Unified Communications in an AV Environment - GovernmentVideo.com

Unified Communications in an AV Environment

A commentary from Vaddio's Vice President of Engineering, Darrin Thurston
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Remote collaboration is easier than ever before. From desktops and mobile devices, employees hold ad-hoc audio and video conference calls, present and share content, send instant messages, schedule meetings, and more. Today’s cloud-based applications and unified communications (UC) platforms such as Microsoft's Skype for Business (formerly Lync), Google Hangouts and WebEx, enable users to quickly and conveniently communicate and collaborate. But blending the high adoption, lower cost UC collaboration experience with a traditional AV group collaboration space has its challenges.

When users move to a traditional audiovisual (AV) group collaboration venue, they are frequently disappointed and frustrated. Whether it's an executive boardroom, a training facility, or a small auditorium, these rooms often lack access to the popular UC platforms and cloud-based content delivery solutions that employees want to use. Instead, users find collaboration solutions that are not familiar or intuitive. Due to the complexity of these systems, the technology often goes unused unless there is an IT or AV tech available to assist in starting a meeting.

To design effective collaboration environments, organizations must understand the growing business need and subsequent challenges of blending the capabilities of conventional AV rooms with the simplified, on-demand communication and content creation experience provided by UC platforms and cloud-based applications.

The Demand For A Blended AV/UC Environment

Seventy percent of organizations today say they either have or plan to put UC systems in place. A key reason for this growth is the rise in remote work and increased BYOD in the workplace. In addition, as millennials enter the workforce in large numbers, they bring expectations for high levels of work flexibility because they have already adopted collaboration tools in their online and day-to-day communications. They expect collaborative communications, such as remote video collaboration and cloud-based applications for content creation and sharing to be part of their business environment as well. A UC platform allows businesses to provide the necessary technology for a more flexible work environment and to improve collaboration capabilities.

Beyond offering UC capabilities on individual desktops and mobile devices, many organizations have expanded UC capabilities to small-group collaboration rooms or huddle rooms. In these environments, where group collaboration is limited to a few individuals, UC technology is deployed with the same basic tools as an individual desktop solution—a personal computer (PC), professional-quality USB camera and microphone. Combining UC/AV capabilities in smaller rooms has already increased productivity by making it simple to capture information and engage with partners, customers, and coworkers. Now enterprises want those same collaboration capabilities in larger spaces.

Where Traditional AV Falls Short

For large-group environments that require a high quality video collaboration experience, a professional AV system is a must. But a huddle space collaboration system—a desktop with a single camera and microphone—doesn't work in a larger group environment. In a group environment of 10-50 people, effective collaboration can only happen when everyone is seen and heard. To provide an optimal experience for all participants, AV systems are designed to facilitate and capture the sight and sounds of all participants in the room through the use of multiple cameras, microphones, speakers, displays, and AV controllers. These sensory end points allow better visuals, improve audio clarity, and provide image magnification (IMAG) of those speaking or presenting in a medium to large room environment. Remote participants also enjoy a more intuitive experience—seeing and hearing who is talking in a more natural manner, as if they were present in the room.

Traditional AV systems excel at improving the sensory experience of remote collaboration, but they lack the flexibility and easy maintenance of UC platforms and other cloud-based collaboration applications accessed through PCs and mobile devices. UC platforms are not only created with an intuitive interface, but users are familiar with the technology because they use it daily from their desktops. In the traditional meeting room, however, the user interface is often foreign to the users, not intuitive, and is intimidating to use. Without the help of a trained AV tech, users often forgo using the technology at all.

Additionally, in a traditional AV environment, each type of collaboration opportunity—video conferencing, conference calls, web meetings, lecture capture, or content sharing—is considered a separate application and requires a separate appliance-based solution. Sharing prerecorded content and presentations during a video conference or streaming from external sources, for example, requires purchasing expensive additional appliances such as a video codec, presentation system, recording system, backend storage device, and management server. The need for multiparty calling may also require purchasing a multipoint control unit.

Even if all of the hardware necessary to run these user activities is purchased and installed, the proprietary nature of most appliance-based solutions can create interoperability issues or limit access to cloud-based applications. Because of the additional hardware and software required, there is added complexity in managing, maintaining, and running these systems. Setup time often increases and the rack full of gear and cables needed to run the system makes troubleshooting a major headache. However, a software-based UC platform mimics the server-client architecture that is common for most mission critical applications across the enterprise, eliminating interoperability issues and streamlining system management. Effective collaboration can only happen when everyone is seen and heard.

Where UC Systems Fall Short

Unified communications platforms make content development and collaboration easier and more engaging. Employees can create self-published content from platforms like YouTube and SlideShare, and easily present and share this content through UC platforms like Jabber, Google Hangout, Skype, etc. The increase in cloud-based UCaaS is reducing capital expense costs, and overall, UC is delivering a high return on investment (ROI) for businesses. Sixty-seven percent of companies surveyed say they met or exceeded their predicted ROI analysis on a UC system, and another 29 percent said they came close to meeting their expected ROI.

Unfortunately, UC systems are not optimized for group environments that require multiple sensory sources. Even when an AV system with multiple cameras, microphones, and displays is in place, UC platforms lack a method to control the AV system. Another shortfall is that UC platforms focus on remote collaboration with little consideration for local presentations where all participants are in the room. In a group environment, the majority of presentations are for the audience in the room—not remote participants—therefore requiring the ability to present and collaborate on room displays rather than from device to device.

Traditional video conference appliances solve the problem of multiple sensory sources to remote participants, but fall short on end-user usability, IT flexibility, and local presentation capability. Professional AV systems, on the other hand, excel at providing the right capabilities for local presentations and multiple sensors, but lack the capability to incorporate remote participants.

Ultimately, business users want the higher level of functionality a professional AV system offers, particularly in a group collaboration environment, but they also want the intuitive UC interface and access to the cloud-based applications they are familiar with and enjoy using to create content. Marrying the two technologies is where the greatest challenge lies for IT and AV professionals charged with deploying these systems.

Soft Clients And Cloud-Based Application Growth

Additionally, the growth in video soft client usage where the application is PC-based rather than client server-based—continues to rise exponentially. The growth of soft client usage reinforces the PC’s essential role in AV operations.

AV rooms designed with the PC at the center of operations can leverage the growing popularity of video soft clients and cloud-based services. Putting the PC at the center of AV operations provides access to soft video clients, UC platforms, and cloud-based applications that are popular with end users. With a PC as the interface for the AV system, users can use their preferred applications in a group collaboration setting, which, in turn, increases user engagement, adoption, and overall productivity.

Another benefit of a PC-centric approach is a reduction in total cost of ownership. Since there is no longer any dedicated hardware, replacing outdated technology or switching vendors entails simply changing the service contract rather than replacing all the hardware in the room.

For IT, a PC-based system is easier to set up and maintain than a rack full of appliances that don't operate as a single system. It is also familiar, mirroring the UC platform used by employees on their desktops and mobile devices. Finally, a PC-based system eliminates interoperability challenges while still providing the simple yet high-quality AV experience users desire.

Bridge Products Close The Gap

Vaddio's AV Bridge products leverage the PC-centric plug-and-play approach to create a blended AV/UC environment that allows connectivity to all PC and cloud-based applications. In many group collaboration rooms, legacy audio and video hardware for video conferencing and presentations is already present. Bridge products offer a flexible AV interface that "bridges" a room's legacy analog audio and video to a PC. Traditional AV rooms can be retrofit by simply plugging a USB cable into a host PC or connecting to an IP network.

Even in AV venues with more modern equipment, bridge solutions increase simplicity. For desired capabilities such as audio conferencing, video conferencing, or web conferencing, with a bridge it's simply a matter of adding connections rather than components. Bridge solutions can accept and support a multitude of high-definition video and audio sources and produce superior quality results at a fraction of the cost of other solutions. They also improve ease of use, flexibility, and plug-and-play functionality.

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Vaddio Solution

Vaddio professional quality audio and video solutions enable high quality collaboration for any environment. Vaddio RoboSHOT PTZ cameras deliver up to 4K video, and high performance audio solutions ensure the most natural, effective communications experience.

Bridging the gap between AV and UC, Vaddio's AV Bridge MATRIX PRO, enables you to streamline the bridging process, consolidating control of AV and UC tools in a single user interface. The MATRIX PRO combines audio and video mixing functionality in a single appliance providing a simple way to add multiple cameras, microphones, and other AV devices to a traditional AV room design. MATRIX PRO then manages the complex process of mixing, switching, and controlling those devices in a single USB stream to offer an easier and more cost-effective solution for blending traditional AV and UC technology.

The MATRIX PRO replaces a rack full of gear by combining a variety of capabilities: an AV encoder with simultaneous IP and USB streaming, a four-input seamless HD video switcher, three Quick-Connect Interfaces for Vaddio cameras, an 8 x 4 cross-point audio matrix mixer-switcher, four audio ports for Vaddio Easy USB microphones with built-in AEC, and a web server for configuration programming, control, and remote management.

Users get the advantage of integrating their PC-based platform and intuitive UC interface while being connected to multiple sensory inputs that provide a professional AV experience. At the same time, they also get access to cloud-based applications and a UC platform of choice for content creation and sharing, audio conferencing, video conferencing, and a multitude of other collaboration activities.

Conclusion

Deploying Vaddio professional quality audio and video, and USB bridge technology, enables organizations to easily and cost effectively optimize their conference room and training environments. Users get the ability to use the intuitive software-based UC platforms they know how to use, but without losing the professional audio and video quality they desire. IT gets optimal system integration to meet the collaboration needs of the contemporary workplace, while reducing operating costs, improving employee satisfaction, and increasing overall adoption of richer collaboration tools.

About Vaddio

Vaddio is a Milestone AV Technologies company. Acquired by Milestone AV Technologies (www.milestone.com) in April 2016, Vaddio (www.vaddio.com) designs, develops and manufactures professional quality PTZ cameras, Pro AV solutions and a full suite of Unified Communication and Collaboration systems for the audiovisual, collaboration and production markets.

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