“We’re in the midst of an evolution, not a revolution” goes the quote from the famous composer James Levine, and while he was most certainly not referencing our industry when he said that, I think that it particularly applicable to collaboration and the technologies that support it.
The workspaces are evolving daily as companies attempt to find that perfect blend of efficiency, productivity, and employee experience. As we evolve from the “huddle” room as the current paradigm, to the team space of tomorrow, these new physical spaces are defining the role of visual collaboration.
So, a little about the space challenges. Quite often these are carved out of the external areas that once were relegated to private offices. A lot of glass, which all the audio experts love so much, to the poor lighting and constrained seating the video pros enjoy.
Audio problems can range from microphone pickup to audio output bleeding out into the common spaces or the room adjacent. There are several great solutions for microphones, such as the Nureva™ Microphone Mist™ technology or the Phoenix Audio™ Condor™ for full room coverage in a space that works best with installed mic arrays, to the great Bluetooth™ products such as the Konftel™ Ego™ and the Jabra™ Speak710™ for those spaces that define the smaller end of the meeting room spectrum.
As to audio output- from my experience people in a meeting tend to look at the audio source rather than the video source, just a habit from our experience with audio conferencing. Just how many of you have stared at the conference phone in the middle of the table? For an effective visual collaboration session- the audio output from the far end does need to come from the display of the far end. Even in an installed audio system bias the far end output to the speakers nearest the display.
The video issues in these new team spaces, to name just a few, run from the substandard lighting, to space challenges, to actual physical interface questions, let alone the control of the video source. We attempt to address a range of those with our CompassX™ and TeamCam™ series cameras. The TeamCam is an extraordinary value, specifically designed for the smaller rooms that we are seeing the migration toward.
With a 90 degree Field of View with no distortion and an 8MP sensor (4K) we have put our Pan and Tilt motors in a housing with digital zoom. We did the physical motor movement for a specific reason- while digital zoom is effective in the smaller space, digital pan and tilt is far too jarring- people are used to moving their head form side to side and up and down! Combine the very oversized sensor with digital zoom works great though- people tend to focus in on an object once they center that object in their vision, and with the large sensor, the resolution does not suffer from pixilation. At $389 MSRP there is absolutely no question of competition.
For those larger spaces where the subjects could be more than 3 Meters away from the camera, our eminently controllable CompassX fits the bill. With a 10X optical zoom, TrueGrid Autofocus, and multiple methods of camera control it meets or exceeds the requirements for any space. No jittery and slow pan/tilt, no wondering if it can be integrated into your existing or newly designed control systems, and we even use USB 2.0 for transfer of the data as it is the easiest and most cost effective to extend past the USB cable limitations. I challenge any camera vendor to beat it. Seriously.
One thing I noticed when training the users at various companies all over the world is that while we can get comfortable with the technology eventually (most of us!), having a camer\a pointed at you when you are just getting used to the new style of meeting is intimidating and off-putting. That can be an indication of how video collaboration is going to take off as a platform in the organization and it will influence ROI negatively. It is the major reason our cameras have the form factor they do- small, unobtrusive, satin finished black metal frames and silent. The large lensed or “shiny object” camera styles have a deleterious effect and are distracting.
And that brings me to the soft codecs- basically the choice of codec will boil down to a cross between the security concerns and bandwidth challenges laid down by the IT department and the experience demanded by the actual users. Everything from an integrated persistent chat such as Slack or Teams to the very slickly integrated and managed systems such as Starleaf, Bluejeans, or Zoom. Just to name a very few!
There are some exciting things developing on the control systems front that will enable greater flexibility in the use of these spaces. Greater control of not only the peripherals, but the room environment through the IoT connectivity. We have seen the development of the hardware based systems, but some of the most exciting things are coming from the IT world- look at Intel Unite. Personally I am very excited about that and there is a plugin to control our CompassX camera ready to go.
While the codec or communication standard an organization chooses has a large effect on their adoption, the hardware in the new Team Space basically remains the same. Audio in and out, Video in and out and some sort of processor. See, that settles it.