Turn any room into a conference room – part 3

In my previous two posts I shared the hardware that I use for audio as well as what I use for video. So what’s left?

Letting other people see your screen, or work together on a whiteboard.

Sure you can run a long HDMI cable but it makes it a bit messy and dangerous. Devices like the Surface Pro 3 have Miracast built into them (aka WiDi) which allows you to connect your device to an external screen. At the Paradyne office we use a Netgear Push2TV device which works fairly well. This supports up to 1080p and is very easy to set up and get going, and retails for around $67 RRP.

What this allows you to do is also use your tablet and corresponding screen as a portable whiteboard. Instead of having a whiteboard and markers – simply use the Surface Pro 3 and the supplied stylus (or equivalent tablet device). Sure it’s not Surface Hub, but it’s a lot cheaper!

I use this setup on video calls using Skype for Business where we share the whiteboard in the meeting, instead of having an expensive digital device or having to point the camera at it.

Combined with the audio & video hardware devices I wrote about previously – for very little money you’ve now turned virtually any room into a conference room.

 

(NOTE: I am aware that Microsoft has a Wireless Display Adapter however it wasn’t available when I first wanted to use Miracast with my Surface Pro 3 so I haven’t had the opportunity to test it and am still happy with the Netgear Push2TV.)

Turn any room into a conference room – part 2

In my previous post about turning any room into a conference room I spoke about the Jabra Speak 510 for PC to cover the audio side of things.

Most of the time in group calls we find ourselves using audio only. The problem is that in an audio-only conference many people will revert to doing their own work such as reading emails, instant messaging, or whatever else. It’s not like a normal meeting where you look across the table at the other person and can see that you have their attention.

I must admit that I am guilty of this myself from time to time, and so to ensure that I am focusing on the conversation I will often enable my video. This is not always reciprocated however I try to do it as much as possible out of respect for the person on the other end.

While it’s handy that most tablet & notebook devices have a camera built into them, the reality is that they are often not in the position you want them to be for a video call. Which means you are often left looking up at someone’s chin while they talk, or they must strain their neck to be looking down at the device. If you happen to be sitting at a desk with external devices (eg. monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.) be it your regular desk or not – I strongly suggest putting an external webcam on top of the monitor at every desk so that you can look up and forward – and ultimately enjoy better video quality.

However, in a meeting room what should you use? The reality is that most webcams are sufficient for most meetings. Sure they don’t match a dedicated video conference rig with cameras that follow you or show you in lifesize – but those are more for comfort and ease than anything. Don’t get me wrong – I think that proper video conference rigs have their place and should be utilised in meeting rooms, however for smaller meeting rooms they can also be easily turned into conference rooms.

Just hook up something like a Microsoft LifeCam Cinema or Studio for video quality of 720p or above. Both of these cameras do a good job of following the active speaker, both work perfectly with Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync). Every Paradyne staff member is supplied one of these along with their other hardware when they start. We also have them placed at desks in our office as well as in our meeting room. Given the frequency of which we do video calls these are perfect for the task and very cost effective and only $70 and $100 RRP respectively.

While both of them have great microphones built into them I’ve found that they just aren’t enough which is why I end up using the microphone built into my headset or the Jabra Speak 510 for PC.

These pieces combined are basic building blocks of turning any room into a conference room.