What goes on in the boardroom?

A boardroom installation offers the system designer a chance to really shine in terms of using the latest technologies and products to deliver an aesthetically and technologically impressive space for the customer. Chris Fitzsimmons reports on the trends in the market.

An organisation’s boardroom often represents the pinnacle of its audiovisual investment. Here, critical business decisions are made on the basis of the information available to the directors or executives of a company. It’s therefore vital that the information is presented in as clear a way as possible, and that everyone around the table gets their voice fairly heard.
The boardroom is also the company’s showcase facility and as such, aesthetics are often as important a consideration as the technology itself. Discrete integration of equipment and furniture leads to a stylish and inspiring workspace.

A case in point is the newly refurbished boardroom of international pharmaceutical company Zentiva, in Prague. The job was carried out by AV Media, and senior sales consultant Zdenek Rychetnik described the project as being “a representative solution, which met the company’s requirement for modern technologies as well as good design.”

At first glance, it looks like an elegant meeting room with some AV equipment installed, but this belies the truth. Aside from the two large plasma screens, which are visible, there is a hidden electronic projection system should a larger display be required. There is also a pair of ceiling mounted document cameras, and carefully concealed table-top tanks for all connections that might be required.

This kind of project is replicated across the region, as integrators leverage the reduction in size of input devices such as cameras and microphones, and increases in space efficiency of large format display devices.

A good example of this is the reduction in the adoption of rear-projection technology. Once the staple of any company that wanted to avoid having a projector hanging from the ceiling, the reduction in cost of large format LCD and Plasma displays has meant that much better resolution and clarity can be achieved at lower space costs. Rear projection does however remain an important tool if aesthetics are an absolute priority and the space is available.

The inevitable discussion about the choice of display size throws up some interesting results. Channel distributor Steljes’s Mark Bird reckons the most popular size still to be around the 42” mark for plasma and 40” for LCD, whilst Julian Philips, MD of integrator Impact Marcom believes that 50” is the most common sell into the corporate market, with demand for both 60” and 65” models strong in the boardroom. Clearly nothing is set in stone, but Asysco’s MD Richard Brookes believes both display technology and size should be selected on the basis of application:

“The decision to choose LCD or Plasma flat screen technology depends on the display application. Plasma provides a more film like performance and is therefore suited to video emulation or controlled data emulation. LCD is suited to high quality video emulation and data emulation. Screen sizes are selected to suit the viewing distance.”

The Zentiva boardroom shown in the photo uses twin 65” plasma displays.

Projection is the other side of the display coin. The most commonly installed resolution remains XGA, but both Impact Marcom and Asysco believe that WXGA is gaining significant traction. On the brightness front, there is a continuing march towards higher brightness. 5000 ANSI lumens is not uncommon according to Asysco’s Brookes. High brightness projection allows the user to go for longer throw lenses and to avoid dimming the lights while the projection system is in use. Another advantage is the ability to run projectors in so-called “eco mode” reducing operating brightness and extending the lamp life.

One of the drivers for the change in boardroom technology is video conferencing. What was once an application built into a dedicated suite, is now firmly integrated into the boardroom environment. Products such as telepresence require HD displays and increased network bandwidth. All parties are observing the migration from ISDN-2 to IP as the preferred transport mechanism, but this is bringing AV more into conflict with IT as the fight for bandwidth intensifies. This miss-match between bandwidth required and available is illustrated by Richard Brookes: “HD solutions are now being widely adopted, however it’s worth noting that you require 1 mb bandwidth each way on an HD call. Therefore in practice, whilst many firms are deploying HD ready equipment SD resolutions are being operated in the first instance due to bandwidth restrictions.”

Sound in the boardroom has never been particularly sexy. Despite the best efforts of various manufacturers, the loudspeaker is unsightly, and nowhere is the demand for invisible, floating speakers more great. Mark Bird from Steljes describes one alternative in the shape of flat panel ceiling loudspeakers from Armstrong. There are of course other suppliers of similar products from the like of Artcoustics and Panphonics.

In the case of larger boardrooms, where there is the requirement for voice reinforcement as well as programme sound, microphone options needs considering. As Petr Smolink, product manager for Audio at AV Media puts it: “No one wants to notice the microphone, but everyone wants studio quality sound. Users prefer wireless lavalier microphones for presenters or cable microphones suspended from the ceiling. More commonly we use goosenecks from presentations and boundary type or suspended modules for teleconferencing or recording.”

Another growth area is the use of wireless microphone technology. Companies such as Revolabs have come to market with simple to use wireless solutions that remove the need to drill holes in boardroom tables and that can be removed when not required.

Dumb microphones as opposed to dedicated discussion systems are the norm in all but the largest boardrooms as there is little need for translation or voting services. However, there is increased adoption of DSP based solutions. As the number of microphones increase, and the adoption of videoconferencing in the boardroom grows too, tools such as acoustic echo cancellation as well as basic EQ functions are required. Another thing that DSP can do for you is to ameliorate some of the problems caused by bad acoustic design in a space. Unusually shaped boardrooms or funky materials can cause all kinds of problems if not carefully thought out and catered for in the AV design.

Of course no self-respecting boardroom would be complete without a sleek, sexy looking touch panel to make it all happen. The subject of control systems is almost a non-issue now. The real discussions lie in how much of the room it controls, and how easy for the user the programmer can make it. Nothing will lose an integrator business faster than a control program that doesn’t work as expected or frustrates the MD of a company with an unclear interface. As one integrator recently put it to me, the dreaded question: “Who put this in?” is not one to bring comfort.

The use of wireless technology is also on the increase for control panels. AV Media’s Zdenek Rychetnik reports “significant” adoption of wireless controllers, whilst Impact Marcom’s Philips says the use of wireless control is now common in his company’s work.

The use of control systems such as AMX or Crestron also allows access to site-wide and even enterprise wide remote control and monitoring. Particularly helpful when that interface isn’t doing what it’s expected to by a frustrated, but less than tech-savvy user.

Interactivity is another technology finding a foothold in the boardroom. The interactive whiteboard is still considered an education product by many. However in a space typically used for sharing and discussing information, there is a clear case for their use. For companies who are willing to take the plunge and combine these technologies with videoconferencing there are obvious benefits.

Steljes’ Mark Bird said: “Historically, collaborative displays have been seen as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a business necessity. However Steljes has recently seen a significant uptake in this category as manufacturers have simplified the experience for the end user.” Bird cites the example of client Computacentre who bought a Smart Technologies solution combining interactive whiteboards with Smart’s Bridgit conferencing software. The company’s international sales director Chris Hanson attributes a 75% drop in his average travel mileage to his adoption of the system.

So we’ve established our standard tool kit. HD display solution, videoconferencing with attached DSP, wireless microphones and concealed loudspeakers are all controlled by a wireless touchpanel and our board members are sitting around an undamaged mahogany table. But that’s what everyone else is selling too, so how can you differentiate yourself from the crowd, or add some more value to what you’re doing?

Opinions vary one what extra services AV integrators should look to offer. AV Media’s Rychetnik believes that opportunities lie in the traditional areas of control system programming and design, as well as the further incorporation of technology into furniture. However Asysco’s Richard Brookes, sees that as a risk, which is best left to a joinery partner. In his opinion, supply of a complete end-to-end system encompassing all the services we’ve mentioned is the right approach. Impact Marcom’s Julian Philips agrees: “There are two types of integrators – those concerned with the price point of the products they sell and those concentrating on the engineering and design of those produces. Integrators should decide to become better educated in order to add value and choose between high-end and low-end integration.”

One area which all the major players in this market are well aware of is the business of winning service and maintenance contracts. These are usually built in to the tender for an initial build of a new facility, but making sure you are in poll position for upgrade work and renovation for years to come in terms of revenue going forward.

Everyone still remains positive about the prospects for business in the corporate market. The sector continues to grow, and even if economic pressures dampen its enthusiasm for new projects in the coming months, there will still be a need, perhaps even a greater need than now, to maintain existing facilities. Make sure your initial build is up to scratch, to ensure that you hold on to those precious service contracts.

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