Wireless USB and My Take on the HRT Huddle Hub

A couple months ago, I saw a post from Liberty AV on social media. It showed a picture of a device that seemed to wirelessly share a laptop to a larger display.

There are a lot of devices that allow someone to share their screen wirelessly to a display — Barco ClickShare, Crestron Air Media, Kramer Via, Mersive Solstice, ScreenBeam, Vivitek NovoConnect, Extron ShareLink … shall I go on? Based on this, the screen sharing on its own wasn’t very interesting.

However, the part of the diagram that WAS very interesting showed a wall-mounted camera/microphone/soundbar under the display and three concentric arcs depicting wireless transmission of those USB peripherals to the laptop. It seemed to show a fully wireless inbound and outbound connection to all of the devices you would have in a huddle room, eliminating not only the need for an HDMI connection, but also the need for hardwired USB. For anyone that has to buy USB extenders for their meeting spaces, you know how expensive and problematic they can be, so this feature would be an amazing advantage.

huddlehub

My first thought? Vaporware.

Well, I posted the diagram on Twitter and the AV community lit up. The following Monday, Liberty AV connected on Twitter, I connected to my Liberty rep in California, and within two days, I had a unit in my hands. The rep and his remote team gave me a run through online, demonstrating the wireless USB connections and screen sharing. It actually worked. I asked how long the product had been out and I found out it debuted in … 2017!!! It was even won an award and was featured right here on rAVe back then.

I then remembered seeing the device and was dumbfounded that I missed the wireless USB extension feature, until I realized that I hadn’t missed it at all. The product has been evolving since its release and wireless USB was quietly added.

So what is this magical box? It’s the Huddle Hub from Huddle Room Technology (HRT) in Italy.

Well, after seeing the Huddle Hub in action, I asked if I could keep it and play with it for a little while. I wanted to see for myself how well it worked, how easy it was to use and, once I had run it through a few paces, see if there were interesting applications for it in our installations. They graciously said yes, and that’s what I did.

So, what do I think of the Huddle Hub?

As a way to wirelessly share a screen to a display, it’s not really that unique. You can connect via Wi-Fi and use the browser to share your screen, not unlike the way many of the devices listed above work.

When I first launched the sharing via Microsoft’s Edge browser, it seemed to be transmitting at less than 10 frames per second. A quick eMail to HRT and I was told that the Web RTC support in the current version of Edge just isn’t there. When I launched the sharing through the Chrome browser instead, it lit up and played smoothly. It also works well in Firefox, and I was told the new Chromium version of Edge being released soon will fix the issues with that browser as well.

Mobile devices cannot share via the browser and require an HRT Android or iPhone app. This adds a little extra friction in that mobile devices can’t connect without first downloading something, given that the Huddle Hub doesn’t support the native sharing applications like AirPlay, MiraCast or ChromeCast that many other wireless screen sharing devices utilize.

Whether you access Huddle Hub through the browser or utilize the desktop app, the device allows you to connect and enroll the connected Camera/Microphone/Soundbar wirelessly.

I downloaded the app and a camera icon appeared next to the Huddle Hub connection. I clicked on it and was quickly granted access to the USB devices wirelessly.  he latency was actually very low, even through the soft codec application I was using, and sans sophisticated testing equipment, it seemed to be less than half a second. It wasn’t distracting at all, which I think is the true measure of latency. When I asked the HRT team what they had tested it at, they said it typically varies from 150-250 ms but varied based on Wi-Fi connection, etc, which seemed to ring true to my experience.

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After looking at these two feature sets, I honestly thought I was done and ready to write this piece. I called HRT, discussed my thoughts and then while talking to them about a couple extra features, I realized that wireless USB wasn’t the only interesting feature of the Huddle Hub after all.

The Huddle Hub supports content sharing not only from a device to the display, but also to the other devices in the room. The Huddle Hub allows those not presenting to view the presentation on their individual devices as well, given that they have the app. There are different numbers of screens that can access the stream depending on the compression and resolution needed and that can be set up in the admin settings to best fit the application. Imagine anything from a large meeting to a classroom application granting everyone access to the content on their personal device.

The app can also be loaded on iOS and Android devices, including Android stick computers like FireStick. More on that in a minute, but being able to see content on your personal screen is an advantage that can eliminate supplementary displays, viewing angles, etc.

Huddle Hub also supports up to six virtual meetings or smart rooms in addition to the one physical meeting room. If four people want to collaborate, they can log into the smart room and share their device’s screen to the screens of the others’ devices. You could do this with four people sitting at their desks or around a table without needing a physical meeting space or display. However, this is where the display with an Android stick computer comes back into play. If there is a display nearby with an Android stick, it can be enrolled in the virtual meeting as well, acting as the display for collaboration, without any physical connection to the Huddle Hub at all. That feature in itself has a couple interesting applications.

Overflow and Divisible Rooms can enroll displays wirelessly to join a physical meeting as overflow monitors for the main content or allow displays in divisible spaces to clone content without expensive matrix switches or control systems.

Ad hoc meeting spaces, like work cafes that have displays playing entertainment content, can easily be added to a virtual meeting initiated by people who have a chance interaction while heating up their lunches and allow them to meet with what’s in their pockets as opposed to booking a room and grabbing their computers. This type of setup creates instant access to technology.

That’s a HUGE deal.

If you know anything about modern office design and layouts, there are two things that workplace designers often talk about.

Proximity and adjacency. What does that mean?

The major factor that determine if people will interact at all is proximity. A study by the MIT Media Lab shows that the probability that any two people on a corporate campus will interact physically or digitally is directly proportional to the distance between their desks. This means people need to be close to each other and that they’ll need a place to meet which is where adjacency comes in.

Even though open offices provide access to people at their desks, people don’t often use it. In fact, some studies have shown face to face interactions DROP 70% in open offices. How can this be? People create imaginary fourth walls to overcompensate for open access. So if face to face meetings are the goal, you need places close by.  Adjacency.

If two people meet in the cafe, they may decide to take advantage by having an impromptu meeting. Odds are they have their phones but not their tablets and laptops. There needs to be an adjacent space for them to capitalize on momentum, access remote resources and connect others digitally if needed, and this is where I think Huddle Hub can add a ton of value.

So that wraps up a rare product review for me. I think you should definitely take a look at Huddle Hub given its extra features.