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Designing a Successful Videoconference Room - Small Rooms
Nearly any type of small meeting room can be configured for holding a videoconference. Most existing meeting rooms can be rearranged without too much difficulty for the addition of a portable set-top videoconferencing system. Usually, the most expensive parts are in purchasing the conferencing system itself, or in having the correct type of conferencing lines run into the room. Here are some tips for modifying an existing space and for planning a new room layout.


Seating and System Arrangement.

Most videoconferencing systems are normally placed about two or three metres in front of a meeting room table. You want as many people as are sitting at the table to clearly see the monitor, and to be visible on the video camera.

If you have one table with seating all around it, participants should only sit on one or two sides. Ideally, a specialized V-shaped table combination is most suitable for small room videoconferencing. Key people should always be visible without the need for the camera being constantly panned around or zoomed in and out. Seating should be consistent, with everyone sitting at the same height level. Chairs should be padded and comfortable. Avoid swivel chairs if possible, as some camera-shy participants tend to move around or rock in them.

The recommended monitor size for a small meeting room group of two to six people is between 27-32-inches. Most new conferencing systems are designed for using with dual monitors - one for viewing the far site(s), and the other for sharing online documents or for seeing yourself on camera. Each monitor should be on its own cart for easy movement around the room - unless you have a specifically designed dual-monitor cart from the manufacturer. The camera unit should always be placed on top of the far-site monitor.

Avoid having unnecessary movement visible in the background. Meeting rooms situated next to high-traffic hallways should have any clear glass panels or semi-transparent screens covered over.

Your videoconference system should only require an ordinary wall outlet for power. Having an extension cord available will give you more flexibility in adjusting the placement of the system within the room. All cables and lines should be arranged so they are out of the way along a wall and not creating any kind of trip hazard.

Microphones.

Your videoconference system microphones should be positioned as far as possible from any noise sources. Two types of noises sources are most common - background and sporadic noises.

Low, background noises tend not to be too noticeable to human hearing but can cause a system's automatic noise suppression (ANS) control to drop all similar low-end sounds, including 'clipping' parts of a conversation. Low background noises are commonly found around HVAC air vents, electronic equipment and overhead projector fans, traffic in hallways, and fluorescent lighting buzz.

Potential sporadic noises from closing doors, a telephone ringing, a tapping pen or other brief loud noises nearby will trigger your conferencing systems automatic gain control (AGC) to dampen the overall audio level for a period and reduce the overall sound quality of a part of your meeting.

Tabletop boundary microphones should be placed at least half a metre from the nearest person speaking and two metres from the conferencing system itself. Generally, the farthest a boundary microphone should be from a person speaking is three metres.

Gooseneck microphones, if required, should be setup so they are directly in front of the person speaking. Avoid using ceiling microphones as they tend to pickup a lot of background noise.

Furniture.

Use a table combination that is curved, a half-circle, or is V-shaped if possible. For a small room configuration, you'll want to be able to have between four and six seated participants visible on camera at one time. All tables should have privacy panels under the tables and be moveable - preferably on wheels.

Choose a table with a matte, medium coloured surface if possible to avoid reflection and lighting problems. Keep away from having bright objects on the tabletop such as glass or items with chrome metal finishes.

Chairs with a dark fabric covering are best. Chairs with bright metal finishes can interfere not only with camera lens brightness settings, but also with the camera auto-focusing controls.

A small table situated beside the conferencing system may be useful if you require a document camera, or other peripheral be setup.

Lighting.

Room lighting should be adjustable if possible. Depending on the placement of your system and participants, the lighting might need to be adjusted to give the best visibility of everyone and everything on camera.

A combined diffused ceiling and wall lighting arrangement is often best. If you need additional lighting, try using some floor-stand or side-table lamps just out of the camera's view. Indirect lighting will help minimize dark shadows around a room and on people's faces.

Try to avoid mixing fluorescent and incandescent lights from overhead. They operate at different colour temperatures and can produce unusual colouration effects of a room and of people shown on a video monitor. Fluorescent lights are 'cooler' and tend to make people's faces look slightly greenish. Incandescent lighting is 'warmer' making things more reddish-orange in colour.

If your room has curtains or blinds make sure they are kept closed during a videoconference call. This will prevent stray light coming in from outside and interfering with the room lighting and camera settings.

Avoid curtains with patterns or stripes and choose a plain material with a neutral colour such as beige.

Floors and walls.

Hard surfaces reflect sound creating 'multi-path' sound reflections in a small room. Carpet the floor and use an insulated fabric material on the walls to reduce any noise and echo in the room. Often, having an acoustic material covering on one wall is enough to eliminate the majority of potential sound echoes. All modern roll-about videoconference systems have built-in echo-cancellation controls for eliminating minor sound reverberations.

Ideally, the room doorway should be behind the camera, or along one of the side walls. This way, no one has to enter or leave the room by walking in front of the camera.

Back wall designs that work best for videoconferencing are those that are covered in plain material with a single colour such as grey or blue. Avoid having a highly reflective whiteboard directly behind everyone on camera. If possible, have a whiteboard positioned along a sidewall, or better, use a portable whiteboard or flip-chart paper stand that can be easily moved and adjusted.

Have your network and telephone line wall plug-ins positioned in the room so lines can easily reach your conferencing system and not create a trip-hazard.


Dave Flynn, Mount Royal College
Last Updated on Monday, 29 March 2010 20:55