, do not face the camera toward a doorway. If there is a table in the room, make sure it is not reflective to light which could create glare and poor image quality. Make sure the room is clutter free and does not have unnecessary furniture.
When positioning the lights, do not directly point them at people, presentation materials or the camera. It will create unwanted contrast and shadows. When trying to avoid shadows, the key is to combine lighting arrangements between ceiling and walls. Lamps that have “daylight” bulbs in them are suggested. Colored lighting should not be used to avoid tinting the image.
Natural light should be avoided when at all possible. Curtains and opaque blinds are recommended as natural sunlight can cause sharp contrasts within the room and affect the cameras automatic adjustment features which can lessen image quality. Be cautious when using whiteboards because they are usually positioned behind the users and tend to cause glare. It is best to avoid having them present but if they must be used make sure they are positioned so none of the users are standing directly in front of them.
Considerations for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning
The number of electronic components in the room will affect the amount of heat generated in the room as well as the number of people. Larger monitors and larger groups of people will cause in increase in temperature. This should be taken into consideration and accommodations to regulate temperature should be made.
Recommendations for Acoustics
Any room can be used for video conferencing if adaptations are made to provide the best possible capture situation for both video and audio elements. While video seems to be the focus when talking about video conferencing systems, acoustics should also be taken into account. The goal is to make sure the audio portion of the conferencing is as clear and uninterrupted as possible. Minor glitches in video can be overlooked if the audio is intact and understandable. The feel of natural communication is the key to success with video conferencing.
Another element that needs to be considered is sound absorption and diffusion. Compensations need to be made to counteract the effects of smooth reflective surfaces such as windows, ceilings, flat walls, polished floors and the like. Some ways to accomplish this are with wall to wall carpeting, absorption panels on ceilings and walls and medium to heavy weight curtains which can also help reduce the rooms natural light. Sound diffusion can be achieved by placing large, irregular shaped decorative objects throughout the room along with upholstered furniture. The incorporation of sound absorption measures can greatly cut down on the reverberation which causes sounds to be confusing. As a rule of thumb, having ten percent or more coverage of a room with sound absorbing materials will give a significantly greater quality of sound to any video conferencing system.
If the option is available to you, it is best to choose a room with an irregular shape as opposed to a room with a rectangular shape. Rectangular shaped rooms tend to flutter echoes as sound bounces back and forth between the parallel surfaces. One test to see if flutter echoes is an issue in our conference room is to stand in various spots around the room and loudly clap your hands. If it creates a crisp, clear sound, the room is okay for video conferencing as it is. However, if it sounds as though there are several people clapping and the sound is muddled, the room has effects of a flutter echo and countermeasures should be taken by placing sound absorbing materials throughout the room to ensure the audio quality of the system is at its best.
Eliminating the outside noises and sounds from the conference room is referred to as sound isolation. This is important because while you might be used to the daily sounds of your office, the users on the other end may find it very distracting. There is heightened attention and focus on the audible sounds by the users when they are video conferencing to make up for the lack of physical proximity which puts a high priority on sound isolation when creating you conference space. As an additional bonus, this also creates a much more private environment which can be vital to more sensitive topics that may be discussed.
• Reverberation time (RT) should be within 0.3–0.6 [s] in the octave bands 125–4000 [Hz].
• The acoustic absorption should to the extent possible be distributed on the walls in addition to the ceiling to avoid flutter-echo effects from parallel walls.
• If you are not going to put absorption on all walls, put the absorption on non-opposing walls to minimize flutter echo effects in all directions.
• Distribute the absorption elements about the walls, avoid absorption clusters.
• The ceiling is recommended to have an absorption factor ≥ 0.9 in the octave bands
125–4000 [Hz]. This will normally require a mineral wool ceiling of good quality.
• The walls should preferably have sound absorbing fields at the side, front and back walls. If perforated or slotted panels are used, the opening area of the panel must be at least 20 % of the panel area.
• Sound absorption on walls could also be made with mineral wool wall panels, curtains or other absorptive materials.
• Carpet on the floor is strongly recommended.
• All walls around the room should have a sound insulation of R’w ≥ 48 dB (≥ STC 50).
• The door should have a sound insulation of Rw ≥ 38 dB (≥ STC 40).
• Background noise level should ideally be ≤ 30 dB (A). However, a background noise level
≤ 35 dB (A) will be acceptable. This includes both noise from technical installations (air conditioning, in particular) and outdoor traffic noise etc.
If you are lucky enough to have a room solely created for video conferencing applications, this task is fairly simple. The room itself will be designed around the system and not the other way around. However, in most practical situations, adjustments to an existing room must be made to provide an optimal conferencing experience.
The visual focus capabilities of the camera should be the main determination of how the layout of the room is carried out. Furniture placement, wall board accessories and visual aids all need to be accommodating to the cameras coverage. The size of the room will play a large role in how many participants can be included in the meetings as well as the positioning of the furniture where these users will be seated. It will determine who can be seen and who can see during the actual meeting. When figuring out furniture placement, keep in mind the distance needed between the participants and the camera to allow for complete coverage. Also, if the room is used for multiple purposes, make sure obstructions and walkways are not interfering with the cameras line of sight. There are many video conferencing solutions concerning specialized furniture for this very purpose. Conference tables as well as cabinets and mobile stations are available to allow for easy setup and take down in a multipurpose setting.
Small meeting rooms are often best suited for a “down the table” view with the camera at the narrow end of the table facing the far end of the table. Do not put a participant in the seat closest to the camera as they will not be captured in the video and reversely will not be able to see the video of the participants from the remote location. This also leaves a clear path around the table for users to access visual aids without crossing in from the camera.
Larger meeting rooms seem to work best with a “U” shaped arrangement with the camera positioned at the wide edge of the table.
If you are using video conferencing for a distance learning application and there will be approximately thirty or more people, it is best to use a classroom or auditorium configuration. In this instance, several monitors are often used to allow for easier viewing to those participants in the back of the room as well as the front.
In the situations involving a remote presenter and a local presenter simultaneously, usually seen in training and teaching applications, monitors should be positioned to provide the visual experience of the remote presenter speaking directly to the participants or students. This allows for a natural flow of communication between student and lecturer.
Microphone Placement Recommendations
If your conferencing group is relatively small, one microphone should be sufficient to capture good quality audio. When the system you are using comes equip with more than one microphone, all supplied should be used to achieve the highest possible audio quality. Place microphones as far away from each other as possible to avoid interference and be sure not to place them near any noise emitting equipment such as computers or projector fans as it will magnify the sound on the recipients end even though it might not be loud to the participants in your conference room. There are specially designed ceiling microphones available if this option suits your situation. Also, make sure there are no obstructions between the speaking parties and the microphones they are using. When an auditorium or classroom layout is being used, for example with distance learning application, be sure not only to have a microphone for the lecture but some for the audience as well so they may participate in the discussion.
Monitor and Camera Recommendations
The distance at which you should position the monitor depends on the size of the monitor and the number of people who will be viewing it. When positioning the camera, keep in mind the placement of the monitor. You will want the camera positioned somewhat close to the monitor so it has a natural communication feel to it when the participants are looking at the monitor. Most cameras have a good quality capture up to a maximum of seventy degrees, so you will want to make sure all participants are seated within that range. Some basic guidelines for monitor distance placement are as follows. If using a monitor with an aspect ratio of 16:9 and 1080p, these sizes usually work well with these corresponding distances. For a 42” monitor, a distance of 1.5 meters or 4 feet 11 inches is recommended. For a 52” monitor, a distance of 2.0 meters or 6 feet 6 inches works well. If using a 65” monitor, try a distance of 2.5 meters or 8 feet 2 inches. Remember these figures are just guidelines and you should always test things out on-site before permanently mounting the monitor to any structure. Overall, make sure that the farthest person from the monitor is still able to comfortable view the picture without disturbing the natural feel; and that the participants closest to the camera are not distorted by the downward view of the camera due to seating position for the remote viewers.
You can enhance your conferencing experience through the use of presentation tools, whether using them in a video conference with a remote location or a local meeting where the monitor is used as a presentation monitor. These devices can include document cameras, PC based presentation programs or external video sources such as a DVD player. Document cameras are typically mounted over the meeting table and used to project images of objects and paper based documents to the monitor. You may use any PC accessible presentation material during a conference by simply connecting the computer to the video system. A whiteboard may also be used as a presentation tool during conferences. However, it is strongly recommended to invest in a second camera dedicated to the whiteboard to avoid positioning difficulties. If using only the main camera, the whiteboard would need to be positioned directly opposing it, which often creates a significant glare that is bothersome to the remote participants. Adding a second camera will negate this problem and can be easily accessed with a click of the remote for most video conferencing systems.
The goal of video conferencing is to create the feel of a face-to-face meeting even if participants are many miles apart. There are some additional things to keep in mind to make the most your experience.
In a meeting room setting:
Of course, there's much more information out there. The leaders in videoconferencing, Polycom, Cisco, Lifesize and others can assist you in planning and executing your system, customized to your particular needs and requirements. As technology both advances and becomes more ubiquitous, reaching parts of the world once excluded, the world itself gets smaller. We here at Modern Workspace feel that collaboration and competition are the keys to a healthy global economy. We encourage you to continue to learn about Unified Communication and don't hesitate to message us if you have any questions.