Enterprise web conferencing or online meeting software platforms are flooding the market. You’ve probably used more than one of them — JoinMe, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, Skype for Business, WebEx, BlueJeans, Zoom — and you’ll probably see a new one next month. The relative ease of deployment of software in comparison to traditional conferencing hardware has helped these platforms gain massive traction in almost every vertical, providing companies with communication and collaboration tools that are lightweight and scalable.
The problem, though, is that there are so many software options. To complicate matters more, each option has a different user interface with different buttons, settings, and feature sets.
On a weekly basis, I use no fewer than four web conferencing applications (referred to as “soft codecs” in the industry) to collaborate with my teammates. Internally, we utilize one soft codec for wireless content sharing and ad-hoc huddles with remote employees. For externally facing meetings, we use another, more fully-featured platform to conduct videoconference calls with clients and project teammates. And when I attend meetings set up by individuals outside of my organization, I may be required to use one of any number of platforms to join the meeting.
This merry-go-round of applications creates confusion and complicates the user experience. It also creates a fairly urgent challenge for workplaces and AV professionals: To design flexible conference room AV systems that can handle your workplace’s online meeting “flavor of the month” while also being compatible with the myriad others used by business partners.
To add yet another layer, preferences for applications often change over time. Your company may start out using one brand and eventually wish to switch to another. Making the design flexible enough to accommodate these changes is an important consideration.
Can One AV System Support Every Online Meeting Platform?
The short answer is: Yes, if you plan for it. Here are three ways that TEECOM has helped clients simplify their approach to online meeting conferencing.
1. HDMI + USB Connections
One way to provide flexible conference rooms that accommodate any flavor of software is to design them with a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) philosophy in mind. Typical BYOD conference room audiovisual systems include:
- Display technology for sharing a user’s screen;
- Loudspeakers to play back program audio;
- Microphones to pick up local audio, and;
- A control panel to interface with the system.
The only additional component required to run a web conference in a BYOD conference room is a user’s personal device.
In a conference room equipped for BYOD, a user can host her own web conference, or join a web conference hosted by an external business partner. In either case, users typically connect to the audiovisual system with an HDMI cable to show content on the room’s displays, and a USB cable to access the room’s camera, microphones, and loudspeakers.
This design approach maintains a continuous user experience for web conferencing, whether a user is taking the meeting at their desk or in a conference room, because the conference room simply acts as an extension of their desktop. Further, it means the conference room is application agnostic, and will be compatible with any web-based conferencing platform.
The trade-off of this design philosophy, however, is that controls related to web conferencing, including microphone and camera mute functions, remain on the user’s personal device, rather than at a control panel on the conference room table.
2. In-Room PC
Some organizations choose to support only one online meeting platform for both internal and external meetings, trading platform flexibility for simplicity in the user experience.
Supporting only one codec enables the design team to integrate the conferencing platform more seamlessly with the rest of the AV system, and allows for the implementation of more advanced system capabilities, such as one-click meeting start from a touch panel.
In contrast to the BYOD conference room design philosophy, a room system designed to support only a single soft codec is typically designed around an in-room computer whose sole charge is to run that web conferencing software. In this approach, the room computer acts as both the host and a participant in a web conference.
When a user reserves a room for a web conference, the room computer and the control panel can pull that information from the room’s resource calendar. The room computer can then display upcoming meetings on the room display, and the room’s control panel can mirror that information in addition to providing a single button to start a scheduled meeting.
To start a meeting, the room computer launches a web conference and joins as the host. Users can then join the meeting on their devices and wirelessly share content to the web conference. Because the room computer is permanently connected to the room’s displays, microphones, and loudspeakers, control of the web conference functions and the room’s peripherals can take place on one central control panel.
When an organization wants conference room simplicity for their standard conferencing platform, but must support those used by external business partners, a hybrid system can be the right fit.
In this configuration, the room computer is the default source, and the system can be programmed to switch to the hardwired HDMI cable at the conference table when a user plugs in a laptop. USB switches allow for flexible routing of microphone and camera signals to either the room computer, or to a user’s personal device via a USB connection at the conference table.
In this system, users retain the seamless experience with their standard soft codec, and the ability to join any web conference on their personal device and share the web conference to the local display.
So what’s the best conference room AV set-up for you?
The best option for your firm supports your communication and collaboration needs. For many firms, a variety of needs will lead to a hybrid solution, but that won’t always be the case. Sitting down with a professional audiovisual consultant who understands the marketplace and can advise your firm about systems compatibility, pricing, and technology longevity is the first step to success.