The Perfect Blend of Conference Room AV
The conference room is a staple of the pro AV industry, a common technological integration project that supports basic organizational functions across almost every vertical market.
Coordinating AV with wall and furniture construction requires planning, but produces excellent results.
Credit: DESIGN AND INSTALLATION BY TECHNICAL INNOVATION, NASHVILLE, TENN.
Here's a quick case in point. A small- to mid-sized conference room supporting up to 40 or 50 people should have a reverberation time in the range of 0.4 to 0.7 seconds, depending on the size of the room. Audioconferencing will call for reverberation times on the lower end of the scale, which may require providing additional acoustical absorption in the room to create an acceptable environment. Background noise levels should be targeted to Noise or Room Criterion (NC or RC) 30—slightly higher levels may be acceptable for some larger rooms and uses; slightly lower levels may be required for audio-and videoconferencing. This may require special wall, floor, and/or ceiling constructions as well as modifications to the HVAC system to provide acceptable background noise levels.
Lighting can present a similar challenge. Rooms that take advantage of daylighting or diffuse indirect lighting for both energy efficiency and comfortable lighting design are generally antithetical to lighting designs that optimize projected image viewing, for example. Rooms that use direct-view displays, such as LCD flat-panel monitors, allow for more flexibility in the lighting design, but sometimes these displays are too small or too expensive to be used in some conference rooms. Larger images using rear projection are a bit less light-tolerant than direct-view displays, and front projection systems are the most sensitive to stray light on the image area. In any case, lighting plays an important role in the conference room AV design.FOCUS ON FURNITURE
In addition to functionality, aesthetics play an integral role in conference room design as well. Keeping this in mind, it's important to focus on lecterns and conference tables as the AV design proceeds.
The most dominant piece of conference room furniture is the conference table, the hub of activity and a component that can require a large amount of coordination in both design and construction. The mantra here is coordinate, coordinate, coordinate—starting with the room's perimeter and then working your way into the table design. The same goes for the room's lectern, if there is one.
To achieve the most effective design, start with the room layout, working with the architect and interior designer in the design phase to come up with a solution that works architecturally, ergonomically, and legally (to code)—not to mention aurally and visually. This means getting involved early enough in the process with the design/build team while the plans are still malleable. (Take note building owners and architects!) The shape of the table can be an important factor in creating good sightlines to a display. The traditional long rectangle with a display at the end may not provide the best sightlines or comfortable position for users who spend a lot of time working with images on the wall. Try to vet alternative table shapes, starting with a trapezoid (wide end toward the display), to get good sightlines to the primary display. This becomes even more critical when there's videoconferencing involved (and the design needs to accommodate both participant sightlines to the display as well as camera sightlines to the local participants).
Ask furniture-specific questions as you move into design: Is there an existing table and/or lectern? Can it be modified? Can pre-manufactured, AV-capable furniture be used? What AV elements need to be permanently integrated into the furniture? Does the room need to be flexible? Answers to these questions will help shape the table and lectern design as well as other furniture that may require AV integration.
Find out early who is designing, building, and signing off on the furniture. Establishing these milestones up-front can help the implementation run more smoothly, producing a better outcome. If you can't work directly with the table designer or builder, get help from a knowledgeable furniture designer to help develop wiring pathway and device integration options that make both good AV and furniture sense.
In some cases, it may be advantageous to contract the lectern or even the conference table to the AV integrator. This would allow for the best coordination and clearest lines of responsibility in getting the AV elements integrated into the furniture. If this is not possible, however, then close monitoring of the furniture's design, construction, and installation is required to get the best results. Remember: Permanent integration of microphones and connector boxes on the conference table is a tricky business. So make sure the hole you cut into a $40,000 table is the right size and in the right place the first time you cut.
Once the infrastructure and conference room furniture issues are taken care of, it's time to evaluate the electronic systems that will make the AV come alive. As with conference tables and lecterns, there is more to consider with electronics systems than initially meets the eye.EXPLORING ELECTRONICS OPTIONS
If you mean for users to access the AV equipment, factor in a convenient location and ensure it's adequately ventilated.
Credit: DESIGN AND INSTALLATION BY TECHNICAL INNOVATION, NASHVILLE, TENN.
Items that go in or on the table or lectern can be affected by both the user's needs and aesthetic requirements. User requirements might dictate the operation of the microphones: Do they need parliamentary-type microphone operations, audio-based video control, or just general-use, automatic mixing? Aesthetic issues may dictate the microphone type and installation, such as wired or wireless, portable or permanent.
All manner of options are available for the table and lectern, from no-impact portable microphone systems, wireless tabletop microphones, and wireless control system interfaces to full-integration, motorized AV device boxes or whole sections of a work surface that raise and lower.
The choice of a display can likewise have multiple design parameters. Not only must you consider the size and resolution components that are primarily task-based, but also the environmental and aesthetic parameters. When a conference room is on an exterior wall or otherwise makes use of daylighting or diffuses indirect lighting, then a direct-view solution such as an LCD monitor many be the best choice to provide the most flexibility and reduce the potential contrast ratio difficulties with the displayed image. As a second choice in a bright environment, rear-screen projection might be considered. If the front projection is the only option, then control of both the daylighting and any indirect lighting must be considered to maintain the image contrast ratio during the anticipated system usage.
As for control systems, user interface design is king, as it is for other AV systems. If the control system doesn't work, or has a difficult-to-use interface, then the users will consider the whole system a failure, regardless of the beautiful image and sound that's provided in the room. There may be more or less economical control system hardware choices, but don't skimp on the user interface design.COORDINATION IS KEY
The shape of a conference room table can be an important factor in creating good sightlines.
Credit: DESIGN AND INSTALLATION BY AVI SYSTEMS, BENSENVILLE, TENN.
For that creativity to be useful, however, coordination must be ubiquitous throughout the project, and the lines of AV responsibility must be clear. While these lines can be blurry enough among AV and IT providers and the rest of the project design team, they're even blurrier to many owners and users. Therefore, make sure the AV contract has specific points of demarcation, such as who is providing the computers, network, and collaboration software—not to mention the actual design of the required infrastructure, particularly for lighting and acoustics.
Coordination means both providing information and asking questions. As with any type of design, often the right answer to a design challenge comes from asking the right questions at the right time. In the case of conference rooms, coordinating AV infrastructure is the key to success. So get involved early, ask the right questions, and be careful drilling into that conference table.
Tim Cape is the principal consultant for Atlanta-based technology consulting firm Technitect and coauthor of “AV Best Practices,” published by InfoComm International. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.