The Lync Room System, what it is and is not
“If only someone would build Lync for a conference room”
The release of Lync 2013 was a landmark moment for Microsoft’s Unified Communications product line. Following the trend of major innovations in UC strategy and technology in the last few years, the 2013 launching has transformed the life of the office worker yet again. With more investment in video and voice collaboration, the new technology allows colleagues to meet virtually from anywhere, with any device. One of the newest related products to utilize the advanced features of Lync 2013 is the Lync Room System, which extends the functionality of Lync into the conference room environment. This new solution brings together the best in Unified Communications and video and data collaboration hardware and software to transform the meeting room into a distance collaboration haven. There is still some confusion however, about where these systems fit within an organization. Over the next few UC posts from Presentation Products, Inc., we’ll take a look at this by going over what these systems are, how they are meant to be used and perhaps most importantly, what they are not meant to be.
What It Is:
The Lync Rooms System is a hardware-based solution that brings Lync into the general purpose meeting room. The room systems utilize a Lync Client, which has an interface that is familiar to users who already work with Lync at their desktops. Microsoft has worked with select partners on developing the experience for the Lync Meeting Room. Manufacturers such and SMART Technologies and Crestron have worked to bring these systems to market. These partnerships have created the opportunity for manufacturers to provide all-inclusive solutions to the multifaceted technology demands of a meeting room. Rather than being a compilation of difficult to integrate individual system components, the room system is an out-of-the-box ready solution to having virtual meetings. They also offer added benefits such as a wide range of display sizes to accommodate multiple room layouts, HD Video and Audio Conferencing, and interactive digital whiteboarding.
Some key features of a Lync Room System are:
- Instant meeting join capabilities via push to join function
- High Definition Video and Voice Conferencing for Group Collaboration
- Easy to use Digital Whiteboarding and PowerPoint within a meeting.
- In room resource scheduling
- Record a meeting
The SMART Room System for Microsoft Lync
Users can instantly join a meeting and begin collaborating with participants both in the room and across the country. With a Lync Room System, remote meeting attendees are no longer isolated or disengaged, they can be seen via a filmstrip on the digital display in the meeting room and can interact and share content with others in the meeting.
What It Is Not:
Lync Room Systems are not intended to be replacements for high-end Telepresence. Executives and their meeting spaces have unique needs that the Lync Room System does not currently address. The Lync Room System, rather, is meant for the general-purpose meeting room where a majority of an organization’s employees meet and collaborate on a daily basis. The video demands for high profile Board Rooms are different than those of the general-purpose meeting or huddle room. Often, Senior Executives still request the fully immersive video experience, where the nuances of a face to face meeting are achieved via high definition video conferencing. The Lync Room System provides a robust video experience for the participants, but video collaboration is not its main function. Audio, video and interactive content collaboration each play equally important roles in this all-in-one solution, while traditional telepresence rooms are more focused on achieving perfection for point to point VTC calls.
When properly deployed, The Lync Room System offers a unique solution to transform your meetings from ineffective time wasters into productive collaboration sessions utilizing the intuitive Lync interface. The best way to experience the system is in person with our demo system. Please contact us for additional information on how we can help you and your company effectively plan for and deploy these systems.
3 Creative Agencies that Invest in Technology
by Zach Baxter+
At the core of media and advertising is the need to present and execute creative concepts for your clients and their brands. Whether this is for traditional print, broadcast media, or digital platforms, firms need the communication and collaboration tools that match their capabilities and visions. Client-facing conference rooms need to impress with their ease of use and superior audio and visual performance. Internal meeting rooms need to make communicating and collaborating simple and efficient. “First impression” spaces like a corporate lobby often benefit from a digital flourish that is in lock-step with a corporate image. Here are three examples of solutions PPI has designed and implemented with recent clients.
The Creative Agency
The creative digital agency came to PPI with a concept for a “social media command center” where they could collaborate with clients on real-time marketing efforts for live events from the Oscars to the Olympics. The system was built in an unfinished, industrial loft space, and the design is an impressive array of flat panel displays with a clean, industrial aesthetic. A customized video and control solution powers the system, allowing users to easily tailor it for different events. The client now has a space where they can work side-by-side with clients, and demonstrate how the agency manages real-time, minute-by-minute advertising campaigns.
The Global Media Firm
PPI worked closely with the management team to develop standard designs for conference rooms that would make meetings, presentations, and video conference calls simple and easy. Once established, PPI deployed these rooms throughout the building. Then we built more in satellite offices throughout the city. Then we deployed them in other offices in the US and overseas. When employees book a conference room, whether in Times Square or Soho, they can expect the same touchpanel, the same features, and the same operation everytime, everywhere. PPI has also designed and built artful high-tech ambiances in their lobbies and public spaces to welcome both employees and visitors alike into a space.
The Grown-Up Start-Up
You started with a handful of talented, dedicated people. Now you have hundreds of employees, multiple offices, multiple conference rooms, and vastly different needs and priorities. Your technology solutions need to grow with your revenue, while still reflecting the unique style and culture that contributed to your success. A common need of rapidly growing tech firms is a meeting space for frequent “town hall” or “all hands” meetings, where remote participants can participate and the event can be streamed to satellite offices. PPI has designed custom systems for the unique requirements, and budgets, of growing media and tech firms to help communicate their vision and direction to employees and investors.
PPI provides media and advertising agencies with tools that allow them to be more collaborative, creative, and innovative. Our goal-driven solutions maximize the potential of any space, from client facing pitch rooms, to collaboration labs, digital media command centers or town hall event spaces. We spend a lot of time listening; we learn and understand your culture, creative vision, and technology goals. Then our team of consultants and engineers create and deliver solutions that give your company the edge it needs to constantly inspire innovation.
How Modern Architectural Trends Have Turned Sound-Masking Systems from a Luxury into a Necessity
by Zack Levine+
Bucking The Trend
The bigger, the better; the bolder, the better; the louder, the better. These philosophies permeate countless aspects of today’s world, and in many ways, the audiovisual industry is no different. 90” TVs, multi-display video walls, and beefed up sound systems are all current hot-ticket items – just ask any AV designer. Few things in life – and fewer in the AV industry – are meant to operate without being noticed. Yet, one style of system does fall into that category: it’s called sound masking. A proper sound masking system functions entirely in the background, outside of conscious sight, and – more importantly – conscious earshot.
What is Sound Masking?
Sound masking systems are comprised of strings of small speakers than emit white noise. The object is to raise the noise floor of a given area with a continuous sound that blends in as background noise. The speakers are either installed above a dropped tile ceiling or high up in an open ceiling, and connect back to a small head end unit installed in a closet or a cabinet. The system provides enhanced privacy for sensitive conversations, reduces sound distractions across the office, and provides employees extra confidence and comfort in knowing that not every word they speak will be overheard. Installations are typically quite effective: the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) conducted a three-year study on employees’ recall abilities across offices with and without sound masking. The commission found an 8.7% increase in employees’ ability to recall a series of numbers and a 7.8% increase in their ability to recall words in offices with sound masking systems versus in those without.
Still, for a long time, sound masking systems tended to land in the “wants” column of a CTO’s checklist rather than “needs.” Recent architectural trends, however, have made these systems more of a necessity than ever. Here’s why:
The Open Office
Perhaps the most overwhelming trend in today’s world of commercial architecture is the emphasis on larger open workspaces. Modern business philosophies emphasize team-based operations that require consistent interaction, and business owners are tailoring their offices to reflect this style. According to a 2010 survey by the International Facilities Management Association, 68% of offices feature an open seating plan. Within these offices, “cubicle farms” are being abandoned in favor of tables and desks. In offices that don’t have an open floor plan, modular partitions are often being installed in lieu of proper walls as a cheaper and flexible alternative. This shift towards openness means louder workspaces with more auditory distractions and significantly less privacy. This tradeoff has not gone not unacknowledged – according to Building Design & Construction magazine, “An open office has one major drawback: lack of acoustical privacy.” This is one of the exact problems that sound masking systems were designed to fix.
Another striking feature in today’s commercial architecture is the prevalence of glass conference room walls. The advantages are plentiful: they look chic, they make spaces look bigger, they maximize daylight, and they allow a more transparent – literally and figuratively – workspace. However, any acoustician will tell you that glass walls are a nightmare. Sound waves bounce off glass like a rubber ball, creating a cacophonous and echoed sound. More pertinently, glass allows much more sound to travel through it than sheet rock does. This can be quantified via a measurement called Sound Transmission Class (STC). An STC rating, usually between 30 and 60 decibels for any type of wall material, reflects the reduction in decibels from one side of the wall to the other as sound waves pass through it. In other words, the higher the rating, the lower the percentage of sound that makes it through the wall. Typical sheet rock walls have an STC of 35. ¼” monolithic glass has an STC of 30. This may not seem like a big difference, but these measurements are logarithmic, and a 5 dB change, as defined by STCratings.com, is “clearly noticeable.” All this is to say – sound from inside conference rooms with glass walls leaks out significantly more than it does from those with sheet rock walls. Closed-door, conference room meetings are very often sensitive, private, and proprietary, and executives cannot afford to have their content overheard. Raising the noise floor solves this problem.
Smaller Offices & Workspaces
As items born of the technological world tend to do, computers have gotten a whole lot smaller in recent years. In some cases, desk phones are being abandoned in favor of cell phones. These trends have allowed workspaces to shrink: offices, desks, and cubicles are all smaller now than ever before. According to a 2013 survey by corporate real estate association CoreNet Global, within the next five years, the average allocation of workspace per employee in the USA will fall to an all time low of 150 square feet. And while more people in smaller spaces means more productivity, it also means more conversations, and thus, more distractions. In 2008, ICBEN surveyed 689 employees across 11 companies on work performance and office acoustics. According to the survey, speech is the number one cause of reduced productivity, and the average employee wastes 21.5 minutes per day due to conversational distractions. The addition of background noise can help eliminate these distractions.
Is Sound Masking Right for Your Office?
Open floor plans, smaller workspaces, and glass walls aren’t the only considerations when it comes to sound masking. PPI’s Account Managers have the experience to make an informed recommendation as to whether this type of installation is right for your office. Systems can be installed as part of a new build or in a fully finished office, and installations can be done outside of work hours so productivity is not compromised. Contact PPI to start the conversation today.
by Karen Mitchell
You could call it the front lines, but it’s probably closer to being in the trenches. AV integrators and designers are out there on a daily basis solving the puzzle of how to get signals from X to Y, to the endpoints, via the most reliable and cost-effective methods, said Zach Baxter, corporate account manager at Presentation Products. And the journey from distribution hardware all the way to mounting solutions and displays is shifting as newclient demands for one-to many imageschemes arise. “Fortunately, there is no shortage of effective platforms to choose from, and options are a good thing,” Baxter noted. “HDBaseT solutions have matured, making ‘single-cable’ distribution of video, audio, and control signals a standard solution for common design requirements .”
Streaming platforms have also become more common, with many platforms available that combine reliability, lowered bandwidth requirements, and fully featured management platforms. Bridging the gap between these two worlds are ‘hybrid’ solutions that are evidence of the AV/IT convergence, he added. “One networked platformturns a network switch into a giant virtual matrix switcher, combining streaming technology with the functionality we expect from a traditional matrix switcher setup. Another manufacturer recently released a streaming output card bringing the world of ‘traditional’ AV distribution and large-scale streaming platforms together. Another’s expanded streaming products include a streaming media processor and content manager.”
The one-to-many challenge, an issue of the type of streaming technology being used, warrants careful consideration of each technology and streaming format’s transmission and distribution requirements. “We are seeing more software-based processors and codecs being deployed for processing and distribution of streamed media and fewer hardware-based solutions, said Joseph Thomas, technical training manager at AVl-SPL. “This is requiring much closer coordination and cooperation with client IT staff and existing IT infrastructures. We all have to learn to speak multiple technology languages.” Mounting challenges, for example, can usually be resolved if integrators can get a seat at the planning and design table. “The non-negotiable structural and infrastructure support requirements for these widely varying types and sizes of displays are manageable if they are planned for,” he explained, “but are very expensive, disruptive, and, sometimes, prohibitive to the whole project effort when they are an afterthought.”
The question is: Which platform is right for your unique signal distribution challenge? The point at which ‘traditional’ HDBaseT signal distribution breaks down and network based solutions make sense depends largely on two factors: scale and delivery requirements, Baxter noted. “Some cases are crystal clear. Distributing a ‘one-to-many’ signal to hundreds of displays through an HDBaseT solution would be cost-prohibitive, difficult to scale-up, and a challenge for management and service. A streaming solution is the answer. A high-profile venue that needs multiple displays perfectly synced, with no room for network downtime, is a clear case for alternative solutions.” Sometimes the best solution will be up for debate. “A detailed cost comparison may be required depending on the exact number of sources,displays/endpoints, and the control requirements of the systems” he offered.
In selecting routing, switching, scaling, display, mounts, furn iture, and cabling pieces for an installation, several considerations are typically overlooked, Thomas cautioned. “Only cooperation and planning can address the technological issues since there will be so many stakeholders involved. There are questions of who owns the responsibility for the hardware, the software, the content, the configuration control, and technical support.” Relying on assumptions regarding these issues will always lead to gaps or overlaps in responsibility, with disastrous outcomes. “When it comes to mounting and furniture, the main concern is whether all parties are fully on board with the design and the implementation plan before products are ordered and shipped.”
TWEAK YOUR THINK
Many AV systems operators and users were confused by older AV systems, said David lnjeski, design engineer at Pentegra Systems. “But as each new, younger generation enters the workplace, the concepts learned playing video games and all things internet came with them. Now it is common to have tech-savvy workers requesting to ‘mirror’ their mobile devices’ video screens on the larger presentation display in meeting rooms, all in a wireless fashion.” The older models for teaching are being challenged with more collaboration-oriented learning studios equipped with cutting edge digital AV and ethernet network technologies that are sewn together in ways that ten or more years ago would have been seen as science fiction, he stated. This undeniable shift in the professional AV world highlights the increasing impact that developments in consumer technology have on the expectations placed upon the professional AV systems designer . “The two worlds will never become one, but the increasing expectations of consumers for high-tech in their personal lives will eventually port into their business lives,” lnjeski added. Signal management implementation is vastly different even from five years ago, Thomas explained. “AV integrators who do not fully understand the IT environment and maintain their network industry certification don’t stand a chance. AV to IT convergence isn’t coming;it’s fully accomplished. By virtue of comparative spend,influence, and utilization, IT owns the business. The future is twofold: Really learn and certify IT skills and understanding, and market the AV skills and understanding that the IT community does not have or want to own.”
Now that the public has been served, what about the private sector-those that have traditionally been served by the professional AV world such as educational institutions, corporations,andothers? “Enter the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), global overseer of ethernet technical standards, and developer of Audio Video Bridging (AVB), what I call ethernet on steroids,” lnjeski said. “Now, the AV streaming needs of both consumer applications and professional AV standards could be bridged by implementing standardized variations on the ethernet network theme. The two biggest differences between this ethernet on steroids and its predecessor is the introduction of a precise synchronization clock across the network for use by AVB devices, and the ability for AVB devices to reserve network throughput in network switches.” As expected, he said, AVB development is ongoing. “But it is a step in an undeniably digital direction. The ease of disseminating content from a single entity to the many,whether in real-time or in a store-and-forward or video-on-demand application, a global standards-based methodology and technology, is the most effective way to effect a change in conventional distribution models.”
Signal management isa format but it is also transmission limitations and methodology, Thomas noted. “With the proper infrastructure, we can send almost any signal any place.With that being said, there are real world impacts to cost and schedule when we push the envelope. Customers often think that there are no configuration or delivery limitations. The realities of signal loss, alien cross talk, and waveform degradation must be taken into consideration first. Physics is not just a suggestion, it’s the law. If we can’t get the signal there, we can’tmanage it. Signal management has always been tied to application but never as it is today. The complex puzzle of signal format, content licensing, hardware capability, hardware intercommunication , and user interface is daunting. It all has to work or none of it works.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer living in Boulder, CO.
A Comparison of Conference Room Microphone Solutions
You Don’t Have to See it To Believe It
When assessing how best to outfit a conference room with technology, some decisions are fairly straightforward. A 90” display is larger than a 70” display, and thus allows viewers further away from the TV to see content. A 6,000 lumens projector is brighter than a 3,000 lumens projector, meaning the lights may not need to be turned off in order to see what’s on the screen. These concepts make sense, regardless of whether or not you have a background in AV.
Not every decision, however, is quite as intuitive. Boardrooms, meeting rooms, and huddle rooms can feature many different styles of microphones to capture in-room audio. Mics can be wired or wireless; table-mounted or ceiling-mounted; large or small; omni-directional or uni-directional (more commonly known as cardioid). And as is the case in the world of audio, you can’t actually see the difference in sound quality between your various choices. So how do you decide which path to choose? There isn’t one magic answer – each room is different and requires individual consideration from a professional. But there is some basic information that anyone considering this type of decision should know. This article will break down the typical conference room microphone choices, and examine the ins and outs of each.
A variety of conference room microphone styles
Before getting into the specific styles, it is important to understand why microphones are so often a necessity. Microphones are usually installed in a conference room for one of three scenarios. The first – and most common – is a room with integrated conferencing (either audio teleconferencing, video teleconferencing, or both). Audio teleconferencing is simply a phone call, but with a room full of people on one or both ends of the call. In these situations, the low audio quality and lack of processing provided by a speakerphone won’t cut it. The solution is to install microphones, loudspeakers, and a digital signal processor into the room – the microphones capture the near end of the call, the loudspeakers play the far end, and the DSP processes the signals, provides noise cancellation, and eliminates echo. This type of audio system is also used for video teleconferencing, augmented with a camera and a display.
The second scenario where mics are necessary is in a larger room that is in need of “voice lift.” Voice lift takes the same signal from the microphone, but instead of sending it to the other end of a call, it sends it to in-room loudspeakers, allowing everyone in the large room to hear the person who is talking. The third scenario is a recording system – audio from the mics is captured and sent to a dedicated device that records and saves the files.
When evaluating microphone styles, there are four main categories of information to consider: pickup pattern, location of microphone in relation to the person talking, form factor, and wired vs. wireless. Different combinations within these categories can lead to a lot of different possibilities, and indeed, there are many different styles of microphones. It’s fair to wonder: if the simple goal is the best sound quality possible, then why are there so many different variations? Aesthetics, furniture style, cable pathways, and seating plans are some of the many factors that necessitate these varieties, and a good AV designer will consider all of these when choosing microphones. This article will examine four common styles in detail:
- Table-Mounted Boundary Button Microphones
The single most important concept to keep in mind with regard to mic choices is a simple one: the closer the microphone is to the person speaking, the better he or she is going to sound to those hearing it. For that reason, the conference table is a natural place to install a microphone. Some have a problem with the aesthetics of a microphone on the table – it’s permanently installed, it takes up space that can be used for laptops, and it obscures the flat surface sometimes used for laying out large sheets of paper. But as far as sound quality for an installed mic goes, it’s usually the best option. The video at the end of this post shows what a table-mounted microphone sounds like.
Table-mounted microphones exist in a variety of form factors, but due to the aesthetic concern and the importance of tabletop real estate, the most common style is the button microphone. A sub-classification of the boundary microphone (or one that is designed to be installed onto a hard surface), the button mic is about as small as it gets, typically at around an inch in diameter. Gooseneck microphones are a very good option too, as they get the mic even closer to the talker, but these usually are ruled out for aesthetic reasons.
Table-mounted boundary button microphone
Table-mounted button microphones typically come with one of two different pick up patterns: cardioid or omni-directional. Cardioid mics pick up roughly 120 degrees in front of them (see pickup graph below), and omni mics pick up a full 360 degrees around them. Because of this, microphone counts can double or triple when comparing cardioid to omni-directional. So, off the bat, it sounds like omni-directional mics are the way to go. And indeed, many inexperienced AV designers go down this route – the picture of a conference table with a couple omni-directional mics down the center is something everyone in the AV industry has seen. End users are often quick to bite on this strategy: three mics on the table cost less and take up less space than eight, right?
This strategy, however, can lead to calls with more ambient noise and less intelligibility. Omni-directional mics pick up everything around them, including HVAC noise, whispers, or other ambient noise. Since the goal of an omni-directional mic is to capture 360 degrees of audio, there is little ability to differentiate from the sound you are trying to capture (the talker) and the undesirable room noise. This greatly limits what audio engineers can program the conferencing processor to do – if you turn up the talker, you’re turning up the HVAC noise along with it. According to Polycom, one of the video conferencing industry leaders, while some systems “achieve lower prices using less-expensive ‘omni- directional’ (non-directional) microphones, they also pick up all of the room noise and room echo the entire time, which is extremely distracting and makes it hard to understand what is being said. Such systems should be avoided.”
Cardioid microphones provide something much different. Very little outside of the mic’s coverage area (also outlined in the below graph) is captured, greatly reducing ambient and unintended noise. In turn, each mic is only responsible for one or two seats at the table. This directionality means that the difference between speech and unintended audio – or the “signal to noise ratio” – is much starker than that of an omni-directional mic. A higher signal-to-noise ratio allows programmers to put a “gate,” or a bottom threshold, on the entire system. Only audio that comes in above the threshold is let through, which eliminates most non-speech.
In sum, cardioid mics provide the individualized pick-up areas that allow programmers to fine-tune the system, amplifying speech and cancelling out unintended audio. Omni-directional mics do not allow this flexibility.
Cardioid pickup pattern Omni-directional pickup pattern
- Ceiling-Mounted Microphones
So far, we’ve established that cardioid microphones provide better sound quality than omni-directional microphones when mounted on a table. But what if a C-level executive cannot abide by the aesthetics of microphones on the table? What if the table is modular and re-configurable? Or what if the client is an architect who uses the table to lay out large drawing sets that might cover the microphones?
These situations are when AV designers – begrudgingly – turn to ceiling microphones. Ceiling mics occupy otherwise unused space, and newer models are visually less obtrusive as well. But when held against the key philosophy mentioned earlier – the closer the mic to the talker, the better – they don’t fare so well. According to the ClearOne publication Optimal Audio for Conference Rooms, ceiling mics “add unnecessary ambient noise and because they are further away from the participants they may make it more difficult to pick up all audio.” Shure, a highly respected microphone manufacturer, puts it even more blatantly in a bulletin: “Shure feels strongly about not placing microphones in the ceiling.” The comparison video below shows what most ceiling microphones sound like.
Many of the key characteristics of ceiling mics are influenced by the long pickup distances they have to cover. They’re typically cardioid mics, as an omni-directional ceiling mic would pick up far too much unwanted noise. They also often hang down from the ceiling in order to “cheat” twelve inches or so towards the talker. To reduce the amount of microphones necessary, ceiling mics often come as “arrays” – multi-element units that point a variety of cardioid mic elements in different directions, all under the same grille. Three-element microphone arrays are the most common, however there are new products out such as ClearOne’s 24-element Beamforming array that will be major players in ceiling microphone solutions moving forward.
A typical ceiling microphone array
Ceiling microphones aren’t going to sound as good as table microphones. They can, however, get the job done in some situations. The main thing to keep in mind is that, because of the amount of reflections they pick up from around the room, if you do have ceiling mics, you are at the mercy of the acoustics of your space. And indeed, audio industry leader BiAmp lists “considering room acoustics” as its number one “Ceiling Mic Best Practice.” A ceiling mic in a room with a dropped tile ceiling, a carpet, and acoustic tiles might very well sound decent. A ceiling mic in a room with ten-foot ceilings, glass walls, and a wood floor is not going to provide acceptable audio. It will simply pick up too much reflected sound. If ceiling microphones, for one reason or another, are the way you’re going to go – do everything you can to improve the acoustics in your room. Start by adding acoustical tiles to the walls – they are inexpensive, they can be hung artistically, and they will help your sound quality significantly. Dropped ceilings, window curtains, carpets, and any other soft, absorptive surface helps as well.
Typical sound reflections in a conference room
- Wireless Microphones
Every microphone mentioned thus far is a wired microphone. Put simply, wired mics are more reliable than their wireless counterparts. Wired microphones rely on tried-and-true analog cabling, whereas wireless mics transmit their signals as radio waves. Thus, they are subject to interference and the politics of the ever-changing RF spectrum allocation (see the below chart). This is a real issue – according to InfoComm, in 2015, the FCC will put a large portion of the 600 MHz range up for auction. The 600 MHZ range also happens to be where most professional wireless systems reside. This would force users to re-invest entirely in a new system that occupies a different frequency range.
Beyond this, wireless systems are also subject to dropouts, distance limitations, and channel count limitations within a system. All this is to say: the most expensive wireless system out there is almost as good as a regular old mic and cable. Sound quality for wireless mics is less of an issue – they’re typically positioned close to the talker since there is no cabling to worry about – but their reliability and longevity vis-à-vis RF allocation are the main concerns.
The US Radio Frequency Allocation Spectrum… It’s Crowded
This does not, however, mean that there aren’t situations where wireless mics make a lot of sense. In many ways, they are an extremely compelling option. Not every conference room is outfitted with AV during construction – many projects in the industry are retrofits and do not offer any opportunity to run cabling. Wireless table mics work extremely well in this scenario, as they can be installed at any time. Trainers often need to walk around the room with both hands free – wireless earworn or lapel mics make sense here. Larger meeting rooms feature question and answer sessions – passing around a wireless handheld mic is a reasonable solution in these cases. Cabling is one of the biggest challenges in an AV installation, and a wireless microphone system takes that worry out of the picture entirely.
The main thing to keep in mind with wireless microphones is this: they require managing. If you’re going to invest in wireless mics (they are also much more expensive than wired ones), make it part of someone’s job description to look after them. These mics either require new alkaline batteries every six or so hours of use, or need to be charged on a stand. Either way, someone needs to closely monitor their usage so that they don’t cut out mid-meeting. Someone should be able to instruct users which way wireless table mics are supposed to face. And someone needs to make sure that the mics don’t get lost or stolen. Anything in the AV world that isn’t permanently installed is going to be less reliable – so if you do go wireless, make it someone’s job to manage the mics.
A multi-channel wireless microphone system
Microphones aren’t an easy topic – that’s why professionals like PPI’s Account Managers are there to help you through it (and why this blog post is at 1900 words and counting). In all seriousness, it is always wise to be as informed as possible on your decision. Keep what you’ve learned in this article on cardioid table mics, omni-directional table mics, ceiling mics, and wireless mics in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to making an informed decision. Contact an Account Manager today to user your new knowledge and to take the conversation to the next level. Please also check out the video below for a demonstration of what was covered in this post.
The classrooms at Lèman Preparatory School have Apple TV’s, SMART boards, touch panel controls, iPads and more.
By Chrissy Winske
November 20, 2014
When Léman Manhattan Preparatory school moved into a new facility to accommodate its growing size, it also invested in new classroom technology like SMART Boards, IP clocks, a Crestron Control system, Apple TV’s and more. AV integrator Presentation Products, Inc. handled the install.
The facility’s new classrooms feature fully digital signal processing and a custom wall mounted equipment rack that houses all AV equipment and the classroom PC. The Crestron touch panel controls the entire system and along with the rack, is connected to the school’s network so that Léman’s technology department can easily control and monitor all AV systems from one central location.Tech staff can turn equipment on/off at preset times, monitor system components like projector lamps and run diagnostic tests.
Students at Léman also have iPads in the classroom, which are used in conjunction with classroom presentation technology.
“We have multiple inputs on each of our SMART boards so teachers either airplay their work or they use a computer that’s in the room connected to the SMART board,” says Julius Blakeny, Technology manager, Léman Preparatory School.
Teachers are using the interactive technology to drive collaboration in the classroom and to enhance language courses. For example, the Mandarin teacher uses an iPad to demonstrate how to draw Mandarin characters. Léman’s lower school uses a document camera that is connected to a laptop to airplay images to the SMART board. Although the school has provided access to a document camera for each classroom, it did not standardize on one platform.
“There’s a mixture of products. We have some from SMART and we acquired some from Presentation Products, but we have two technology coaches that train teachers how to use them,” Blakeny explains.
The school also invested in digital signage that hangs in hallways, elevator banks and communal spaces like the weight room and cafeteria. The signage is used to promote school communications and content is developed the by the MAC department, which stands for Marketing, Admissions, Communication. In the future, Blakeny says he’d like to see some of that digital signage replaced by Apple TV’s.
“I’m moving towards Apple TV because it’s going to give the marketing department an opportunity to get more messaging out. It’s easier for me to work with the Apple TV and use an iTunes playlist. All the marketing department has to do is come up with the content and upload it.”
Léman Prep also recently purchased several Epson interactive projectors that were installed on the school’s newly opened 19th floor. The projectors are wall mounted and they use a traditional whiteboard as their projection surface. This means instructors have interactive functionality when they want it, but also retain the use of that basic whiteboard.
“The teachers love the dual functionality of the display that allows them to be old school and write, but still have use of that technology,” Blakeny says. With the projectors, there has been hardly any downtime and fewer support calls from teachers. In the past, the interactive whiteboards would occasionally fail to orient properly prompting issues with touch recognition. That isn’t a problem with the projectors.
Having an array of technology in the classroom has really helped to transform the learning environment for Léman students and make collaboration a lot easier.
“The teachers are loving that there are new ways to teach the kids and immerse them,” Blakeny says. Students can actually share their work with the entire class on a screen as opposed to people squinting their eyes to look at a piece of paper and see what it is.”
About the author
Chrissy Winske – Site Editor
Chrissy Winske is the K-12 editor for TechDecisions Media. She is also a contributing writer for Commercial Integrator, TechDecisions’ sister publication. Chrissy joined the TD family in 2012 and has covered AV and IT trends, mobile learning, safety and security and the digital classroom.
Product Evaluation: BlueJeans
The Challenge of Successful Video
by Zack Levine
Building a successful video collaboration environment for your business is not easy. Thanks to a workforce rich with young, tech-savvy workers used to good quality video in the consumer world, expectations are higher than ever. Yet due to a rapidly changing landscape over the past few years, many businesses feature a patchwork of solutions, leading to confusion and inefficiency rather than increased collaboration.
As the person in charge of your company’s video solution, where do you turn? The article in our knowledge base covers a variety of options: hardware-based endpoints offer high quality video but are expensive and still lack key features including mobile and desktop integration; infrastructure-backed hardware systems, while more feature-rich, are extremely expensive and complicated to deploy and manage; and software-based systems are affordable and come with many collaboration features but lack the reliability and security a business situation demands as well as interoperability with other systems.
An ideal video solution, then, would combine the “best of all worlds” mentioned above:
- High-quality video
- Collaboration features
- Mobile & desktop integration
- Interoperability with other systems
- Easily deployable & manageable
- Reliable, secure & professional
- Cost effective
A Single Solution?
BlueJeans is a video collaboration service that offers multi-party bridging as well as its own software-based conferencing platform. Let’s take a look at how it fares in those seven key categories (and for reference, here’s a link to our matrix comparing other popular software-based solutions):
- High-Quality Video: BlueJeans offers 1080p video, which is as high a resolution as is offered by any video conferencing platform today. Hardware solutions from companies like Cisco and Polycom often offer a “high resolution upgrade” to get to 1080p – with BlueJeans, it comes standard.
- Collaboration Features: BlueJeans provides many features that enhance efficient collaboration with other users.
- Multipoint: 25 users can join a meeting (an upgrade is available to allow up to 100), and the most recent 9 speakers will be shown on the screen. Skype and Hangouts max out at 10 users per meeting, and a even a 10-port multipoint control unit (MCU) from Cisco or Polycom would cost around $50k. The upgrade option provides easy day-two scalability, a rarity in the AV world.
- Recording: BlueJeans offers the ability to record meetings and store up to five hours of downloadable, mp4 video in the cloud as part of its basic package. An upgrade provides unlimited storage and other features.
- Content sharing: BlueJeans offers the ability to share content, including videos, to the far end of the call in a separate 1080p stream. While content sharing is pretty standard across video collaboration solutions, high definition video sharing is not.
- Advanced collaboration: BlueJeans also offers other collaboration features that are generally only seen in products focused more on data conferencing like Webex. These include chat and moderator controls.
- Mobile & Desktop Integration: BlueJeans is fully compatible with desktop, tablet, and mobile use. If users have previously-installed desktop or mobile systems, they can simply dial their BlueJeans number and use BlueJeans as a bridge. Or, they can use BlueJeans’ own software, available on browsers and as mobile apps.
- Interoperability: BlueJeans rose to popularity as a cloud-based meeting host and bridging service, providing transcoding that enables any platform to talk to any other. This is its number one feature, and it’s the only major service available that allows true “any-to-any” collaboration. H.323 codecs like those made by Polycom and Cisco, consumer-level codecs like Google Hangouts, and many more can all join BlueJeans meetings and communicate with one another (see the full list here). This in itself made BlueJeans an attractive product before many of its other features were deployed. Many businesses have come to feel pigeonholed after choosing a proprietary video conferencing solution; with BlueJeans, your business is free to communicate with virtually any other video platform available.
- Easily Deployable & Manageable: Traditional video conferencing systems require a months-long lead time: hardware needs to be ordered, on-site installation needs to be scheduled, technicians need to do the installation, and the system needs to be configured. Since BlueJeans is hosted in the cloud, no hardware purchase or on-site installation is necessary. BlueJeans systems are up and running in days or weeks, not months. Once deployed, they are easily manageable with Command Center, a management platform that comes with BlueJeans. Command Center comes with usage data and historical meeting analysis, so that IT Managers can easily monitor who is using BlueJeans, when, and where. An upgrade is available for more statistics.
- Reliable, Secure & Professional: BlueJeans also comes with a branding option, adding your company’s logo to your BlueJeans landing page, email invitations, and to the in-meeting screen. This makes your company look more professional and gives an impressive meeting experience to video participants. BlueJeans also offers a high level of security: participants are required to enter a nine-digit meeting ID number and a meeting password; an “encrypt meeting option” restricts the meetings to endpoints that use encryption; and “lock meeting” and “expel participant” options are available once the meeting has begun. As BlueJeans meetings are cloud-hosted, all meetings are outbound, meaning no participants ever dial in through your company’s firewall. This “dial-out” style routinely meets security standards set by financial institutions and other high profile BlueJeans clients.
- Cost Effective: BlueJeans’ pricing structure varies based on the size of the business. BlueJeans is certainly in a higher price bracket than free options like Skype and Hangouts, but is priced competitively with other enterprise focused collaboration platforms like Webex and GoToMeeting, and provides many more features and capabilities than these competitors. BlueJeans’ feature set is simply unrivaled for its price – a six-figure traditional videoconferencing infrastructure investment is necessary to even come close to its wide range of features. BlueJeans is no small investment, but its effect is profound enough for it to often be purchased as an annual capital expenditure. A free two-week trial is available to evaluate BlueJeans.
Statistics available from BlueJeans Command Center
A BlueJeans meeting utilizing the recording feature
An Enhancer More Than a Competitor
It’s important to realize that BlueJeans can be utilized in two different ways. Scenario one is a company unhappy with their video solution, or a start-up looking to enter the video world for the first time. In this case, the company can use BlueJeans exclusively, both as a multi-point bridge and as a software platform for conference room, desktop, and mobile use.
The second scenario is a company with an existing video system that works, but that is limited (as many of them are). Perhaps company A uses Skype, but wants to communicate with company B that uses Lync. Company C has five conference rooms with Cisco hardware and wants to have a call with all five at the same time. Company D might have Polycom infrastructure, but even that won’t allow them to talk to Company E who uses WebEx. A BlueJeans subscription solves all of this, allowing companies A-E to talk to each other using all of the features described above.
In this way, BlueJeans is not a strict competitor to the other video conferencing platforms out there: its actually more of an enhancer. BlueJeans can be the catalyst that spurs the strong utilization of existing systems that were previously only being rarely used.
BlueJeans in the Conference Room
Despite being a well-rounded offering, BlueJeans does bring challenges to the table (as virtually everything in this industry does). Whereas pre-configured Room Systems for Lync and ChromeBox systems for Google Hangouts are available, no pre-configured systems for using a Blue Jeans browser client in your conference room exist.
There are two things to consider on this topic. First, BlueJeans works with virtually any video system you may have in your conference room, so any pre-configured room systems, or any custom video conferencing system you may have in your conference room already, are more-than-likely already BlueJeans compatible. Secondly, if your conference room isn’t outfitted for video yet, this allows AV integration firms like PPI to design a custom a system based on your individual conference rooms with BlueJeans usage in mind.
The Interoperability of BlueJeans
Unlike hardware manufacturers usually do, BlueJeans offers a free trial before any purchase is made. Contact a PPI Account Manager today to discuss your company’s video environment, and to see how BlueJeans fits in.
An Analysis and Comparison of Software-Based Codecs Against the Landscape of Video Conferencing
An Evolving Video World
These days, video collaboration in the workplace isn’t a luxury, a rarity, or a perk. It’s simply expected. An array of evolving phenomena has cemented this reality: the workforce is more globalized than ever; working from home is increasingly common; the necessary technology is more readily available and less expensive than ever; workers are more and more tech-savvy and use video in personal capacities regularly. These trends are confirmed in a 2014 study by Wainhouse Research, a research firm specializing in Unified Communications: now only 54% of employees in small-medium businesses and 56% in mid-large work out of headquarters. Because of these developments, the case for the importance of video collaboration no longer needs to be made: it is now common knowledge. Along with this common knowledge, however, comes a cascade of questions and decisions the answers to which are anything but common knowledge.
Which video provider makes the most sense for which type of business? What are the differences between the various options? What are the differences between hardware-based and software-based systems? Can different systems communicate with one another? What do the various solutions actually cost? These are all extremely important questions that those responsible for the deployment of these systems are asking every day. This article won’t examine them all in detail – a book would be a more appropriate length for that. Plus, hardware-based codecs like the SX80 have been around for a long time and examined in detail already. Rather, the article will give a basic overview of different video solutions and will delve deeper into a newer and increasingly relevant subset of the world of video: software-based codecs.
The Traditional Solution
To establish context, let’s start by taking a quick look at the traditional video solution for businesses: standards-based, H.323 video conferencing hardware codecs. Short for “coder-decoder,” a codec is the video processor behind any video conferencing system. Codecs can be pieces of hardware (hard codecs) or software (soft codecs). Traditional hardware codecs are generally made by one of only a few companies (with Cisco and Polycom at the fore) and live in a rack in a conference room (or an “endpoint”). These processors allow high-definition, point-to-point video calls with any other endpoint following the same standards. The advantages of this type of solution are plentiful: the quality is very high and very reliable; the hardware is purchased in full upfront as opposed to an indefinite monthly fee pricing structure; and you can communicate with any other business that owns a similar endpoint (and many do). So, this solution has made and continues to make sense for conference rooms that communicate primarily with other conference rooms of partner companies. It also makes sense for large organizations in enterprise-wide deployments across many conference rooms (although a significant investment in both hardware and software infrastructure is necessary to support such a deployment – more on that later). When installed inside of a company firewall, these units also offer a high degree of security. Depending on their features, codecs can cost around $10-$20K or more per unit, but for companies using video in a traditional, conference-room-to-conference-room format, they often make a lot of sense.
Traditional, standards-based video conferencing starts to become less cost effective when it is brought outside of the conference room. In order to allow desktop and mobile users to interface with a conference room endpoint or with each other, the same infrastructure investment mentioned above would need to be made. This is typically a six-figure investment – see the section at the bottom of this article for details. Even with such an infrastructure investment, it is expensive and challenging to integrate an H.323 system with Microsoft Lync. and it is not currently possible to integrate with an H.323 system with Skype, Google Hangouts, and other less formal platforms.
A Newer Perspective
Over the last decade, video has permeated the personal, consumer landscape in a big way. Platforms like Skype, Google Hangouts, and Apple’s FaceTime have become woven into the fabric of the new millennium. In the last few years, these types of platforms have found themselves relevant in the business world as well. Each one uses a soft codec, meaning no hardware – other than a computer, tablet, or phone – is necessary. The major advantage of a soft codec lies in its price tag, which is usually either inexpensive (made-for-business platforms like Cisco WebEx, Lync, Citrix GoToMeeting), or entirely free (Skype, Hangouts, FaceTime). Some soft codecs now accommodate for multi-point conferencing out of the box, which can be an expensive add-on in hardware-based systems. Enterprise-focused products like WebEx and Lync also provide additional features such as content sharing, annotation, call moderation, and other features designed for training and collaboration. Most soft codecs have apps for tablets and phones as well, making mobile connectivity extremely easy. These advantages make soft codec platforms an extremely common choice for small-to-medium businesses and start-ups, particularly those connecting with users at home, in the field, or on the road.
Soft codecs, however, have a number of disadvantages as well. As anyone who has ever used Skype can likely tell you, it is not always entirely reliable. Loss of quality and dropped calls, particularly for the free services, can be major issues and can reduce productivity. Security is another concern – Skype claims to use encryption, but its security has been called into question a number of times. Due to these reliability and security concerns, soft codec systems are not usually deemed appropriate for formal presentations with sensitive information. Additionally, they are designed for use with a computer or a phone, not a conference room with TVs, mics, and speakers, which means extra integration is necessary in order rely on them in a conference room (see design considerations section below). Soft codecs are usually proprietary, which means unlike the standards-based H.323 family, they cannot communicate with one another. This creates the “walled garden” effect, which sends a company down a narrow path with an increasing reliability on one manufacturer/service and an inability to communicate with any company that does not use the same product. Lastly, a reliance on free soft codecs creates a situation many businesspeople are familiar with: some employees use Skype, some Google Hangouts, some use FaceTime, everyone has all three installed, one has better video, one has better screen-sharing, and some employees use nothing at all.
Soft Codec Comparison
With so many soft codec options out there, it’s tough to know which one, if any, is right for your business. In such a rapidly changing landscape, there are very few places to go for an overall comparison of the popular options. The chart below outlines four of the most popular soft codecs – Skype, Hangouts, Lync, WebEx, and BlueJeans – and how they fare against some of the most important features for video conferencing (see the last section in this article for more details on BlueJeans). A few notes on the chart:
- Video quality is not just about resolution. It’s hard to quantify based on available information, but the quality of free services tends to struggle adapting to variable available bandwidth.
- The Lync offering referenced here is Lync Online Plan 2. Lync has three offerings: Lync Server, Lync Online Plan 1, and Lync Online Plan 2. Lync Server is recommended for enterprise-wide deployments: it’s the most robust, feature-rich platform, requiring a dedicated server and a third party partner to integrate it. Online Plan 2 is the more extensive offering of the two online editions, which are both cloud-hosted. See a comparison between the three here.
- Since Microsoft Lync purchased Skype, an initiative has been ongoing to make them compatible. Video compatibility is not yet there, but according to Microsoft, it will be.
- These are not the only four options: Adobe Connect, Citrix GoToMeeting, Fuze, and many other software-based codecs are available and widely used.
- These are also not the only categories worth examining. Read the full specifications and features list of any platform you’re considering.
|Lync Online (Plan 2)||WebEx||BlueJeans|
|Video quality||Up to 720p||Up to 720p||Up to 1080p||Up to 720p||Up to 1080p|
|Multi-point||Host-plus-9 (host-plus-4 recommended for best quality)||Host-plus-9||Host-plus-5 (up to 250 can still be in the meeting, most recent 5 talkers shown on video)||Host-plus-7||Host-plus-9 (up to 100 can still be in the meeting, most recent 9 talkers shown on video)|
|Mobile Integration||Yes (point-to-point only)||Yes||Yes||Yes (point-to-point only)||Yes|
|Data-sharing||Document, desktop||Desktop, remote control||Document, application, desktop, remote control||Document, application, desktop, remote control||Document, application, desktop, remote control, video|
|Annotation||No||No||Full whiteboarding||Annotation over shared documents||No|
|Recording||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes, and online storage|
|Compatible with Standard Phone Lines||Yes||Yes (must have Google Voice for inbound)||Server version only (requires purchase and integration)||Yes||Yes|
|Extra Integration||Audio, chat, and presence with Lync||None||Audio, chat, and presence with Skype||Video with Cisco hardware systems (requires infrastructure)||Compatible with almost every major platform|
|Pre-Configured Room System||No||Chromebox||SMART, Crestron, and Polycom Lync Room Systems||No||No (but compatible with pre-configured systems)|
|Price||Free||Free||$5.50/user/month||$24/host license/month (more hosts and larger meetings increase price)||Starts at $12,000/year|
Bringing It Into The Conference Room
Let’s say your company decides to go with Skype. It’s free, and it works – in many cases, those are reasons enough to go for it. All your desktop and mobile users are set, but how do you communicate with a conference room? Integrating hardware systems into conference rooms has been done for years. Integrating software-based systems, however, is a much newer practice. Let’s take a closer look.
Integrating a software system into a conference room generally means using a computer, rather than a video conferencing unit, as your processor. Thus, USB becomes your primary connection. USB cameras replace HDMI or HD-SDI units. Audio digital signal processors, which are still necessary because of their acoustic echo cancellation, must have a USB terminal. Thankfully, because of the increase in popularity of soft codecs in recent years, many new units available to AV integration companies do feature these accommodations. Your AV integrator can help you down this path.
Soft codecs have also furthered the “bring your own device” – or BYOD – trend that has risen so drastically in the last few years. Many integrators are designing conference rooms featuring laptop inputs at the conference table that allow users to walk in, plug in their laptop, and host a room-based videoconference. “Huddle rooms,” or small, 3-6 person conference rooms, are becoming popular places for room-based soft codec systems as supplements for large conference rooms with hardware. Manufacturers are producing small pre-made systems, including a camera, a microphone, speakers, and a controller, in order to facilitate style this as well – these are fine for smaller, informal rooms, but quickly break down in larger, non-standard, or acoustically challenging spaces.
Manufacturers are also producing larger, pre-made systems that are entirely self-sufficient based around Microsoft Lync. These Lync Room Systems, made by SMART, Crestron, and Polycom, include a touch-screen display (or two displays, depending on the model), a codec (making them technically not soft codec systems, though really this is just a product-specific PC), a camera, microphones, speakers, a control unit, and cabling. These units are ready-to-go from the hardware side, though they still require the IT configuration any Lync deployment would, and are designed to bring Lync to the conference room with little integration required. Such a product-specific offering is a rarity in the AV world, and it highlights the consensus that Microsoft Lync is here to stay.
For all the pros that have been mentioned for both hardware- and software-based codecs in this article, we’ve covered a good number of drawbacks as well. So what if nothing described so far sounds robust enough for your business? Thankfully, there are a few alternatives to committing to solely software-based or hardware-based systems:
Video Conferencing Infrastructure
The video conference infrastructure mentioned earlier in conjunction with hardware-based systems was described as being an expensive, six-figure investment requiring a lot of coordination with the IT department. But what if your business can afford it? In a number of ways, the investment certainly makes sense. According to Fortune, 75% of its top-500 uses Cisco video conferencing with infrastructure. A successfully deployed video conferencing ecosystem with infrastructure can include both conference room endpoints as well as corresponding desktop and mobile software licenses (like Cisco Jabber and Polycom RealPresence), creating a robust solution. Video quality is high, content is secure, interoperability with other standards-based systems is there, and your business has a standard, unified communications platform for video, data sharing, and messaging. Multi-point calls and recording are options as well. The only thing missing is interoperability with proprietary, software-based codecs: as stated before, no matter how successful an infrastructure deployment, your Cisco codec will not be able to talk to someone using Google Hangouts on a computer.
Another option is a hosted version of the same infrastructure. Many companies offer to store and configure all the hardware for you, and will charge a monthly fee rather than an outright purchase. This option offers something different in terms of financing, location, and management, but the hardware, software, and end-user experience are exactly as described above.
The Best of Both Worlds?
Over the last few years, a new type of system has risen to prominence as well. Cloud-hosted services are now available that aim for the “best of both worlds:” H.323 quality video, the collaboration features and convenience of a soft codec, and transcoding – or bridging across platforms. With these services, true “any-to-any” video conferencing, unlike anything mentioned in this article so far, is possible. Users from almost any popular platform, be it hardware-based or software-based, join a hosted meeting that can bridge them together. In addition to the bridging and 1080p video, these services also offer collaborative features including high-count multipoint calls, data sharing, and recording. All this allows unprecedented collaboration for small-medium businesses. For larger companies that have already made the H.323 system investment, it adds functionality and interoperability, greatly increasing return on past investments and furthering video adoption.
BlueJeans is the leading provider of cloud-based video conferencing services. BlueJeans provides bridging between H.323 systems, Hangouts, Lync, and many more popular systems. It also has its own browser-based and mobile video conferencing platform, making it a comprehensive, unified offering. As any product does, it has its challenges – it requires an annual subscription, for one. But with its combination of features and its unparalleled ability to unify the entire landscape of video conferencing, its no wonder that the BlueJeans customer list looks like it does. Read more about BlueJeans in our post here.
The world of video collaboration is changing rapidly. This article provides a solid start, but no decisions like the ones covered today should be made without the help of a professional. Contact a PPI Account Manager to take the conversation about your business’s video solution to the next level today.
Overcoming the Challenges of 4K Resolution
If you’ve thought about upgrading your video system in the past year, or even just considered buying a new TV, chances are you’ve stumbled across the term “4K resolution.” Previously, 1080p resolution was known as “Full HD,” so the name 4K immediately begs the enticing question: is it really possible to have a resolution four times greater than full HD? The answer is yes – but it isn’t quite so simple. 4K is in its infancy, and there is plenty to wrestle with when considering implementing this resolution into your AV system. Here’s what you need to know.
What is 4K? A Tale of Two Resolutions
Off the bat, 4K is a little trickier to understand than the previous standards of 720p (high definition) and 1080p (full HD). 720p has a pixel count of 1280 x 720, and 1080p is 1920 x 1080. Each resolution has an aspect ratio of 16:9, which is the standard for televisions and most displays. A common aspect ratio makes system designs for AV professionals as well as purchasing decisions for consumers easier – pretty much everything is compatible with everything else. 4K, on the other hand, is the common vernacular for two different resolutions. The first, 4096 x 2160, is the resolution that was adopted by Digital Cinema Initiatives in 2005 as “4K.” This resolution has an aspect ratio of 17:9. More recently, 4K has made its way to the consumer TV market. TV’s version of 4K is a slightly different resolution – 3840 x 2160 – making 4K a bit of a misnomer, technically. This resolution is technically called Ultra HD. UHD simply doubles both the vertical and horizontal pixel count of 1920 x 1080 and thus maintains the standard aspect ratio of 16:9.
Though the fact that the name refers to two different resolutions is confusing, it’s really only something for AV designers to worry about. Professionals like PPI will specify the right equipment to handle whichever version of 4K is right for you, and more likely than not, this is 3840 x 2160. Only in special cases – and in movie theaters – would you want to introduce a 17:9 aspect ratio into your system. Henceforth, when we refer to 4k, we will be referring to 3840 x 2160.
Does it Really Make a Difference?
4K is four times the resolution – twice the pixels in height and twice the pixels in width – of 1080p. So what does that actually look like? In many cases, the difference is less stark than you’d think. In order for the human eye to actually notice all those pixels, it needs to be quite close to the screen. See the chart below. Even on a 90” TV, you can only begin to notice the difference of 4K vs. 1080p at around 12 feet away, and you need to be within 6 feet of the screen in order to perceive the full effects of the higher resolution. A 4K display puts a much greater emphasis on a proper screen size specification – otherwise, you quite literally will not see the benefits of your purchase.
The Challenge of 4K: High Bandwidth
4K is four times the resolution of 1080p, which means four times the number of pixels in each frame. Not surprisingly, significant bandwidth is required to accommodate such large amounts of data. Here’s where it gets tricky. There are four factors that affect bandwidth for a video signal: resolution, frame rate, color bit depth, and chroma subsampling. We already know our resolution: 3840 x 2160. 60 frames per second is the frame rate we’ve grown accustomed to today – anything less can start to look choppy. Color bit depth and chroma subsampling are less referenced metrics, but still important: both reference the level of detail and intensity for color and brightness. An optimal 4K video signal would feature a 60 frames per second (fps) frame rate, 10-bit color depth, and 4:4:4 chroma subsampling. This combination would require 22.28 Gbps of bandwidth. Most common HD cables, including HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.1, HD-SDI, and 3G-SDI, cannot accommodate this much bandwidth over a single cable.
So, how do you make it work? Do you reduce your frame rate to 30 fps? Your color depth to 8-bit? Your chroma subsampling to 4:2:2? Or do you use more than one cable? The answer is… bring in an integrator to do this work for you. Even systems as simple as hanging a 4K TV on the wall are easy to mess up. If you’re going to spend the money, make sure you do it right.
4K presents a change in cable distance requirements as well. Gone are the days of 50-foot HDMI cables – with 4K, any cable run greater than 10-15 feet brings about the possibility of signal loss. Twisted pair signal extenders, already extremely prevalent in the professional video world, become necessary in almost every 4K setup, making the successful “do-it-yourself” solution of hanging a TV and plugging in an HDMI cable all the more rare.
Another obvious challenge was hinted at earlier in this article – 4K is not just one resolution. This is more of a challenge for integrators and manufacturers than for end users, but 4K systems now must manage multiple resolutions. Beyond just the two referred to earlier, “tweener” resolutions like 2048 x 1080 (2K DCI), 2560 x 1600 (Apple’s Retina) and more must be accounted for. Some 4K-compatible products can switch between these resolutions, and some cannot. In either case, it falls on the integrator – whether it be the technician in the field programming the device to the correct setting or the designer in the office specifying the device with the correct resolution – to get it right.
So, you’ve decided on a 4K TV as part of your professional AV system. You’ve contracted your integrator, and you’ve got your screen size specified. Great! But what can you actually show on it? On a consumer level, the answer is… as of now, not very much. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video offer select shows in 4K, and YouTube actually has a few 4K videos as well. 4K players, which offer a bit more 4K content than any online service, are becoming more prevalent as well. Other than these options, though, there isn’t much else out there for 4K content as of yet.
What about on a professional level? It’s important to remember that if you want a system that can handle 4K, everything in the chain – from sources, to processors, to displays – must be 4K ready. We know that the TVs are there, and sources, as mentioned above, exist in limited capacity. Processors and infrastructure, thankfully, are now available from companies like Crestron and Extron – switchers, extenders, and many other components necessary for fully featured AV systems now support 4K. So a fully functional professional 4K AV system is possible today. Additionally, 4K video cameras are readily available, so live event systems can be good to go exclusively in 4K today. 4K capture cards are also available for recording and streaming. And of course, if your company creates its own content, having a system that can accommodate a higher resolution is a no brainer.
Still, almost any logically implemented 4K system in today’s world is more focused on being equipped for the future than for the present. The vast majority of 4K content is yet to come – Blu-ray players will be coming soon, and laptops and computers, while not to 4K yet, are already beyond 1080p. Resolutions have evolved over time – in the last ten years, we’ve seen standards shift from 640 x 480 to 720 x 576, from 1024 x 768 to 1280 x 700 and most recently to 1920 x 1080. It’s only logical to expect the standards to continue to shift as they have, and it’s more than evident that 4K is next up.
So what does all this mean? All this information can be reduced to two simple takeaways.
First – if you’ve implemented a new AV system in the last couple years, don’t upgrade to a 4K system just to have it. In most cases, going from 1080p to 4K shouldn’t be the main reason for the upgrade, because there isn’t enough content to display yet. But, if you were planning on upgrading already, then go for a 4K ready system. Prices are falling rapidly, and more and more 4K content is becoming available by the day. Simply put – why purchase a new system that is already behind the times?
Second – consult an AV integrator like PPI before making any decisions about 4K. Though cost is indeed decreasing, anything 4K-related is still expensive. So if you’re going to do it, do it right. PPI can make sure you do – contact an Account Manager today.
THE INSTALLATION GAME
How Integrators Keep a Leg Up on DIV End Users with Projection Systems
by Karen Mitchell
Yes, there is profit in projection systems still when there is significant integration involved or the implementation is challenging or unique. “Venues that require very large screens, rear-screen projection, or projector lifts can all be opportunities for an experienced integrator to provide a profitable solution,” said Greg Augspurger, president, Pentegra Systems. “Systems that require a special skill-set that only an experienced integrator possesses can provide the integrator with much more than just a projector sale.”
So when are projectors and screens being installed by integrators? “Whenever the end user is smart enough to allow an expert to do it,” said Zack Levine, corporate account manager, Presentation Products. “Installing a fixed or wall-mounted screen may be reasonable enough to do as an end user, but once you transition into ceiling-recessed screens, the amount of coordination necessary for ceiling work and electrical, etc. to get it properly installed becomes daunting.”
On the projector side, functions such as zoom,vertical and horizontal lens shift, and sometimes keystone correction are precision elements that are hard to get right if you’ve never done it before, Levine added “Furthermore, projectors and screens are often end points in complex AV systems, and thus are small components in larger projects that only an integrator could handle,” he said.
And the more complicated the installation may be, the likelier it is that an integrator will be hired to do it, Augspurger agreed. “Simple pull-down screens are typically installed by the end users, but large screens or motorized screens require an installation expertise only provided by an integrator. Proper mounting height and methods are crucial for the screen to be installed correctly. The same goes for projectors. Larger projectors with high-lumen output that are operated by a control system require an integrator with the proper knowledge to install and set up the projector properly.” Rodney Laney, vice president of display technology, AVI commercial spaces where it’s more than just a projector, screen, and connectivity. “From my perspective, there are two types of scenarios where projectors are, generally, permanently installed today,” he said. “The first is in the education space where there is, traditionally, a small projector hung from the ceiling and a manual, pull-down screen mounted on the wall. Connectivity is point to point. In this case, the installations are relatively straightforward and tend to be done by the end user.”
Another is in houses of worship (HOW) or corporate spaces, in rooms with viewing distances too great to be supported by a flat panel display, Laney added. “These tend to be somewhat larger screens that are often recessed into the ceiling and controlled electronically The projectors also tend to be larger and as such, the installation is more involved and tends to be done by an integrator.”
WHAT ABOUT LASERS?
Does the introduction of more laser projectors offer upgrade opportunities? “It makes sense to upgrade when there’s an application where there is high usage, eight to 10 hours a day, five to seven days per week,” Laney said. “Laser TCO (total cost of ownership) is unmatched by the lamp-lit product range, and offers additional benefits such as better color, longer and more consistent brightness, and usually higher resolution.”
End-user interest in laser projectors is growing due to the elimination of lamp replacement, Augspurger noted. “They are using the cost savings of no lamp replacements as a reason to look at upgrading their projectors to gain more resolution and/or light output, while lowering their maintenance costs,” he said.
We’re still waiting on the technology to evolve a bit more before lamp-free projectors start becoming ubiquitous, Levine cautioned. Still, they offer a lot of upside. “Laser projectors eschew serious headaches caused by replacement lamps. service calls, and image inconsistency caused by variable lamp brightness,” he said. “This is a major selling point.”
But the cost of laser projectors above 4,000 lumens increases on a curve so steep that it offsets that savings and then some, Levine said. “For extremely low brightness rooms, low budget opportunities, or high budget opportunities where maintenance is to be avoided at all costs, laser projectors offer an upgrade opportunity. For your typical conference room or theater, I’m holding off for a bit longer.”
With so many styles of projection available, laser-driven models are far from the only compelling option for upgrades. “I’m most intrigued right now by the increase of high brightness projectors that aren’t 3-chip OLP,” Levine said “These newer models turned out to be perfect solutions for clients who have a large theater or a high, brightness conference room but don’t have a projector budget in the dozens of thousands of dollars. It’s amazing how many clients have gotten used to the idea of ‘projector on means lights off,’ and it’s always a pleasure to dispel that myth without breaking the bank. Any client who has a projector without a digital input is due for an upgrade, and these styles of projectors are what I often find myself proposing.”
There’s lots of incentive to upgrade to hybrid and laser units for high-usage applications, and widescreen high resolution units for those clients still using a 4:3 aspect ratio, Laney noted. “The transition from 4:3 to widescreen is the most compelling,” he said. “Whether the user upgrades to a bulb-based engine or laser-based engine depends on a number of factors.”
With projectors rated at less than 4,000 lumens, bulb life has been extended dramatically over the past few years, and the bulb prices have dropped for these newer units, Laney explained “For users who use the projector intermittently, this may be the best choice,” he said. “In projection systems that need to be brighter or in higher-use projection scenarios, the laser-based engines will reduce the TOC and should be considered.”
The interest in upgrading the projector stems either from the need for more resolution, more light output, or cost savings, Augspurger concluded “Although 4K projectors open the door for upgrading, I think it’s still too early for most of our clients to look at 4K because they don’t have the content,” he said. “We do have a few clients who are interested in 4K because they need the added resolution for viewing detailed CAD drawings or other high-resolution content. Laser projectors are drawing interest, but only from clients with high hourly usage who experience frequent lamp replacements.”
The Growing Importance of Lecture Capture
A Rising Trend
In recent years, the demand for lecture capture solutions has grown dramatically, quickly moving these systems from wish lists to needs lists at colleges and universities across the world. According to a 2013 survey by The Campus Computing Project, close to 90% of private universities consider lecture capture to be an important part of their campus plans, up 18% from 2010. And according to a recent Frost & Sullivan report, lecture capture revenues are poised to grow exponentially over the next few years, from $162 million in 2013 up to a whopping $592 million in 2019.
So what explains such rapid growth? The most salient reason is that higher education is not exempt from the global trend of digitization. According to the same Frost & Sullivan report, “The global demand for lecture capture solutions is on the rise, with colleges and schools alike recognizing that digital learning is a must-have feature for modern education.” Lecture capture is in keeping with the modern notion that people no longer have to be in the same room at the same time to accomplish something. “Students don’t want to be tied down to fixed places,” says Steven Marks, the CIO of Brooklyn Law School. “The student population is transitioning from textbooks to consuming instruction the way they do in their personal life and video is a major component of this change.” Additionally, in recent years the “flipped classroom” has begun its ascent – this style of teaching involves students watching pre-recorded lectures before class so that the entire class period can be dedicated to discussion. Furthermore, while ten years ago, lecture capture was a relatively new concept with major roadblocks like educator skepticism, high costs, complex deployment, and limited manufacturer options, today, those hurdles have been cleared. Costs are down, support is widespread, and educators are behind it – the lecture capture boom is real.
Lecture Capture Defined
So far we’ve established the popularity, but what exactly is lecture capture? Simply put, it is the process of recording lectures (including a video of the lecturer as well as the content being presented) and making the recordings available to students.
Lecture capture can be broken into four components:
- Capture: the process of recording the lecture. This requires a camera system, microphones and a recording device, either in the form of a dedicated piece of hardware or software on a PC (more on that later). Camera tracking systems, designed to capture the roving instructor so that he or she does not have to stand still during lectures, are often implemented as well.
- Content management & post-production: the process of managing and editing your recorded content. This includes deciding where videos are stored, managing videos coming in from locations across campus, ensuring storage in proper file format, and making any necessary file conversions to accommodate playback on all relevant devices. Post-production includes the application of watermarks and titles, the process of transcription so that speech has subtitles and is searchable, and any other desired video editing.
- Distribution: the process of making the videos accessible to students. This can be done a number of ways, but it generally requires integration with a school’s existing learning management system, such as Blackboard.
- Scheduling & automation: while not a total necessity, the process of automating steps 1 – 3 makes things much easier. Recordings will begin and end at pre-programmed class times, and videos will be stored, processed, and uploaded to LMS’s automatically. This allows teachers to focus solely on teaching and to let the technology work smoothly in the background.
So what kind of lecture capture solutions are out there? The answer is, well, a lot. Every solution needs to start with a camera and microphone to record and end with a video on the internet so that students can access them. But what happens in between? We can break that up into a few categories:
- Hardware-based recording: this involves installing a dedicated piece of hardware somewhere in your classroom (usually part of a greater AV rack) that processes the feeds from the camera, microphones, and PC for content. These systems, such as Mediasite, Echo 360, 323 Link, and Polycom RealPresence Capture Station, are dedicated solely to the purpose of lecture capture, ensuring mission-critical reliability. The hardware units also feature one-time costs. Traditionally, these costs have been high, though see our product spotlight on Extron’s new Streaming Media Processor for a low-cost hardware-based lecture capture solution.
- Software-based recording: this involves installing a computer, rather than a dedicated piece of hardware, and running software on the computer to do the recording. Popular software solutions include Tegrity and Panopto. These solutions are generally at a lower per-room price point, and provide easier scalability and less local hardware to manage. Like all software-based solutions, they also introduce additional potential complications and failure points such as computer processor requirements, software version upgrades, and annual fees.
- Cloud-based recording: this also involves installing a computer, but instead of recording to locally-hosted software and then directing recordings to the web for student access, these systems record directly to the cloud. Examples include Blue Jeans, Adobe Connect, WebEx, and Blackboard Collaborate. The increase in cloud-based recording systems has been one of the catalysts for the recent increase in lecture capture popularity. Though not without the same potential failure points mentioned above, cloud-based systems mean a more streamlined lecture capture workflow, easy scalability, and administrator access from anywhere with an internet connection.
Regardless of which style of lecture capture you use, a few best practices remain constant. First, it is important to be unified. Deploy the same lecture capture solution across your entire college or university, so that students and teachers alike can become familiar with the process and the interface. Second, make sure you choose a solution that can integrate with your Learning Management System (LMS). Rather than instructing students to log onto website A for class info, grades, etc., but website B for classroom videos, it is vital to the process to merge all content in a single location. Most major lecture capture solutions can integrate with your LMS, so make sure you are taking advantage of this feature.
Both the demand for lecture capture and its university-wide deployment nature mean that a decision on this type of solution is not one to be taken lightly. Regardless of which style of lecture capture system you deploy, in-room integration with microphones, cameras, and presentation systems as well as back-end integration with content management systems and LMS’s requires help from a professional audiovisual integrator. PPI has helped countless clients through every step of this process – contact an Account Manager to start the conversation about your lecture capture system today.
Published in the May 2015 edition of k-12 TechDecisions.com
With the help of design build-firm, Presentation Products, a boys prep school revamps classroom tech and turns its gym into a multipurpose space.
“That way all of their equipment would be a little easier to manage,” says Joseph Fattorini, K-12 sales manager for Presentation Products, the A/V design-build firm that designed and installed Browning’s new technology.
Before any tech was purchased or installed, Browning’s director of technology, Aaron Grill, sought the opinion of his teachers. During a professional development session, educators weighed in on what they would consider to be the ideal classroom.
“An overwhelming response was more whiteboard space and flexibility,” Grill says.
Browning has interactive whiteboards in its classrooms. These boards were installed over existing whiteboards. This didn’t seem to be a problem at the time, but it proved to be an inconvenient setup for teachers. If the interactive whiteboard system stopped working, teachers were left without a way to present lessons. Grill found a way around this issue by replacing the interactive whiteboards with interactive projectors. He went with SMART LightRaise projectors instead.
“The LightRaise seemed to work for everyone so they could have both a whiteboard and an interactive projector,” Grill says.
Presentation Products also installed an Extron system to control classroom AV like projectors, document cameras and a Bose professional sound system.
“The teacher hits a button on the wall and it turns on the projector and the Bose system,” Grill explains. The teacher then has the option of choosing either an HDMI or VGA connection. They can also connect to a compact Elmo digital document camera.
The upgrades to classroom technology were part of a larger renovation project that also included converting the Browning School’s gym into a multipurpose space. The room had to serve as a fully functioning gymnasium, theater and presentation space. The challenge was to find a setup for the sound system that wasn’t in the way when the room was used as a gym, but could still provide the necessary audio coverage required of a theater or large meeting area for the whole school to gather. Presentation Products did not create the design for the multipurpose space, but the company did work with a consultant and install the AV equipment. Upgrades were also completed in the school’s cafeteria that included a projector, ceiling recessed screen, distributed audio and digital signage.
A Culture That Supports Tech Innovation
These upgrades go hand-in-hand with Browning’s forward thinking approach to technology. The school began the process of rolling out a 1:1 iPad initiative three years ago. Grades 9-12 are currently 1:1. Next year the program will expand to the fifth and sixth grades.
“Managing the rollouts is key for our small department,” Grill says. “If we just rolled out an iPad for everyone in one year it would not only be difficult for teachers, but difficult for us to manage.” The 1:1 is deployed using Cisco’s Meraki Management.
Grill has been happy with the school’s phased approach to mobile learning. it’s allowed him enough time to really make sure the school’s network can handle additional traffic. This careful approach has led the school to see success rather than encounter obstacles on its path to 1:1 that could have discouraged or teachers or made them apprehensive about the benefits of mobile learning.
“If you do something way too fast then it doesn’t work and it’s not used,” Grill says.
This measured approach to technology integration is one more schools could learn from.
“They approach technology in a good way from the top down,” Fattorini says. “They can fund it. They don’t rush into it. They’re not following trends. They’re looking at their goals and then giving themselves the right time-frames and budgets to get it done.”
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