10 years ago, the options for meeting room videoconferencing were mainly limited to set-top devices, and camera/codec bundles. With the rise of flat screens, set-tops had nowhere to perch, leaving meeting rooms with a uniform camera/codec approach to video. In recent years, this has been shaken up by the introduction of popular new options.
Today, we have a rare confluence of innovation. Not only are upstarts (and startups) entering the market with new approaches, but the older market leaders are creating and bringing to market some very new and different solutions. In no particular order, here are a few of today’s options for meeting room video.
The Speaker Bar
This year at Enterprise Connect we saw two new entries to the meeting room video space, both using a speaker bar form factor. Cisco’s Spark Room Kit won a Red Dot Award and garnered a lot of attention at EC. Revolabs also received a lot of praise at EC for their new Yamaha CS 700. In a way, this can be seen as the return of the set-top, as the device can be mounted to a wall just above a monitor (or dual monitors) as shown in Cisco’s promotional materials. However, it can also be placed on a shelf or countertop just below, or in front of a monitor.
There is a lot to like about this form factor. It gets the microphones off the table and eliminates the need for a speaker system. That is a lot less wires in your meeting room. I also like the fact that it doesn’t look so much like a camera. Some people still get a little self conscious in front of a camera. These devices are somewhat disguised as speaker bars.
Another noteworthy aspect of the speaker bar VC design is the lack of PTZ cameras. There has been a big movement in the industry to evolve past PTZ. The general consensus is that it isn’t appropriate to rely on users to learn how to control cameras to create ideal meeting room experiences. It needs to be automated in some way. The Yamaha CS 700 has a wide field of view to capture the room without having to ever move the camera. The Cisco Spark Room Kit Plus captures the room through multiple cameras, and uses digital PTZ to frame active speakers.
The Software Meeting Room
When videoconferencing first entered the business world, it was in meeting rooms. We then looked to desktop videoconferencing as a way of expanding our video environments. Now, we see things moving in the opposite direction. Users will express a preference for a certain desktop/mobile solution and want to bring that experience into the meeting room. Two notable examples in this space are BlueJeans and Zoom. Their users enjoy the look, feel, and workflow of their desktop/mobile interface. However, simply running these apps on a laptop in a meeting room does not provide a quality meeting room experience.
These solutions generally require a monthly fee for the service, and a one time fee for a peripheral bundle (camera, mics, mini PC). The introduction of affordable, meeting room quality, peripherals, such as the market leading Logitech Group has made it very easy for cloud video vendors to create software room “kits”.
The appeal of these solutions are their comparatively low price as well as a potentially higher level of adoption due to users being pre-familiarized with the user interface.
Intelligent Cameras, Better Framing
As mentioned above, there is a movement away from PTZ cameras in our industry. It’s simple. No one likes using the remote control to use PTZ. No one is good at it, or comfortable with it. So the view in a video meeting isn’t always optimized. What we need is a way to better frame the participants. Fortunately, we have new approaches on the market which are quickly developing in their capabilities and become more readily available. There are basically two approaches. The first approach is to roboticize the PTZ cameras. Give the cameras enough intelligence to understand where they should be pointing the camera. This approach can suffer from the distraction of moving cameras. The other approach is to capture the entire room through multiple cameras or specialized cameras at very high resolution. The resulting video images can then be properly framed using digital PTZ without any moving parts.
BYOD for Meeting Rooms
In many meeting rooms, you will see everyone looking down at their own devices. If that is the case, then maybe this would be a good place to put their video streams, in their own hands. However, it would be bandwidth inefficient, and cause tons of audio feedback, if everyone in the room separately connected to the same video call. The Huddle Hub One solves this problem by connecting everyone in the meeting room to one incoming and outgoing video stream. Everyone in the room connects wirelessly to the Huddle Hub One and each person in the room can then view the incoming caller on their own personal device. The Huddle Hub One also merges all of their video streams from the devices in the room into one outgoing stream (with an expected active speaker, or brady bunch layout). The result is a single call from the room, but each person in the room has their own personalized experience. The incoming call can also be displayed on a standard display for a more traditional meeting experience.
While this is a very new approach, it does have some compelling elements. The ability to use standard desktop/mobile cloud video apps makes it easy to enable meeting rooms without buying additional licenses. The fact that it doesn’t require any meeting room peripherals (camera, speaker, mic, monitor) means any room can be enabled quickly and affordably. I look forward to seeing how the market takes to this kind of BYOD meeting room experience.
In a typical meeting, people sit around a table. Whether it be on chairs around a meeting room table, or on couches around a lounge coffee table, we gather around something and look across it. With this in mind, does it make sense to ask meeting participants to look up at a wall to see remote video attendees? Wouldn’t it be better if they could somehow see remote attendees while still looking across the table? This is the premise of center of table solutions like Polycom’s Centro and the Silex PTE. While this different approach still appears to be a niche, I wouldn’t be surprised if some iteration of the center of table concept gains traction in upcoming years.