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How to Take the 'Huddling' out of Huddle Rooms

Audiovisual December 4, 2015

If you’re working with tight budgets and trying to support an increasingly mobile workforce, you’re likely one of the 100 million people who now use Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business to communicate for work. The availability of such solutions is good news in this era of always-on, always-connected. We can easily turn any huddle room into a collaboration room just by bringing a laptop to the meeting. However, a quick scan of IT forums reveals the plethora of problems stemming from this particular practice—both with video and audio quality. Today we’ll focus on audio. Here’s a sampling of the issues IT has to address to make Skype work in meeting rooms:

“We are having horrible problems with audio in a room with 13 ft. high ceilings.”

“The sound issue becomes apparent as soon as you have rooms of people talking over each other in Skype, complete with echoes and feedback loops. The little microphone on the camera is inadequate.”

“Skype mic volume very low with built-in mic. Does anybody have any suggestions on what we can do to try and fix this problem?”

“We can hear the remote users just fine in our office. The remote users, however, have a hard time hearing us. With just the mic attached to the webcam, as you'd imagine, it doesn't pick up voices very well from across the room in such a large conference, and it picks up white noise from the people near the mic sipping coffee and whatnot, while the person all the way across the room is talking.”

The good news is that these problems can be solved. You can restore personal space and eliminate the “huddling” aspect of huddle rooms with high-quality audio—even on a budget. First, here’s a quick look at why laptop mics and inexpensive webcam mics can’t do the job.

Microphone Polar Patterns

The polar pattern is the pickup pattern for the microphone or the area in which the microphone will be most effective in picking up sound. If meeting participants are outside of this area, remote participants will have difficulty hearing them.

A laptop mic is designed to pick up the audio of a person sitting directly in front of it. People sitting on either side will be hard to hear, and the person on the other side of the table will be virtually impossible to hear clearly. Inexpensive webcam microphones have the same problem—usually a unidirectional polar pattern with limited range.

To hear everyone in the room equally well, you’ll need to add a separate microphone with the appropriate polar pattern (sometimes four directional mics are used to provide 360-degree coverage) and place it where everyone is within the pickup range.

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Images Source: Wikipedia

Echo and Noise

Echo and background noise are common problems that laptop mics and inexpensive webcams aren’t equipped to eliminate the way a professional microphone with acoustic echo cancellation and noise cancellation can. Consider solutions that include built-in digital signal processing, so the speech of the meeting participant, the room noise, and loudspeaker audio can be separated out to ensure remote participants don’t hear themselves or other distracting noise.

Acoustics

When the audio issues are created by high ceilings or reflective surfaces, the solution may require acoustic room treatments that will absorb sound and minimize reverberations. An acoustic engineer should be consulted for the best results.

Additional Considerations

Beyond investing in a quality mic and treating any acoustical issues within the room, there are a couple of other considerations that are often overlooked but can make a big difference in room functionality. Will you need to make phone calls outside of a Skype or WebEx environment? You can avoid using multiple devices by selecting a solution that can handle both.

Are you experiencing scheduling issues? Because huddle rooms are in high demand for meetings, you can significantly improve employee productivity by adding them to a room and asset management solution. The use of a room management solution will also provide actionable data for space planning and future equipment purchases.

Now What?

It is possible to create high-performance huddle rooms on a budget. If you’d like to learn more about quick fixes to your huddle room challenges, get product recommendations or create a more integrated solution, talk to our huddle room experts or complete this brief Needs Assessment request.

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