By Rob Enderle,
When it comes to hybrid meetings, big rooms are a significant problem. Usually, the technology can adjust to show the speaker, presentation material, and audience members when they actively participate. You can put in an array of ceiling microphones and speakers, which can lead to reduced sound quality and significantly increased cost of configuring the room. The resulting installation is virtually permanent, so if you move or change the configuration of the room, much of the related hardware can’t be moved without significant additional cost.
With so much uncertainty regarding hybrid work, the need for a flexible but still viable solution has never been greater. Until now, that flexibility has been elusive. This week at Zoom’s annual Zoomtopia conference, two hardware vendors, Nureva and Poly, collectively created something interesting.
Let’s chat about big hybrid conference rooms and Zoom this week.
Nureva is a sound specialist. It doesn’t do cameras, but when it comes to sound management, it’s the master. I say this after seeing a demonstration where the company’s new HDL410 sound bars were in use in very large conference rooms.
The sound from anyone in the room was crystal clear (though a little boomy in a large room without baffles), and the sound into the room was crisp and clear. It featured impressive noise cancellation, and its AI regularly samples the room for tone and then blocks it out accordingly.
Noise cancellation is critical because conference rooms too often have glass walls or large windows that don’t filter background sound well. This can be very distracting to both remote and on-prem attendees. It doesn’t help those in the room, but for remote attendees, effective noise cancellation can reduce distractions and make the material far easier to understand.
The sound bars (you need more than one in a very large room) pull proprietary PoE power from a breakout box, which allows for one cable installation, and they mount high on the wall, which allows for a very simple installation in raised-ceiling rooms. This means the sound bars can easily be relocated if the company moves, and it allows the room to be reprovisioned or reconfigured for something else without losing the hardware investment.
Poly announced several products at Zoomtopia. The most important of the set was the Poly Studio Bundle, which supplies Poly Studio E70 smart cameras, the Poly TC10 controller, and an HP Mini Conferencing PC. (HP is a client of the author.) For remote use, the company announced the Poly Voyager Surround 85 UC Bluetooth headset, and the HP 430 and 435 FHD Webcam.
The Poly Studio Bundle helps flesh out the large room solution with cameras and a room AV management solution. The headphones aren’t useful just for those at home, but for anyone needing to do conference calls or watch training videos from their cubicle. If there is too much ambient noise, local attendees of a large meeting may find that using headphones will cut out those annoying sounds from outside the conference room significantly. (I’m using headphones a lot more myself of late because we are putting new fire-resistant siding on my home and the pounding is driving me a bit nuts.)
The headset I travel with is a Poly headset, and, to date, I’ve never found anything that was as good. They do nice work and have been aggressively moving into conference room solutions for the last several years. Poly also provides soundbars, but for smaller spaces.
Zoom remains an interesting player in the conferencing space, effectively competing with two larger companies: Microsoft’s Teams and Cisco’s WebEx. This is fascinating, because I would have thought that Cisco, a telecom vendor, would dominate this sector. But its inability to interoperate with other videoconferencing products has substantially reduced its available market and contributed to relatively high solution costs and third-party support issues.
Microsoft Teams is designed around people collaborating on software, which fits what Microsoft does like a glove but is not as useful for companies that are not in that same business. This has allowed Zoom to carve out a space by being more interoperable than WebEx and less problematic than Teams for those not in the software business.
Most companies I work with use either Zoom or Teams. I rarely run into WebEx outside of Cisco (and some of the TV networks who use WebEx effectively for broadcasting). So, while Zoom is overmatched, it has held on in the face of these larger competitors by being more interoperable, generally easier to use, acceptably reliable and relatively inexpensive.
Both Teams and Zoom stand out for their interoperability with third-party hardware, and that is why both products appear to be stronger for hybrid conferencing than other choices. So it’s no surprise that we are seeing these solutions first from Zoom, though they will also be available on Teams once certified.
Future-proofing meeting room tech
We are still figuring out this work-from-home thing, and the decisions are anything but settled. This means one of your biggest concerns in configuring a meeting room is that the solution be both flexible and easily moved or removed, because the future of these rooms is anything but certain.
Both Nureva and Poly highlighted systems that were flexible, reconfigurable, and interoperable, and they allow for a reliable best-of-class solution from multi-vendor components that assures not only initial success, but the future ability to selectively swap out components as technology advances. With AI, technology in this space is advancing very quickly.
In the end, I was impressed with Zoomtopia and the potential for blended solutions like those from Nureva and Poly, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll have for us next year.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward looking emerging technology advisory firm. With more than 25 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he provides regional and global companies with guidance.
Originally published at Computerworld