The Art of Video Conferencing: Part One
With a widespread surge in remote-working and an increased awareness of video quality, there is an argument to be made that audio is far more important. And it’s up to integrators to educate the end users on the truth. Paul Skelton reports.
At the time of writing, there are 2.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally. Of that number, 165,106 people have perished.
For many of these people, final goodbyes to their families have been relegated to video conferencing systems – such is the nature of COVID-19.
“It’s heavy,” says Ryan Root, director of marketing for Phoenix Audio Technologies (PAT) and Stem Audio.
The video conferencing system manufacturer PAT, founded in 2004, has been helping doctors remotely diagnose patients with the coronavirus. Technology supplied by the company has also been adopted by a hospital in South Korea, to allow those dying from COVID-19 to speak with their loved ones.
“We’ve been servicing the telemedicine industry for quite a few years now and it’s growing significantly, especially with remote diagnosing of patients with COVID-19,” Ryan says. “We’re sending out thousands of units all over the world – and increasing our manufacturing capabilities to accommodate the demand.”
Manufacturers of video conferencing technology would not have imagined the current pandemic when designing their products. However, the disease has highlighted the importance of communication technology in today’s world.
But what happens if you can’t hear the person at the other end of the call?
Audio vs Video
The outbreak of COVID-19 has led to widespread lockdowns and quarantining of ‘non-essential’ workers around the world.
This has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people turning to video conferencing solutions from Zoom, Teams, Skype, and others. It has resulted in an increased awareness of video quality, but there is an argument to be made that audio is far more important. And it’s up to integrators to educate end users.
“Audio is simply more important than video,” Ryan says. “If you can’t hear each other the meeting is over, whereas if you can’t see each other, well, telephones have existed for a long time without suffering.”
Biamp product marketing manager Chris Fitzsimmons agrees.
“Audio – bad audio in particular – is probably the biggest killer of effective remote meetings,” he says.
“You can still have a video conference without video, but if the audio breaks you’re stuffed. Unless you know sign language or can lip read, there’s no way of having that call.
“Anybody who is going to regularly participate in conference calls from home should consider how to make them sound good.
“First, work in a quiet room if you can. Find yourself a cubbyhole, whether it’s a shed or a room that people don’t use because this will cut the amount of interference in your call. The big problem with conference calls is ambient noise of any kind.
“Installers must educate their customers that a conference call of any kind isn’t going to happen without audio. That is where they should be investing their money.
“We also know that, in many cases, conference rooms are budget-constrained, especially when it comes to smaller huddle spaces. So it’s a matter of explaining why the shiny screen and amazing camera are no more important than the audio.”
Define your sound with professional devices
The Biamp Devio, available in Australia through Jands, is one device that could make conferencing a lot easier.
With a single USB connection, Devio connects your laptop to the technology in the collaboration space, providing instant access to the room’s displays, speakers, microphone, webcam and other tools.
“The whole point of Devio is to be a low-touch, simple device and it has ‘auto tune’ functionality,” Chris says. “It doesn’t require terminating any wires, because you can just plug in RCAs for loudspeaker output.
“It also doesn’t require programming. Once you’ve made all your connections and pressed ‘go’, Devio will check that all things that need to be connected are actually connected. It will also do some basic calibration – it will adjust levels based on the space it is in, so as to make the sound as good as it can be.”
Chris says Devio wasn’t designed as a residential product yet there have been many enquiries from home users because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So Biamp recently published a system design guide for residential installations.
“We’re finding that Devio has become particularly popular among installers designing home office systems of C-level executives, to allow them to work remotely. These users are typically looking for something a bit better than a USB headset.”
Ultimately though, Devio was designed for huddle rooms that don’t have a resident computer. Specifically, it was meant for rooms with three to five seats, a table pushed up against the wall, possibly a display, but not much else.
“If you just want Devio to be an audio device then it’s 100% plug and play,” Chris says.
“It’ll show up on your computer as an audio input and output device, just like connecting a USB headset.
“However, it can also be part of a larger system. Devio features a USB port that can be used for a web camera, for example.”