Designing a video conference room

12 Jun

Recently, a prospective client wanted to know what are the basic factors to consider while designing a video conference room.

With video conference becoming a business tool most companies are considering to cut travel costs, this surely will come up again and again during discussions with clients. So, I decided to do some googling on “video conference room design.”

VC1From what I found in the internet, it was clear that the room design plays an important role in the video conference and cannot be ignored.

So what are the basic points to remember while designing a video conference room in your office?

Location of Room

The room should ideally be placed centrally allowing easy access to all departments in the office. This also ensures that the room is away from noises such as traffic, lifts, pumps. A minor sound can be picked up by the sensitive microphones and disturb the video conference.

Room Size

There is no such rule on the room size. It depends on the likely number of participants in a video conference. Modern video conference rooms with Pan-tilt-zoom cameras with optical zoom are being used in lecture theaters with seating capacities in excess of one hundred. So, it clearly depends on availability of room and number of participants.

Although, most meetings involve three to four people, most modern day offices have provision for a conference room with seating capacity of around ten to fifteen people and this can be easily used for video conferencing purpose. The shape of the room need not be square or rectangular. An irregularly shaped room will equally good.

Room Layout

This depends on the seating capacity of the rooms.

A good video conference requires eye-to-eye contact. Placement of camera should be such that participants appear to look directly to the camera.

The displays should be placed close to the camera. This ensures that the participants are looking at the direction of the camera making the experience in the far-site more natural.

If budget permits, a second monitor dedicated for the near-site video is suggested. As vein as this may seem, it is very useful to show who the
camera is spotlighting. Most monitors have Picture in Picture(PIP) to display both groups. Groups larger than four people will not be able to see the PIP box so an alternate monitor is recommended.

A horshshoe shaped arrangement is ideal for a small video conference room in a corporate office as this allows ease of interaction in the local site as well.

In a lecture theatre environment, with several parallel rows of students facing the podium and the lecturn, a second camera facing the lecturn is recommended in addition to the camera facing the student. Display monitors can be fitted to the lecturn also allowing the lecturer to preview what is being received and transmitted. This setup allows full interaction between students and lectuer in both near and far-site.

Projectors are ideal for lecture theaters as they allow bigger screens. If the projector cannot be ceiling mounted, it should be placed away from the microphone pod as the sound of the cooling fan will be disturbing.

Room Decor and Furniture

Mid-tones tending towards lighter shades with matt-finish to minimize reflection are best suited for video conference rooms. This will give the room a bright appearance. Plain or light blue curtains are suggested.

Decorative wallpapers make the video conference codec work harder in compressing the data and focus less on the participants.

Office furniture for video conference rooms also should be in mid-tones to give the room a consistent look. A light to medium colored conference table will reflect light upwards and reduce shadows falling on participants.

A telephone with flash ringer (instead of tone ringer) may be handy. The company logo or wall hanging will make identification easier during a multi-party conference.

Most modern video conference codecs come with echo-cancellation which optimizes the sound levels with the conference, so changing speaker and microphone levels are discouraged once the conference has started. The mute facility in the microphone pod allows participants to talk discreetly during conferences.

Lighting

A room without windows and natural light is ideal and cameras dont like changing  light conditions and take time to adjust.

Normal office lighting with fluorescent lights will suffice. Lights should be focused on participant faces. Reflections of light sources on the video display screen or lack of contrast caused by elevated ambient light levels will make the image quality on the display appear significantly degraded.

To avoid this, careful attention is needed to take care that lights or reflections does not directly fall on camera and display screens. The light should shine upwards and reflect evenly off of the ceiling. Lights that shine down create shadows on the participant’s faces.

Dimming systems unless of good quality is best avoided. A “on-air” light outside the room may prove beneficial to warn others from walking in during a conference.

Acoustics

This is one important aspect which needs to be taken care of while designing video conference rooms. Designing acoustics is a complex job and is best handled by experts.

HVAC noise, reverberations that may not be noticeable to a participant can be easily picked up and amplified by the microphone resulting in interference. A microphone like the human brain does not ignore unwanted sounds in favour of the important sounds.

Windows should be covered with heavy drapes. Blinds of vertical or horizontal type should be avoided.

Microphones should not be placed below air-condition vents. If unavoidable, placing a cover over the air-condition vent that re-directs the airflow a different direction rather than straight down.

If the room surfaces are hard (i.e., windows or whiteboards), you can place microphones closer to people to prevent echo from occurring and to prevent multiple reflections (echo) of local audio being sent to the distant site.

Remembering a few basic points while designing a room for office video conference helps.

For example, carpeting and other soft furnishing helps considerably in improving the acoustics.

Some other points to remember:

  • A separate independently controllable air-conditioning system for the video conference room may help.
  • Signal cables should not be laid in the same cable duct carrying 240 volt a/c supply lines.
  • The equipment used for videoconferencing should be powered from a
    clean mains supply to avoid electrical interference. It should not be on a circuit that is shared by large electrical loads such as plant motors, lifts, workshops, etc.

There is the option of hiring a professional interior designer along with a system integration expert and getting a complex video conference room designed taking care of all lighting and acoustic needs coupled with high end audio and video processors, touch panel and wireless control systems, integrated lighting system. But the budget required to implement it can only be justified at the head office. For smaller video conference rooms in branch offices, following the above mentioned is likely to have a positive impact on the video conference and reflect the aesthetic sense of the management.

And video conference is about cutting costs by reducing travel costs. So unless your MD wants to hold video conferences with the Prime Minister, it makes sense to allocate an adequate budget for the video conference room.

Siemens Enterprise Communications Pvt. Ltd. is recognized globally as one of the leaders in voice and video communications systems. We have a strong presence across the country and our sales and service engineers experienced in handling simple meeting room solutions to complex multiple location video conference solutions. If you are interested, we may guide you in designing the right solution for your office.

Videoconferencing Terminology

Here are some terms you may find useful.

Bearer Channel

The fundamental component of an ISDN circuit, the Bearer Channel carries either voice or data at 64,000 bits per second (64 KBPS) in either direction. A ISDN line has two B channels.

Codec – Coder-Decoder

A device that encodes an incoming analog signal into a digital signal for
transmission to another codec. The digital signal is decoded into analog format. In videoconferencing, codec typically code an decode video and audio.

Continuous Presence

This mode of operating a multipoint conference allows you to see several sites on-screen at once. The screen is usually divided into four and one site appears in each rectangle.

Document Sharing

Most video conferencing units allow both parties (near and far end) to view and edit the same document during their video conference.

Far Side

This refers to the other party in a video conference. In other words, this is where you are not. The Far Side can be the calling or receiving party.

Firewall

A hardware or software based system that filters network traffic based on a set of rules. Simple firewalls normally block access to specific ports.

IP

IP stands for Internet Protocol, a computer networking protocol. Using video conferencing over the Internet uses IP standards. Compare ISDN.

ISDN

ISDN, Integrated Services Digital Network, is a digital network over traditional phone lines that allow video, voice and text to be transmitted. The quality is far superior to IP-based video conferencing.

Multipoint Control Unit (MCU)

Device which allows more than two sites to be connected in a videoconference. Sometimes called a digital switch or video bridge.

Near Side

This refers to you, or where you are physically located. The Near Side can either be the calling or the receiving party.

Text Chat

A way to type in plain text, just like in an e-mail or instant message, and have it be shown alongside the video.

VoIP

Voice over Internet protocol. This is the technology used to transmit voice without a phone line.

External Links:

Some tips on etiquette to be followed during video conferences

1) http://www.emilypost.com/business/video_conference.htm

2) http://www.oovoo.com/How-To-ooVoo/ooVoo-On-VideoChat-Etiquette.aspx

3) http://groups.ucanr.org/VC/Video_Conferencing_Etiquette_and_Tips/

This article may have resemblance with a number of articles out there simply because I have copied and pasted shamelessly and tried to aggregate all the information avaialble to a new article.

Most of the articles I copied from bear a lot of resemblances with quite a few out there. The original source is lost, so I am unable to acknowledge.

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