A few weeks ago I wrote a post encouraging everyone to get out of the meeting rooms and use personal video conferencing systems instead. But as much as I’m standing behind those harsh words, I am still a fan of meeting rooms, when the nature of the meeting calls them. Or as I wrote in the original post:
…a meeting, with lots of people from the same physical location. Then, just like we do today with any other means of communications, we will go the room, spend the first ten minutes on chit-chat and go ahead with the conference…
Spending some time in various meeting rooms, both in RADVISION and outside of it, and tackling all kind of problems with video conferencing in those meeting rooms, I am often asked about what a meeting room should look like to make video conferencing a better experience.
You may think that the room itself has nothing to do with the overall experience. Or you may think that it takes $100K to setup a “video conferencing-ready” room. Well, I assembled a few RADVISION experts, and gathered some tips for you on how to get the most from your meeting room.
A good lighting position can dramatically improve the final image, says our camera expert, Fabrizio Ghetti, while the wrong light layout can cause various problems (shade the face for instance).
The light positioning must be fixed over eye level to avoid any disturbance on the displays. Also, the angle and the light power are very important. For instance, while the °K temperature of the outside lighting at dawn or at sunset is 2K-3K, a fluorescent lamp can go as high as 5K and an HMI lamp can reach 6K.
To get the best result, it’s important to use 3 kind of light sources, as can be seen in the following layout:
The key light is the most powerful light in the room, the back light is set in the opposite direction of the key light, while the fill light is less powerful than the key light.
In the case where only ceiling lighting is available, the key is “comfortable” light. That is a light source that isn’t a nuisance and doesn’t generate a lot of heat to maintain the most pleasant possible environment for the conference. Basically the light must come from the top of the conference table, the front and the rear (for depth of field). Literal light, if possible, can improve face illumination.
There are actually vendors who offer lighting solutions that accommodate video conferencing better than out-of-the-box lighting.
There are several acoustic elements that are important to understand before designing a meeting room. Ilan Malka, our audio expert, says there are 2 issues of most importance: the room interior and the microphones:
1. Room reflections:
Sound waves are travelling through the room space and when they encounter an obstacle (e.g. floor, ceiling, walls) some of their energy is bounced back and travels in the opposite direction. From the figure above you can see the different paths a sound wave may go through before reaching the listener. Because of the delay between the different paths, the same signal is arriving to the listener several times with different delays. If those reflections are powerful enough then they reduce the sound quality considerably.
A well designed room should minimize these reflections as much as possible. These reflections make the audio less understandable, degrade the perceived quality, may cause echo returned to the other side (despite the Acoustic Echo Canceller) and can degrade the audio quality sent to other participants.
To achieve the needed attenuation of those reflections, it is advised to use a carpet for the floor reflections, acoustic tiles for the ceiling and fabrics for the walls. As a thumb rule you can say that the weaker the material of the wall, the better it will perform acoustically: fabric is best; glass is worst.
The type and position of the microphones are very important factors in achieving high acoustic quality:
- Microphone should be positioned up to 2 meters away from the person speaking. If not possible, consider installing more microphones to cover the room.
- Microphone should be placed as far as possible from the video conferencing system loudspeakers. This will improve the full duplex performance.
- If possible use several uni-directional microphones instead of an omni-directional microphone. This will improve the sound quality and will reduce reverberations.
- Microphone should be placed as far away from noise sources such as projectors, PC/laptop fans, air conditioning sources, etc.
Never select a room that is adjacent to the elevator room, servers room, toilets or any other noisy room. This might look trivial, but I’ve seen some rooms that suffered from intolerable noise due to just that. If possible select the room that is facing the less noisy outdoor environment.
Although there are fancy acoustic algorithms, such as the Acoustic Echo Canceller (AEC), Noise Suppressors (NS) and Automatic Gain Controllers (AGC) that are supposed to handle those problems. When conditions are not optimal the performance of these algorithms greatly degrade and audio artifacts can become noticeable.
Meeting Rooms should have enough electricity sockets and Ethernet connections to accommodate a group of meeting participants and their laptops. Furthermore, as most people are sitting in a rather confided area of the room (so that the camera can see them), these connections have to be in the center of the meeting room table.
Preferably, a fixed RGB cable to connect the laptop to the video conferencing system (for data sharing) will be available.
Meeting Rooms should not be painted white. In fact, neutral shades, such as beige, pale gray or pale blue work best. These colors provide the best background and reduce eye strain when viewing the video images. Stark whites or darker colors do not provide the optimum background for viewing. In that sense, here’s another tip: try not to wear any loud colors when you’re in a video conference. Stripes and squares are also known to cause both video conferencing systems and remote participants a headache…
A “classic” meeting room layout would be something similar to this:
- The table allows for all participants to participate and see the other participants in almost the same manner.
- The camera can capture all participants, and also the whiteboard.
- The telephone/microphone can capture all participants.
- Two displays show the video feed, as well as the data channel.
- Connections for Ethernet, electricity and data channel are available on the table.
Controlling the many instruments of such a meeting room can get pretty complicated. I would recommend having some kind of universal remote control, or at least our SCOPIA Mobile application, which will let you control everything (displays, camera, video conference system) with the touch of your finger.