AV systems for huddle rooms

Vinay M K, Founder, Zoapi Inc

Huddles are in vogue!

The concept of huddle rooms is picking up vigorously in the fast paced, innovation driven companies around the world. Huddle Rooms are small meeting rooms equipped with audio, video and display system technology, designed to reduce overhead. The main drivers for huddle rooms are: a need for informal interactions, impromptu grouping for idea brainstorming, low overhead communication within teams of large corporations. Huddle rooms are not bare bone structures replacing water cooler chatting areas, they are places where innovative ideas are born with cross team interactions and data intensive discussions. Information technology officers need to prepare their AV procurement strategies, data sharing and security systems and BYOD policies for these new discussion centers in their office workplaces.

Streaming to sharing

As per the last disclosed numbers, Google sold 30 Million chrome-cast devices by July 2016, adding 5 Million in just two months. Apple-TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku and Miracast based smart TVs have together achieved a cumulative volume of about 150 Million volumes by Dec 2016.They are not just streaming media boxes in living rooms, but also support wireless screen sharing from portables. People using such streaming and screen sharing boxes at home have come to expect a seamless sharing experience at offices as well. Document sharing over cloud, and sales data plot sharing using analysis tools are a reality today. In a typical huddle room, user just walks in, connects wirelessly to the TV and starts her presentation instantaneously. There will be more huddle rooms than boardrooms hence such AV infrastructure need to be low on initial investment. A CIO office can choose from multitude of such products available based on specific requirements like BYOD, user profile, usage, number of rooms, etc.,

Why screen sharing now?

Wireless screen sharing from portables seem to be an important feature for huddle rooms, and in general for any discussion room. Wireless screen sharing constitutes screen grabbing from the client device, compressing it using video compression tool, before transmitting the same over WiFi to a remote device. The remote device is connected to the TV over HDMI or be in the TV itself. Video data streaming over WiFi needs an “intelligent bandwidth adaptable, content and context aware” video compression engine on the laptop/mobile. Wireless screen sharing technology adoption depends on four critical factors:

1. Proliferation of portable computing devices.

2. Video encoders on computing devices.

3. Affordable and high-performance WiFi on computing devices.

4. Standardized wireless screen sharing protocols.

PC/Desktop’s share has come down from 48% in 2008 to about 15% by 2016. While laptops, mobiles, convertibles and tablets constitute more than 80% of computing devices sold in the US. With the introduction of “SandyBridge” core architecture in 2011, Intel started shipping hardware accelerated H.264 video encoders in their CPUs. 2011 was also the year when portables (Laptops, netbooks, tablets) overtook desktop PCs by more than 2/3 volumes in the US. 2013 was the year when WiFi alliance ratified WiFi direct (peer to peer) protocol. This new WiFi standard enabled connections between devices without the need for an additional router. Miracast was accepted as an industry standard for wireless screen sharing in 2013. HD LED TVs came to prominence in 2013. All these factors resulted in practical, cost effective wireless presentation systems.

Huddle room AV requirements

Though screen sharing is one of the major requirements of huddle rooms, there are a couple other “must have” requirements. One of them is to be able to make a video call to another team in the company. With multi-site project team, such impromptu video calls greatly help in reducing co-ordination related project costs. The second requirement is the ability to share documents from enterprise cloud. Secure download of confidential documents to AV systems and their complete erasure post the presentation, is a must have feature.

Challenges in AV system selection

Apart from budget and technological obsolescence, another challenge is market fragmentation. This has led to diversity in meeting rooms; namely device form factors, operating systems, wireless protocols and productivity suites. Our goal is to ensure that everyone is able to connect and display instantaneously and from any device that they choose. With contractors, employees, vendors or even customers co-working in huddle rooms, differential network access privilege is an important challenge for these AV systems. Once we sail past budget, technology and market diversity challenges, we are confronted with two major operational challenges. They are customizability and security. Quite often major corporations want AV systems to be customized for their productivity and as per their enterprise cloud set-up.

Future of AV systems for huddle rooms

As one may envisage, future huddle rooms will have cost effective AV systems which integrate well with other communication and productivity tools used in the company. Video conferencing player ‘Zoom’ has recently released Zoom meeting room product, targeted at small and medium meeting rooms. ‘Creston’s Airmedia’ and ‘Barco’s Clickshare’ are traditional players in this space. With 60% browser market share, Google’s chrome-browser and chrome-cast duo cannot be ignored. Google apps now offer G-Suite and Jamboard for huddle rooms. With players ranging from Google, Apple, Microsoft, Zoom, Creston, Barco, Mersive, Zoapi etc., CIO’s are spoilt for choices for their future huddle room configurations.