Focus on Technology: PC Based Conferencing Still Requires Good Acoustics and Lighting for Groups

adobeconnect-0613By Steven J. Thorburn, PE, CTS-D, CTS-I
Thorburn Associates

Our smart phones and tablet PCs have brought video chat to the masses. So why can’t we use it for business calls? You can – we have. While still not the quality of a good purpose-built system, desktop conferencing is very close as a feasible alternative — as long as you are one-to-one or one-to-many (you are the only one on at your end with a tightly framed head shot). You will still need to find a service to let you talk with others than are not on your computer network (such as BlueJeans), and you will still need to put up with the delay of the Internet.

It is when we try to scale this desktop system to a whole room system that we start to have challenges.

When used in a room, set-top (USB) cameras and microphones are not enough. Sure, it might work for two or three at one end of a collaborative meeting, but when you start looking down a long table of folks, the system starts to fall apart. If you want to use multiple cameras to cover the tables, you will need to find add-on software for some of the more popular platforms or use platforms that are not “free.” Set-top cameras work well but they work even better with good light. The remote end wants to see the near end participant’s eyes and far too often this is just not possible with this type of camera. Take a look next time you video chat with a friend or colleague on your smart device.

Finally the audio – if it is more than just two or three participants, you’ll want better microphones. You want to makes sure the room you are in does not sound like a fish bowl. Good microphones pick up everything and do not filter items out in the same manner your brain / ear does. What you do at your end in your room is for the benefit of those at the other end.

So can it work? Yes, but it takes care and it is not just plug-and-play.

Steve enjoys helping others understand the principals of acoustics and audiovisual technology almost as much as he enjoys sipping a good single malt scotch. He’s been InfoComm’s Educator of the Year, is a two-time InfoComm Facility Design Award Winner, author, teacher and has AV design experience on more than 2000 projects including Universal Studios Toon Lagoon, Hershey Park and Six Flags Great America. Find his company Thorburn Associates online here.