As the economic slowdown continues and non-critical business travel budgets are reduced, videoconferencing is becoming an acceptable alternative. But if the facilities aren't designed appropriately, what could have been a productive meeting ends up as a technological nightmare. Although it seems easy just to set up a camera and monitor display in a conference room, there are five key areas that should all receive attention to create a successful videoconference room with a high-quality experience for all participants.
1. Room Acoustics: Check to see if there is an echo. With smaller conference rooms, the biggest room acoustics concern is flutter echo. Flutter echo is the repeated reflection of sound between two parallel surfaces, such as the floor and ceiling or two walls. The use of high noise reduction coefficient (NRC) materials on these surfaces will help with this effect.
2. Noise Level: Evaluate the surrounding noises. Are there mechanical systems that impact the room? What about local traffic? Is there a gathering place in the hallway that invites conversations? While minor mechanical noise on the local side of the videoconference may be easy to ignore, the impact of that noise is greatly magnified when relayed to the far-end participants.
3. Lighting: Determine the appropriate lighting. The lighting of a videoconference space will need to be designed to deal with the fundamental limitations of cameras. The lighting should be brighter than your typical workspace, with 70-foot candles being ideal. Indirect lighting is best, with no more than a 10 percent variation in illumination level. The color temperature of the lamps in the room should all be the same, with 3,500 Kelvin being the preferred temperature.
4. Interior Design: Study the room's décor. In addition to helping with acoustical properties, the room's finishes can help create a clearer, easier-to-understand video image for the far-end participants. The background surfaces should be a solid color with a matte finish. Medium blue-gray and brown tones work best. Glossy surfaces such as glass or patterned finishes are not recommended. The room's dominant furniture piece will be the conference table. The table should be shaped to allow for good sightlines of all the meeting participants to both the camera and the main display. The most common table shape for videoconferencing is a “V,” with the top of the “V” closest to the camera and main display. Similar to the background finishes, the table finish should be a neutral tone and have a non-glossy finish to reduce glare.
5. Technology: Invest in the appropriate technology. When choosing the active technology components of the videoconference system (camera, display, microphones and codec), it pays to be forward-looking and to purchase the newest on-market model rather than the model line about to go out of production. Technology integration costs time and money, and by purchasing the newer series of product, the installation will have a longer life before changes in the market will require an upgrade. The newest videoconference equipment also has key features that will add to the success of the conference. These include high-definition video, better audio fidelity and interactive collaboration tools.
Keeping these key elements in mind when designing a videoconference room will result in a more successful videoconference experience and provide a faster return on the investment.
David A. McNell, CTS-D, LEED AP, is an audio-visual designer based in the Chicago office of architecture and engineering firm RTKL.
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