The Cloudy Cloud Series Pt 1

We are back, and if you have not seen the introduction to this series, it would be good to peek. Our intention is twofold.

  • As subject experts (if we do say so ourselves) we wanted to reflect back what we hear from our most important resources - our customers.
  • There is a confusing and conflating set of options, opinions and experiences that impact the choices when picking a solution. We want to make cloud choices clear.

So let’s fix today’s unified video conferencing problems with solutions that scale for tomorrow. Today we pivot to a specific problem, cameras and audio.

Most of our customers and consultation clients have a very wide variety of rooms and UC Video conferencing use they are looking to solve for. With this in mind it is time to refresh a topic we have visited previously, cameras and audio setup in the rooms you design. If interested, take a look at our 4th post in the “Don’t Get Fired Series.”

Generally speaking, most IT organizations we work with would like to have one platform and one or two deployment types to review and support.  The conundrum then? How do you deploy video conferencing and unified communications in a way that drives adoption, scales easily and does not increase a divide between the needs and demands of a diverse end user community and the teams that have to support these folks.  

Experience shows us that the right balance is somewhere between experiences  and experiments of the mobile devices and those of the training facility. Yes, it is a WIDE divide.

The tension between these form factors are amplified when you look at deployment costs, management and support of these solutions. To pull off a good USB-based or mobile device communication policy and integrate into a conference room you have to pick some winners and stick to your choices. Every two-three weeks, (practically) you’ll read about the latest and greatest camera or mic/speaker innovation.  Our suggestion: Pick a manufacturer that has a clear roadmap beyond what you purchase today and a partner that knows how to integrate these solutions. Pick a lane.

But why USB?  Flexibility? Costs?  Interoperability? These are very strong drivers to adopt a software based codec, Lifesize Dash, Vidyo, Starleaf, Spark, Zoom, and on, and on, and on….  but buyers beware. USB C has created some unique challenges when trying to extend cable length and not all USB based solutions and PC-MAC based software treat your communications client the same. We, for example, see many issues running Zoom Rooms on Mac Mini deployments and the latest release of Mac OS. Do you have the time to hunt down the drivers, updates and downgrades?  You can Kiosk mode the crap out of a deployment (Windows or Mac) - but it is still a computer resource doing a codec job. Do you want to have another set of devices to manage? If you do, USB can be for you.

There is a pitch to be made here, however, for the system designed to do ONE thing and work with ALL things.  Take Starleaf and Lifesize, for example. They both choose to integrate nicely with all things AV integration, they have their own bridge platforms AND they have not abandoned SIP or H323 calling as standards.  They also do so without ridiculous interoperability or capacity licenses. You purchased a system to do video conferencing, why then should YOU care if it can or can’t call to Bluejeans, Pexip or Skype. The video conferencing system as a codec makes a strong argument for picking a path and standardizing within it, again, provided you have interoperability. Play well with others, right?

So you decided USB cameras and microphones  are right for you. Now what? We offer this list as a potential checklist for any bid request and user testing. Sorted from low-end to higher-end (and costs), these solutions need not be complicated, but if done right- your end users and tech support staff will love you for it.

Mobile Users.

  • Ok, just because you can, should you?  Video in your car, really?
  • Get a headset.
  • Consider putting the iPad down, or a stand so we are not looking up your nose.
  • Yeah, those other apps you are running- turn those off too. Look your best on camera and give the other people the best you possible.
  • PLEASE find the mute button.  There is one for the camera AND one for the microphone. Bad audio kills ANY deployment and don’t be that guy - you know, the one we get to hear clear his throat.

SoHo - Small Office, Home Office

Consider all of the points from the Mobile user as a baseline for best practices.  Beyond that, a few other items often come up.

  • - When choosing a camera, think about the user experience if they are going to travel. Can they pack it up and plug it in easily? Aver, Logitech, Huddly, Panacast- they all have great travel units or units that can stay in a home office and become part of the enhanced experience.
  • -The camera likely has a microphone.  Test it before you use it.
  • - Probably a good idea to have a test run on a the platform and know how to test / change the microphone settings.  We love the travel units made by Phoenix Audio, Sennheiser and Konftel as home office units that travel well. They give our users a hands-free experience without introducing a lot of ambient noise pickup.  They also have clearly marked MUTE options and can be tethered to your cell phone if you want to use it as a traveling conference phone.
  • - Plug that Laptop in or turn off everything else on WiFi consuming precious bandwidth. Shut down any unnecessary applications, ever if your home computer or laptop can power the space station.

The Conference Room, Large and Small

  • Place your camera in locations that enhance the experience. Standard tables are roughly 33’’, so we place the camera somewhere around 44-48 inches on center. Get that “look you in the eye” perspective, rather than the “I see your shiny forehead “top of the tv” view.
  • Do you have enough sound amplification so that the speakers on the OTHER end sound normal without having to blast the call?
  • Do you have enough microphones to cover the room?
  • How about hot / cold audio zones?  
  • Should you add a hand held or movable microphone?

We created a recording of Meeting Owl as an example of what you want to look for. Part one - an overview of this form factor, part 2 - a field test.

Part 1 - Nerd at his desk.  

Part 2 - Nerd and a tech.

These two recording give you context - use the cameras and microphones right within the specifications and be happy, or use them and push the limits and get a best effort.

In the small huddle rooms and meeting spaces we have seen great improvements with the 4K cameras designed for a low-cost, high return.  Check out

  • Panacast by Altia. They offer a unique approach to framing a room.
  • Aver Cam340 - a powerhouse little device
  • Huddly Cam- New and disruptive.
  • Meeting Owl
  • Logitech Brio
  • Lifesize Icon300

Finally, the boardroom or training facility. These are generally much more complicated rooms and warrant a review on their own.  Again, we did a series of discussion on building the right room and not getting fired. Perhaps start there, but here are some considerations.

  • Lighting and acoustics.  You are spending more money on the room, so make sure the environment and acoustics to muck it up.
  • Audio and sound coverage. You need enough and you can almost never have too much.  
  • Consider your end users and how they use the space.  This is true for all unified video collaboration deployments, but especially true in these high impact, high return rooms.

Something unique to consider?  We have had years of experience with Clear One, Polycom, Shure and other ceiling and sound processors from Crestron, BiAMP and beyond.  Sennheiser SL Ceiling array is a disruptive force and when paired with the Phoenix Stingray DSP you immediately have a less complicated, highly immersive solution. There are downsides- mostly technical and programming - but it you want simple, elegant and “set it, forget it” - this is the way to go. Watch for Stem Audio- the new company launched by the Phoenix Audio team- their sleek design and audio validation tools are very slick 

So don’t murder your meetings with poor choices, deployment, training or technology. Know what you need, set the right budget and expectations and demand that your partner in integration gets you what you paid for.  Make it perfect. Call on us to help.