Written on September 1, 2016 at 3:00 pm, by John Nygren
What’s a “bad room?” Bad rooms are spaces in which an organization’s business is impeded by the space itself. This could be because of poor lighting, uncomfortable seating, inadequate climate control, the wrong room size, or even poor housekeeping.
But those of us in the AV community often encounter rooms where the biggest obstacle to clear communication is simply the room’s acoustic properties. Often the acoustics are a challenge when the surfaces reflect too much sound or the space resonates for a long time. Sometimes the worst scenario is an HVAC system which drowns out conversations and adds a high noise content to audio picked up by the microphone system which feeds sound reinforcement loudspeakers and far-end audio for video and audio conferences.
Sometimes clients don’t consider their room to be “bad” because they are accustomed to its properties. But whether you notice it or not, the room is taking a toll on your team. Some rooms are so reflective and reverberant that it is difficult to understand speech between two people on the opposite sides of a conference table (“aquarium” rooms seem to be some architect’s masterpieces). Bad rooms make normal work much more difficult; both for the presenter and the listener. Add the additional challenges of BYOD video/audio conferencing, and these bad rooms eat up employee energy and make completing projects more expensive by slowing them down. And today more and more lofts, hallways, and cafeterias are masquerading as conference rooms.
Sometimes clients approach us to “fix” the room with electronics—AV systems; but this should really be the second step after everything that can reasonably be done to correct the root causes of the room issues have been addressed. Why doesn’t the client want to fix the room itself?
One reason is that in most organizations, no one “owns” the acoustics of the building. If the original building design didn’t make provision for acoustic construction, the addition of acoustic treatments is seldom in any department’s budget. Does the IT department “own” acoustics? Do the end users’ departments own it? How about the facilities management group? It is likely acoustic treatment will not be a budgeted item unless you or some other knowledgeable human can get the attention of a high-ranking person in the organization who realizes the impact of the problem and the value of resolving the root cause. Unfortunately this does not occur nearly often enough.
So what can we do? We should always identify the root causes and the impact of the acoustic issues with the room. This both gives the client an opportunity to make the changes needed, and, perhaps most importantly, states the limitations of what our electronic systems can do to overcome a room-physics-based problem. The client needs to understand that they will not harvest the full benefit of money spent of even the best audio technology if the room remains “bad” acoustically.
So what do we do if the client won’t fix the root causes? There are some possibilities. As a product leader for wireless at ClearOne, I will focus on how microphone systems can help make the best of a “bad” room.
Microphones, whether wired or wireless, have different characteristics. One of the most important factors with microphone design and use in room environments has to do with how much of the voice content is mixed with the “room content.” By room content, we mean the reflections, noises, and resonances of the space where the presenter is located. Obviously in a “bad” environment we want maximum voice content and minimum room content.
The simplest way to maximize voice content is by locating the presenter’s mouth close to the microphone element. According to the inverse-square-law and industry PAG/NAG calculators; a presenter at a given distance from a mic has almost four times the voice energy of a presenter twice as far away (the farther presenter’s voice energy is seen as 1/4 of the closer presenter’s voice energy). So if we look at the common microphone types (wired or wireless) Handhelds, Lavalier/Headsets, and Gooseneck microphone designs offer the presenter the best opportunity of speaking near the microphone capsule to keep the voice-to-space ratio high. Unfortunately, presenters in many organizations are not trained on how to properly use a microphone. So even with these microphone types, the ideal ratio can be missed if the presenter does not use recommended microphone techniques. Many large projects specifications include a provision for user training; however you may never get the majority of the organization (or its guests) to your class.
The best strategies that your fellow AV advocates use is to do what may be effective most of the time. This translates to several best practices:
- If the presenters are seated at tables, Gooseneck mics are superior as they get the microphone element close presenters’ mouths. Do not use boundary technology microphones in a “bad” room as the room defects will be much more apparent—boundary mics gather all the sound on the room in phase (additively) at the surface boundary on which they are placed.
- If presenters are roaming around the space, give them headset/lavalier or directional hand-held microphones. Hopefully someone will get a chance to coach the hand-held users in keeping the mic capsule 4 to 8 inches from their mouths in a challenging space. One idea is to make laminated “job aid” cards for handheld use and lav placement and keep them on the top of lecterns and where the mics are stored for use.
- Gooseneck mics also work well on lecterns—if the presenter stays relatively in place, or “on mic.” If not ,they should use the Beltpack or Handheld options.
- Room DSP that limits the number of open mics and filters out resonate frequencies (and some other cool tricks) can also be very helpful in addition to the mic techniques above.
Most of you reading this are already aware of our collective challenges with poorly performing rooms. But maybe you can pass this on to a colleague; or even a client that needs to know that even the most outstanding AV gear cannot totally overcome the curse of the “Bad Room.”
Written on August 16, 2016 at 10:01 am, by ClearOne
I hate wearing a tie! No…I REALLY hate wearing a tie. Recently I was getting dressed up for a wedding. My wife told me I had to wear a tie. I reminded her that I was not the one getting married. So who cares what I am wearing? I was comfortable. She reminded me that we don’t get dressed up for ourselves, but for those around us. What we wear sets the tone of the event, and reflects on ourselves. It actually does nothing for the individual, it’s for the others around us that we get dressed up.
The same holds true when we set up our conference rooms for video conferencing. Better audio and video does not just improve our experience. It improves the experience for the people on the other end. The meeting is so much more enjoyable and productive when everyone can see and hear.
The improvement in the hardware we use is in a state of accelerated evolution. Better cameras with HD resolution have become popular as bandwidth has expanded, allowing a better picture to be transmitted. Participants are demanding better audio, which has created a demand for better mics, and audio DSPs. As demand exploded, there was now a market for more expensive, and better hardware. Manufacturers started to design better cameras and microphones made specifically for video conferencing, because they could sell enough of them to justify the cost of research and development of targeted products. Video conferencing went from niche to widespread use almost overnight.
Adding video to our calls really touches the soul. It affects us in a way that audio calls never did. It is human nature to want to look at the person you are talking to. Seeing the person you are talking to makes that experience so much more powerful. And now, we can look at everyone on the call, regardless where they are located in the world. The desire to see someone when we talk to them is so powerful, we have been willing to spend extra time and money to fly someplace to see them in person. Audio just isn’t good enough for some conversations. Now that it is possible to hear, and see the person we are communicating with, without having to actually travel to see them, we want to improve that experience with better video and audio. The goal is to make the experience as close to an in-person visit as possible.
And that is why ClearOne is taking the position of industry leader in video conferencing. We recognize the importance of video conferencing in business. Creating products that transmit the best video with our unbeatable audio will improve the experience, which improves the overall results of those calls. Creating the best cloud-based conferencing system like Spontania gives participants a wide range of tools they can integrate into the call. Multiple cameras and shared whiteboard & documents allow the participants to collaborate in ways they could only previously do in person. It’s just like being in the same room with everyone, with the exception of the box of donuts!
That is why it is so important for companies that are just adding video calls to their communications to buy the best system they can. It reflects on their businesses, and shows that they care about the people they are communicating with. Imagine how great it will be when all sides of the video call has top quality equipment. Then, the only thing left to do is to put on that tie!
The One Brand System – A Consumer Electronics Concept Makes Its Way To Video Conferencing and Media Collaboration
Written on June 30, 2016 at 9:30 am, by ClearOne
We are all familiar with the “Home Theater In A Box (HTIB)” product. Many of us own them ourselves. The idea was born of the desire to make it easier for the consumer to buy and operate a home theater system. In an HTIB, the components are prepackaged, which means they are all designed to work together and look the same. End users are confident in what they have purchased is the best system for the price.
The same concept has made its way to the pro AV industry, and is used for web and cloud videoconferencing and media collaboration systems. ClearOne has a line of prepackaged media collaboration solutions, called COLLABORATE®, which hits key price points. Each solution is designed for a specific size room, and application, from cloud videoconferencing and small huddle rooms to full media collaboration and presentation options with integrated pro audio and large conference rooms. From plug-and-play, to a more sophisticated system, there is something for every application.
The idea of a “Conference-Room-In-A-Box” makes a lot of sense in today’s business environment. Integrators are often busy with multiple jobs at one time. Buying a one-brand system rather than piecing something together for each job saves time. When installing it, they can go in, feeling confident that everything they will need is included, and will work perfectly together.
But the most important aspect of this concept addresses the end user – who is probably not the person who has made the actual decision and purchase. It is more likely an employee of the company who may not have the technical skills of an AV/IT manager. Many times it’s the administrative assistant or executive who will be operating the system. For them, the system has to be uncomplicated. I believe most of us have been on the receiving end of a video conference where it took the other side 20 minutes to get the system going. When the meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes, a 20 minute set-up time is a huge waste, and can cost the company dearly, in many ways. Just like with an HTIB, the consumers (or end users) do not need to spend a lot of time familiarizing themselves with various components from different companies. They will be operating a system in which each component works in concert with each other.
One-brand solutions are an excellent way to specify, purchase, install, and operate a conferencing system.
That is why ClearOne has created the COLLABORATE videoconferencing and media collaboration solutions. They are easy to understand, easy to order, cost-effective, and easy to operate. They have been carefully matched, and aggressively priced to fit most any conference room. And when Spontania Cloud-based media collaboration is a part of the system, the end user will be able to confidently walk into a room and quickly get the meeting started.
What Home-Theater-In-A-Box has done for home entertainment, ClearOne’s COLLABORATE has done for the conference room.
Written on June 22, 2016 at 10:39 am, by ClearOne
You voted and they listened….or at least tallied the votes. Either way, ClearOne is a 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards Winner!
Favorite Manufacturer-Based Training Program
Thank you to all the people who voted for us and a gargantuan, humongously colossal thank you to the valuable and wise ClearOne University trainers and staff.
Written on June 20, 2016 at 10:00 am, by ClearOne
When world class AV installations are executed correctly, this is what the final results look like; clean and seamless to the point in which it’s hard to tell that work was done.
ClearOne is proud to collaborate with our outstanding partners at Automation Arts in Madison, Wisconsin and would like to recognize a very impressive installation at an equally impressive facility.
Here is a brief summary of the job from Vice President, Shaun Trudell, CTS.
“This customer had a Conferencing Floor with 17 conference rooms that all needed different levels of integration. Some multi-purpose rooms had partition walls that could combine or close off other rooms. During those times we needed to separate or duplicate what was happening in the presenting room. There were needs for presentation microphones, and audience participation microphones in the multi-purpose rooms. We achieved this by blending wireless lavalier or handheld microphones for the presenter, and Beamforming microphones for audience participation to get the desired result. Rooms with video conferencing all had Beamforming microphones, which created a seamless, clean look by keeping the microphones off the tables. With as much glass, HVAC noise, and room size the Beamforming microphones performed exceptionally well and the client is happy and proud of the space they have.”
Take a look for yourselves and see just how brilliant this installation turned out.
ClearOne Products Used:
- 17 – Beamforming Microphones Arrays
- 8 – WS800 Wireless Microphones
- 6 – CONVERGE Pro 880’s
- 8 – CONVERGE Pro VH20’s
Automation Arts did a fantastic job on this enterprise level installation and we would like to thank them for choosing ClearOne for using our professional AV products in their installations. In the end, it’s really about providing the highest quality of products and services to not only meet the customer’s needs, but to go above and beyond their expectations.
Written on June 16, 2016 at 12:33 pm, by ClearOne
ClearOne CEO and Chairman, Zee Hakimoglu was recently discussing the direction of the AV industry with some colleagues and was asked an intriguing question that we felt should be shared with the AV community. Hopefully this sparks some positive dialogue between your own colleagues and is a catalyst for new ideas and innovative thinking that will lead to new opportunities.
What do you see as the biggest trends or challenges in the coming years for AV infrastructure?
“I think the greatest challenge is not the technology itself but the psychology of overcoming that AV and IT are really, Really, REALLY converging and going to continue to converge. The AV practitioner may no longer find himself or herself in a safe zone of pure AV without IT. Nor will the IT practitioner find himself or herself in a safe zone of pure IT without AV. The trend for even islands (rooms) of Audio or just Video are disappearing. Audio and Video systems are in themselves converging even tighter than ever thru cloud and other macro IT related systems.”
Zee Hakimoglu, President & CEO, ClearOne
The AV/IT practitioner now has more and more to choose from but most of it will be strung through standard Ethernet networks. Lots of fun and business growth ahead for those who are willing to learn and have the courage to take the leap!
Written on June 14, 2016 at 5:47 pm, by ClearOne
View our InfoComm video again, and Open Your World to New Solutions. ClearOne provides the full range of conferencing, collaboration, and network streaming & signage solutions for voice and visual communications.
It takes a mix of personalities to make a neighborhood, a city, a nation, a world…. And it takes this same mix of products to make your offering complete. Make your offering as rich and diverse as your environment. ClearOne is adding the vibrancy to this AV ecosystem, and we’re here to support your efforts as you expand your offerings and your sales.
Open Your World to New Solutions… (we’re here.)
Written on May 24, 2016 at 3:53 pm, by Tyler Becker
Quick Support Tip:
There is so much going on under the hood of all electronics we forget that even computers can get stuck and forget things.
One of the best places to start is with a quick power cycle. Typically when you power cycle, the device can re-initialize configuration parameters and recover from an unresponsive state such as a crash or hang situation.
This simple step can frequently save you a call to the support line!
Written on May 11, 2016 at 12:28 am, by ClearOne
The Beamforming Microphone Array was a game-changer for the AV industry, the first professional-grade with beamforming and adaptive steering technology and ClearOne’s next-generation Acoustic Echo Cancellation – a first for the industry, and still the leading and pioneering pro-audio beamforming technology.
From our top-notch tech support team, comes a “deep dive” into the finer points of installation requirements for the Beamforming Microphone Array to avoid communication errors. This critical information may save hours of headaches from installation mistakes- but it is also a disclaimer that this article is highly technical, written for integrators who are installing this product.
Beamforming Microphone Array Communication Error Solutions and Revised Installation Requirements
Most Beamforming Microphone Array installations require long, custom-installed expansion bus (Ebus) cable runs between the DSP and the Beamforming mic. Most installers will pull bulk cable and terminate the cable themselves. Usually the installer will report that the installed cable has passed tests from state-of-the-art cable testers like Fluke hand-held cable testing systems.
It is important to note that Converge Pro and Beamformers do not utilize Ethernet protocols, though they do physically use the same specification of cable. Firmware version mismatch, EMI and grounding issues can have a negative effect on stable Ebus communications and result in poor performance or failure of the Beamforming microphone.
- Missing post-gate audio meter data in the Console Beamforming mic channel view
- Missing AEC functionality, even if configured properly for it
- Poor quality audio from the Beamforming mic
- Ungated mic audio, even when gating is specified for the channel
There are a few ways to confirm Ebus cable-related issues. If you review the device logs from the Proxy DSPs (CONVERGE® 840T, 880T, 880TA, and 880 can all act as proxies for the Beamforming Mic) you may see repeated Start or Stop ProxyHandler_Task messages.
Device Log data taken from an 840T acting as Proxy shows connection losses correlated with anomalous, repeated ProxyHandler messages:
The above log was taken from an actual customer site with an 840T and Beamforming mics attached. The end user complained of losing audio from the Beamforming mic during calls. Clearone Tech Support was able to test the system in production and confirmed a failure was ongoing, even though the microphone showed up in Console and reported error free data communication. It was noted that there was no meter activity on the post gate meter of the Beamforming mic, even though the post gain meter showed normal levels.
Other instances of communication failures are associated with repeated Ebus device discovery events that can be seen as a repeated broadcast of UID strings. Establish a telnet connection to a Proxy DSP and observe the connection for a few minutes. See below for an example of a Beamforming mic attached system with Ebus issues:
This cause of this failure was determined to be a Cat 6 cable terminated with Cat 5 connectors connected between the Beamformer and the Converge Pro DSP.
- Mismatched or outdated firmware (All units should be at 4.4.0 or later)
- Signal loss / EMI on the installed Ebus cables
- Ground Loop / voltage differentials on AC ground between different units connected on the same Ebus network
Firmware should be updated on the Beamforming mics before any other device. To update the firmware, you must first connect to the site in Console. You may need to correct cable or AC grounding issues before this is possible. Use an externally run pre-made cable if you are not certain about the installed cable.
If you can’t get Console to recognize the Beamforming mic, try these steps:
- Power cycle the Converge Pro(s), then power cycle the Beamforming mic by unplugging POE module or disconnecting the POE cable.
- Once rebooted, connect in Console.
- If this does not work, try the above steps again.
- If it still does not work, default the Proxy DSP(s) the mic(s) are attached to and connect in Console again. Be sure to have a saved site file to reload later on!
If you can’t get connected to matter what you try, contact tech support.
Once connected, verify firmware levels by right clicking the unit icon under Site Properties and verify the firmware is 4.4.0 or later. If it is not, open the Services menu within Console and then open the Firmware Loader.
Left click the browse button to select the firmware file. Open the bf_mic.mdo file and verify your mics appear in the list. If they do, left click Upload Firmware. If not, disconnect and try again.
All attached devices will reboot once the Beamforming mic firmware is done uploading. Reconnect in Console and then perform a second firmware upload for the Converge Pro DSPs. By default, the firmware loader selects the converge.mdo firmware so you do not have to browse for it.
Test the mics again to verify the problem is resolved. If not continue to troubleshoot.
Ebus Cable Requirements
We suspect some field installed cables are not providing the signal integrity required for stable Ebus operation. Installers may not use high quality tools, cables or connectors when assembling and running Ebus cable runs. Variance between vendors, mismatched specifications on cables and connectors, signal loss due to poor construction or poor contact on the connectors, and false positive cable test results all tend to escalate support issues related to this problem. The consistent remedy in all of these cases has been to replace the installed field-created cable with factory terminated pre-made cable of Cat 6 or better. The communication issues would disappear or greatly reduce once this was done. If premade cables cannot be used because of conduit or install space limitations, installers should use high quality Cat 6 shielded cables and terminators.
Connectors are important; installers must certify they are using the correct specification and type for solid core Cat 6 when using Cat 6 cable:
Shielded cable types must be terminated with shielded connectors and ground wires must be connected properly.
AC Ground Requirements
Large installations that have several rooms spread out over a large area often result in different AC circuits being used to power the Beamforming mics, DSPs, and attached peripherals. It is very common for a voltage differential to arise between the ground wires of different AC circuits in commercial buildings. This can cause Ebus communication failures.
We have found through testing that as little as 1.8 V between AC ground on any device connected on the same Ebus network can result in Ebus communication failures. All CONVERGE Pro mixers and Beamforming mic POE supplies must share a common ground, even if devices are distributed across different rooms.
Pre-Installation Checklist for Installers
- All Clearone devices connected to the same expansion bus network should be powered by the same AC circuit and a good quality AC ground should be common between all systems. An exclusive technical AC ground may be provided to all CONVERGE Pro equipment to avoid common line interference from attached non AV equipment.
- POE modules or third party POE switch supplies and CONVERGE Pro DSPs will need to share the same technical AC ground.
- AC isolation transformers may be used when it is impossible to connect all ClearOne devices to the same AC circuit, or when ground issues are suspected.
- An electrician can certify power quality and correct ground issues that AV installers may not be able to overcome using the above recommendations.
Written on April 29, 2016 at 3:17 pm, by ClearOne
Sigma Chi Fraternity – Purdue University
Established in 1875, Sigma Chi is the one of the oldest Fraternities at Purdue University. With the expertise of The Premiere Group, the frat house solved their unique needs for flexibility and dependable video communications with two systems that fully support ad-hoc video and media collaboration meetings.
It was essential for the group to be able to host meetings where they could really connect with the audience. The fraternity needed to hold regular fireside chats with Alumni and provide mentoring to remote members. To achieve maximum impact it was clear that Sigma Chi required face-to-face communication, far beyond a simple teleconferencing system. To make these meetings truly effective, the audio needed to be crystal-clear. Moving from room to room, meant smart audio, with the ability to configure itself to ever-changing conditions without losing quality.
The solution consisted of two portable AV set-ups: a larger system for use in the Grand Hall, and a smaller, PC-based system for easier ad-hoc video conferencing.
The larger video collaboration system includes a 65” screen and ClearOne’s COLLABORATE Pro 900, which features the CONVERGE Pro DSP mixer, and the industry’s first professional Beamforming Microphone Array, in a sleek, black finish. The microphone is mounted on the cart, horizontally, just below the screen, and provides they clearest audio pickup possible with it’s 24 microphone elements, intelligently steering pickup patterns in real time. Set up in the presentation room, this system provided the most professional and natural interactions for remote, one-on-one meetings with potential employers, or with anyone requiring more information from the fraternity.
The second PC-based system utilizes Clear One Spontania cloud-based collaboration. This system is the ultimate in portability, usually seen in corporate “huddle room” settings for ad-hoc video conferencing meetings. The Spontania system includes a smaller 50” screen, camera, and microphone for those quick gatherings and more informal conferences.
‘There are challenges with all portable systems, due to the fact the environment in which they are used is variable” states Todd Walker from the Premier Group. “What was great for us was the consistent level of support from Clear One, especially when dealing with stakeholders. From an engineering perspective, Jim Mergens was always there to brainstorm and implement new solutions, for non-traditional applications, and that’s what really made all of the difference.”
Sigma Chi has already reported a positive return on investment following the implementation of the video collaboration systems, with greater participation from remote members at board meetings, increased donation support from benefactors following fireside chants and many of the Alumni utilizing the Spontania system for job interviews.
Collaborate 900 offers a complete media collaboration solution. It’s a great solution for multiple applications – videoconferencing, professional audio conferencing, wireless presentation and collaboration, capture and recording station, streaming and distribution, all from a single appliance.
Spontania is ClearOne’s cloud based software solution. It allows dozens to thousands of users to collaborate in real-time, sharing high-quality voice, video and data on any device they choose— from cell phones to standards-based group systems.